In the last in a series on the UK Overseas Territories, my colleague Jonathan Hall reflects on the significance of the environment to the local economy and why it should pay to invest a little more in nature.
The UK Overseas Territories were, up until the 1990s, called the British Dependent Territories. And today, in a way that is frequently much more obvious than in the mainland UK, the communities and economies of the Overseas Territories remain highly dependent on their natural environments for their wellbeing and sustainability.
In the South Atlantic, communities in Tristan da Cunha and the Falkland Islands rely on their sustainably managed fisheries for over half of their Territory’s incomes. In the Caribbean meanwhile, the community on Montserrat derives nearly all of their fresh drinking water from the forests of the Centre Hills National Park, whilst the relatively low-lying Cayman Islands and Turks & Caicos receive crucial protection from hurricanes, storm surges and sea-level rise from their large mangrove forests. Not only are these economies therefore all dependent on their natural resources, but these same natural attributes are also the driver of one of their most important industries of all- tourism, with many visitors from around the world understandably willing to pay to see their iconic natural beauty.
The OTs’ unique environments remain highly threatened however, with global extinctions sadly much more than just a mere theoretical risk (the loss of the St Helena Olive Tree in 2004 being a case in point). The UK Government has had an Overseas Territories Biodiversity Strategy in place since 2009, but the ambition and implementation of this Strategy has, to date, been insufficient to match the challenge faced. We were very pleased that Defra and JNCC therefore arranged a review meeting of the Strategy yesterday, attended by representatives from 10 Territories as well as relevant OT and UK NGOs. I’m delighted to report that there appeared a real consensus of the need for a review of the strategy to fit the Aichi Targets and the establishment of a focussed implementation plan with shared ownership from the UK Government, Territory Governments and civil society.
Whilst the ambitions of the Territory representatives for improved environmental management was extremely welcome, there remains some major obstacles to achieving their visions. Funding is short, capacity is frequently limited, and the political will needed to pass required environmental legislation is often lacking. Proactive leadership and support from the UK Government is therefore required. Unfortunately however, Defra remain without a single dedicated full-time staff member for Overseas Territory biodiversity, which raises the fundamental question of how, as the lead department for OT biodiversity, they intend to implement their Strategy. We intend to do our bit to work with UK and OT Government Departments and NGOs to protect OT environments, but hope that Defra will recognise that these places whose economies are so dependent on their natural environments, and which contain over 90% of the threatened biodiversity for which the UK is responsible, deserve some full-time dedicated support.
Yes, their natural environment is crucial to these countries. Just a suggestion concerning the lack of of a single dedicated full time staff member for biodiversity within Defra, why isn't a RSPB staff person seconded into Defra to temporarily act in this role, much as any organisation would hire agency based personnel to overcome a peak load demand? The costs of this person could be shared between Defra and the RSPB. This to me would make sense and help to achieve results more quickly, however I dare say it is "a brige too far" for Government red tape
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