In the run up to Christmas, I am determined to you bring you glad tidings of comfort and joy.  So, today, I am delighted to welcome my colleague, Sacha Cleminson, who lives and works on one of the UK Overseas Territories far, far away to offer this perspective on the state of UK wildlife on these majestic islands. 

Montserrat’s new environment legislation designates the beautiful Centre Hills National Park, helping to safeguard the island’s fresh water supply. Credit: James Millet.

Masked Boobys, Whale Sharks, Magnificent Frigatebirds, bromeliads, Giant Kelp forests and King Penguins. Some of the world’s most gloriously exotic wildlife is British, found gracing the fourteen British Overseas Territories. With many thorny challenges facing wildlife in the UK, we also continue to assess and invest in British wildlife overseas.

In December each year Heads of Government from the Overseas Territories meet in London with UK Ministers to discuss challenges and agree shared visions. Some impressive pledges have been made for protecting wildlife and ecosystems. But are they being met?

With support from the John Ellerman Foundation RSPB has published a report looking at how well governments are doing to create the legal and policy frameworks to meet those pledges.

What we found has been impressive.

Seven major pieces of environmental legislation have been enacted across the Territories since 2012. The strongest area of governance remains protection frameworks for threatened species and sites. Taken together this is a substantial achievement and represents progress towards those high level political visions. We found that the UK Government has been an effective facilitating influence.

Highlights include the Cayman Islands’ National Conservation Law which has taken years of work and will, amongst other benefits, help release millions of pounds of tourism taxes collected for environmental protection. St Helena, the site of Napoleon’s exile, and Ascension Island, both in the tropical Atlantic, have protected their finest terrestrial wildlife sites. And in the Falkland Islands standards have been introduced to assess the potential environmental impacts of development proposals.

Despite this progress, challenges remain. In particular, the regulation of development remains systematically weaker across many Territories, leading to development sprawl in places such as the exquisite Turks and Caicos Islands. In addition, at least six key pieces of environment legislation remain unprogressed in the administrations of five Territories.

It is important to note that our study has only looked at what the rules are and not how well they are being implemented, which is of course all-important!

Governments of the Territories have many challenges, including small budgets, small administrations and difficulties with enforcement of rules. The efforts that have gone in to this progress should be cheered and we see a lot of room for optimism. If development control could be addressed and unprogressed legislation passed, much more could be achieved. UK Government departments –such as DEFRA, FCO and DFID– have a strong role to play in helping to find those solutions.

The lives and livelihoods of many Territory citizens are intimately linked with their natural environments through activities such as tourism and fishing. The governance of the environment remains one of the keys to longer term prosperity.

More British Boobys, Whale Sharks and Frigatebirds will be good news for all.