While we wait to hear if the nightingales at Lodge Hill will be protected, I return to our mini series about our Overseas Territories...
Here, my colleague, Clare Stringer, gives a flavour of the UK conservation work that the RSPB does far from these shores.
The UK Overseas Territories are amongst the most exciting places in the world to be working in conservation. The work that the RSPB and our partners have done in the last decade has included critical species rescue missions, island restorations, and the declaration of the world’s largest no-take marine protected area. Today, I’m going to review some of our successes and look towards the future.
In 1999, the RSPB and partners carried out a wildlife “rescue” following a major volcanic eruption on the island of Montserrat. The Montserrat government asked us to assess the conservation needs for Montserrat orioles and other wildlife, and an insurance population of orioles was rapidly established in captivity: birds were taken to Jersey zoo where they are now breeding successfully. The RSPB is continuing to monitor the wild orioles on Montserrat in partnership with local government (more information can be found here), and their future thankfully seems secure.
One of our boldest projects was the ground-breaking eradication of feral cats from Ascension Island – the first time feral-cats were eradicated whilst allowing residents to keep their pet cats, and a first step in restoring Ascension’s mega-seabird colony. This work has led to hundreds of pairs of boobies, and most importantly, the endemic Ascension frigate bird to return to breed on the main island (the first frigate bird chick hatched in January this year - see here). This work has all been in partnership with the Ascension Island Government’s Conservation Department.
Over in the Indian Ocean meanwhile, on 1 April 2010 the government declared a vast marine protected area in the British Indian Ocean Territory (Chagos) covering 640,000 square kilometres. The area includes the largest living coral atoll in the world, with many endemic marine species and important assemblages of seabirds. The RSPB was part of the consortium that advocated for protection of Chagos, and we are now working with partners including ZSL, RBG-Kew and the Chagos Conservation Trust to support restoration of the many islands in the group that are important for seabirds and other wildlife.
Considering the amounts spent (around £2 million per year by UK government), it is astounding what already has been achieved, and there are many other positive stories that just can’t be told here. New species have been discovered, and others snatched from the brink of extinction with only a few individuals remaining in the wild. New conservation departments have been established, young people have had amazing wildlife experiences, seeds have been banked, and trees planted. I would like to thank DFID, Defra and the FCO for their contributions to all of the projects listed above, but would encourage them to reflect on how cost-effective this spending has been!
The RSPB is hoping to undertake some very ambitious projects in the Territories in future, starting with a second attempt at eradicating rats from Henderson Island in the Pitcairn group. We are also assessing the feasibility of eradicating mice from Gough Island World Heritage Site in the Tristan da Cunha group. Funding for these projects is not secure, so we hope for continued support from the UK government for the conservation of our Territories’ wildlife treasures.
These projects are examples of where RSPB is strongest and I am very, very happy with this and to play a part through a small contribution every month.
All this makes great reading, it is just amazing what is done by the RSPB especially when working in partnership with other wildlife protection organisations. As you say Martin, it is so gratifying how cost effective these projects are and how, with relatively small financial in puts, £2m per year, an enormous amount is achieved including saving species from extinction. Just think what more could be done if the £2m from the Government was increased to say £4m (The proverbial peanuts in terms of the Government's budget). Congratulations to the RSPB and all its partners for "Stepping Up for Nature Overseas".
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