Stepping up for our nature on our overseas territories?

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I’ve been the RSPB’s Conservation Director since May 2011. As I settle into the job, I’ll be blogging on all the big conservation topics and providing an inside view of our conservation projects. I hope you enjoy reading it and feel inspired to join in t

Stepping up for our nature on our overseas territories?

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Yesterday, the Government published a new White Paper on the UK Overseas Territories.  The first key test post Rio for the Government to demonstrate its intent to step up for nature.

The Overseas Territories are unique: British territory, mostly small islands, located far away in distant seas, but home to unique and threatened wildlife for which we have a responsibility. The Territories in the South Atlantic are home to over a third of the nesting population of one of the world’s most iconic group of birds, the albatross, whilst the British Indian Ocean Territory harbours the planet’s largest coral atoll.

Many of these species, which have evolved in isolation on their island homes, are now threatened with extinction. Indeed, the Territories hold over 85% of the threatened species for which the UK is responsible, and have more threatened bird species than the entire European continent. Sadly, extinctions in the Overseas Territories are not theoretical: the rare St Helena Olive Tree, which was specifically mentioned in the last Overseas Territories White Paper in 1999, went extinct as recently as 2004.

The White Paper was therefore an important test of how seriously the UK Government takes its responsibility and whether it would work to ensure a step-change in environmental progress.

In reality, the paper is strong on vision, with the environment placed as a UK Government priority ‘to be cherished’. It also confirms the very welcome recent decision that all UK Government Departments (including most importantly Defra and DECC) have a responsibility to the Overseas Territories in their policy areas. By announcing a new secondment programme between UK and Territory civil servants, this could be a real opportunity to increase the capacity of the very small Territory Governments.

Whilst the vision was good, the detail underneath it was sadly lacking. No detailed commitments on what would be delivered, by when, nor any new commitments on funding (the Overseas Territories received only £1.5m from Defra’s biodiversity conservation budget in 2010/11).

So the Paper doesn’t deliver a step change, and represents something of a missed opportunity - nowhere else could the UK Government save so many British species for so little investment. We’ll therefore be closely following the Government’s next steps to make sure that positive vision does result in positive action, and will keep you posted.

Have a read and let me know what you think.

  • I agree that the British Overseas territories require investment in their natural wildlife and it should be multiplied 10 fold.

    There is also a "burning hole" in the public Exchequer that is being driven through many of these islands; according to HMRC to the tune of 40 billion pounds a year.

    Michael Meacher MP is advancing a Private Members Bill to close these loopholes and reassert national sovereignty over international finance which is institutionally corrupted to the benefit of the 1%. Will the RSPB support this Bill ? These are very serious times and if the RSPB wishes to be serious about "sustainability" and "the planet" it has to consider the "impartial and very charitable" fence that it so carefully sits upon.

  • I think you have summed it up pretty well Martin. Good words but little positive action, more or less a continuation of the current mode of operation. Certainly no talk of financial committments for environmental/biodivesity projects at all. At least Section 3 of the White paper "Cherishing the Environment" recognises in its headlines that 90% of the UK's biodivresity is found in the Overseas Territories. That has to be slight progress after all these years of lobbying on that point. I am not sure what the purpose of the document is. If it is designed to be followed up by more definitive proposals for protecting biodiversity and reversing its losses then all well and good, but I doubt we will see much like that. Like so many political documents from politicians, lots of good words but very little delivery. Therefore any lobbying the RSPB can do to encourage Government efforts to improve the biodiversity situation for the future must be worthwhile.