One publication that appeared with almost no fanfare on Defra’s website yesterday was the Department’s new paper on how it intends to discharge its responsibility towards the UK Overseas Territories (OTs). These 14 Territories, scattered right across the globe, are home to some of the UK’s most internationally important wildlife, including one third of the world’s breeding albatross and the largest coral atoll on earth. They’re also packed with unique and threatened bird species- 33 at the last count, more than the entire European continent.

Sadly, the threatened wildlife of the Overseas Territories (OTs) has frequently been overlooked by the UK Government in the past. Nothing expresses this more simply or tragically than the date of the last OT extinction: 2004 (the year the last remaining specimen of the St Helena Olive tree died). An outcome which would have been almost unthinkable if the tree had existed on an island off the mainland UK.

We think the wildlife on these Overseas Territories is rather special and which we, as UK citizens, have a responsibility to protect.  This is why we spend so much time and effort doing what we can to save some of these threatened species such as the Henderson storm petrel shown below.  We have just completed a major expedition (led by RSPB scientist Richard Cuthbert who also took the photo below) to restore an island paradise by removing rats which were driving the Henderson petrel to the edge of extinction.

But we know that action by RSPB and other NGO partners will be insufficient on its own.

We’ve long been pushing for more attention to be paid to the OTs, and are therefore very pleased that every Government Department has been asked to publicly state how it will fulfil its duty towards the OTs. Defra undertook a very collaborative approach in compiling their paper, and we were delighted to see within it a commitment to developing an implementation plan for their OTs Biodiversity Strategy. The current version of the Strategy was a great start, but didn’t have any goals or specifications on how it would achieve them to protect wildlife. We’d love to work with Defra to help develop this.

The OTs is an area which could be a relatively easy and cost-effective win for Defra, whilst delivering enormous benefits for biodiversity. Progress here is also essential if the UK is to have any hope of meeting its 2020 targets for biodiversity. Whilst home to over 85% of the UK’s threatened wildlife, the OTs receive only 0.1% of Defra’s biodiversity conservation spending and have no full-time Defra staff dedicated to working with them nor any specific OTs budget line. It’s been estimated that £16m per year for 5 years would be required to meet all their biodiversity priorities, whilst Defra support staff could provide enormous help and technical advice to small OT Environment Departments.  Even in these austere times, this doesn't seem a huge amount of cash to do an enormous amount of good.

As the UK Government prepares its new White Paper on the Overseas Territories, we’ll be pushing for the commitment to develop an implementation plan to be included, and hope that 2012 may be the year that the UK Government steps up to its responsibilities in the OTs.

Have you ever been to one of these Overseas Territories?  Do you care about what happens to the wildlife in these far-flung places? What should Defra be doing to help?

It would be great to hear your views.

  • Hi Martin, I for one, care enormously about the wildlife in these far-flung places. The RSPB are doing a magnificent job in raising the profile of the Overseas Trerritories and the plight of their wildlife. It is critically important that their wildlife is saved since, as you say, NGOs cannot do everything. DEFRA should be doing excatly as you/RSPB are advocating and committing  £16 million per year over five years. I have long held the view that the OTs are one of the highest priority areas, if not the highest, for halting and reversing biodiversity loss. When one thinks about the amounts this Government proposes to spend on HS2 it is just incredible the the £16 million is not automatically forthcoming. The irony of the situation is that that to get the best return for the "bucks" spent in respect ot reversing biodiversity loss, the OTs are undoubtedly the best place to put the money. I just hope DEFRA recognises this. Keep up the pressure RSPB and if you need any support/letter writing let me know