Written evidence from The Royal Society
for the Protection of Birds (RSPB)|
- The FCO has a crucial role to play as lead department
on the UK Overseas Territories, in particular with regard to their
highly threatened environments.
- The very limited capacity of these small communities
means that FCO support is essential if their unique biodiversity
is to be conserved and the UK's international obligations met.
- Current levels of environmental funding for the
Overseas Territories remain grossly inadequate. The FCO must strengthen
the Overseas Territories Environment Programme and obtain increased
financial support from Defra, DfID and DCMS.
- The FCO has a vital role to play in representing
the interests of the Overseas Territories across Whitehall, where
they are frequently overlooked.
- The upcoming cross-government strategy on the
Overseas Territories is warmly welcomed and could provide an excellent
example of the FCO fulfilling the much-needed leadership role.
- The new Overseas Territory strategy must include
a section on the environment and a strategic assessment of urgent
environmental funding priorities.
- Governors' offices have a critical role to play
in improving the environmental governance of the Overseas Territories
and building the capacity of both their governmental and non-governmental
Thank you for the opportunity to make a submission
to this consultation. Our response centres on the FCO's role as
the Government department with overall responsibility for the
UK Overseas Territories (UKOTs), with a particular focus on their
highly threatened environments.
1. The RSPB is the UK partner of BirdLife International,
a network of over 100 grass-roots conservation organisations around
the world. As part of our commitment to the conservation of biodiversity
worldwide, we have for over 14 years provided financial, technical
and advisory support to emerging NGO partners and local governments
in the UK Overseas Territories.
2. The RSPB works on the Overseas Territories
because of their outstanding global importance for biodiversity.
These remote jurisdictions are home to well over 500 species found
nowhere else on earth, including more endangered bird species
than the entire European continent. Their unique habitats are
also internationally recognised, containing the world's largest
and most pristine coral atoll (the Great Chagos Bank) and, arguably,
the most important seabird island on the planet (Gough Island).
This remarkable richness places a very high level of responsibility
on the UK Government to protect the biodiversity of these Territories.
THE UK OVERSEAS
3. Whilst rich in unique wildlife, the human
populations of the Overseas Territories are small. For example,
the Pitcairn Islands support more endemic species than their total
The Territories are highly dependent upon the natural environment
for their livelihoodsthe economies of many of the islands
rely heavily on the revenue raised from fisheries and nature tourism.
However, much of their unique biodiversity is under severe threat.
Over 90 UKOT species are now classified as critically endangered
(compared to just 14 critically endangered species in the UK),
and the last global extinction in the UKOTs occurred as recently
as 2003 (the St. Helena Olive).
4. The Territories' capacity to respond to environmental
crises and conserve their threatened wildlife is strongly constrained
by limited human and financial resources. Environment departments
and local conservation organisations, if they exist, only have
small numbers of staff that are stretched very thinly. In some
Territories, for example Tristan da Cunha or Pitcairn, the population
is so small that no significant capacity or finance is available
to deal with pressing environmental issues. On yet other Territories,
for example, BIOT or South Georgia, there is no local population
and the FCO has direct responsibility.
5. Although the Overseas
Territories are locally self-governed, the UK Government retains
responsibility for external affairs, including the implementation
of international conventions such as the Convention on Biological
Diversity, the Ramsar Convention, the Cartagena Convention, the
World Heritage Convention, CITES, the Convention on Migratory
Species and the Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and
Petrels. The UK Government has also signed up to the 2020 target
to halt the loss of biodiversity, which makes the Territories
a very high priority for action as over 87% of the threatened
species for which the UK is responsible are found there. Finally,
the UK Government has signed an Environment Charter with most
of the Territories, which is a formal agreement that lists the
commitments of the respective parties to support environmental
6. The current lack
of capacity and finance in many Territories means that UK Government
support is essential if species extinctions are to be prevented,
the economic benefits derived from the natural environment maintained,
and international obligations met. The FCO, as the Government
department with overall responsibility for the Overseas Territories,
therefore has a clear role to play in ensuring that the urgently
required conservation action is supported and delivered.
7. In July 2008, the
Foreign Affairs Committee produced a Report on the Overseas Territories.
In its Report, the Committee argued that the current levels of
environmental funding provided by the UK are "grossly inadequate"
and recommended that it should be increased.
The RSPB has calculated that a minimum of £16 million/year
is required for the Territories to meet their biodiversity priorities.
If increased funding is not identified, endemic species for which
the UK Government is responsible will certainly become extinct
and the UK Government will fail to meet a number of its international
obligations. It will also increase the risk of the UK being seen
as hypocritical in urging other nations, such as those with rainforests,
to take conservation action whilst we do not conserve threatened
biodiversity within our own jurisdiction.
8. The tiny communities of the 14 Overseas Territories
have very limited representation in the apparatus of the UK Government.
Unlike France, they have neither a "Ministry of the Overseas
Territories" to advocate their interests, nor any representation
or official observers within the Houses of Parliament. Although
they have very specific needs, communities such as Pitcairn (47
inhabitants) do not have the capacity to staff permanent UK delegations
to represent their interests. Consequently, the Overseas Territories
have very little voice in Westminster and have been frequently
overlooked. The FCO thus has a crucial role to play in representing
their interests to other Departments across the entire breadth
of Government activity.
9. The RSPB warmly welcomes the commitment in
the FCO's new Business Plan to develop a new cross-government
strategy on the Overseas Territories by July 2011. Such a joined-up
strategy is urgently needed. At present, FCO, Defra, DfID, DCMS
and MoD all cover issues affecting the UKOTs, though the lack
of a joined-up strategy means that the Territories have frequently
fallen through gaps in clear Departmental responsibility. A strategic
approach is desperately required, with one department, the FCO,
taking a clear responsibility for overall delivery.
10. The new Overseas Territories strategy must
include a section on the environment. The Foreign Affairs Committee
in its 2008 report highlighted the fact that the Government has
not "carried out any kind of strategic assessment of Overseas
Territories' funding requirements for conservation and ecosystem
management", and described this lack of action as "highly
negligent". Such a strategic assessment of urgent funding
priorities is yet to be carried out, let alone funded appropriately.
A comprehensive assessment of the state of biodiversity in the
UKOTs, with prioritised actions and concomitant funding, is required.
present, the FCO contributes approximately £500,000 per year
to the Overseas Territories Environment Programme (OTEP), a fund
run jointly with DfID to support biodiversity conservation in
the UKOTs. The fund clearly represents some of the most cost-effective
conservation spending possible, but it can only meet a fraction
of the demands required of it and, crucially, has not been able
to provide the long-term institutional capacity which small agencies
on the Territories need. There is also no long-term guarantee
for the fund which means it cannot be used strategically. The
continuation of a strengthened OTEP is required, as is the provision
of adequate financial and human resources to support and strengthen
the UKOTs' limited capacity. This must be achieved either by obtaining
increased funding from other Government departments such as Defra,
DfID and DCMS, or by focusing further FCO spending on the Territories.
12. The FCO, as overall
lead department on the UK Overseas Territories, has to ensure
that other departments do not overlook their UKOT responsibilities.
It is simply not enough for the FCO to point to other Government
departments as being responsible for particular issues. As overall
lead department, the FCO has to work to ensure that other departments
actually deliver their responsibilities. At present, the Territories
are frequently overlooked. For instance, Defra took lead department
responsibility for UKOT biodiversity in 2009. However, the Department
still has no full-time staff working on Overseas Territories issues
and made no mention of the UKOTs in its recent Business Plan,
despite the Territories being home to over 87% of the threatened
species for which the UK is responsible. DCMS provides a further
example. The department is the lead on the World Heritage Convention,
yet has provided no funding towards the restoration of threatened
UKOT World Heritage Sites, as urgently required by the UN.
DCMS sets the policy directions for the Heritage Lottery Fund
(HLF), one of the key sources of funding for World Heritage Sites
in the metropolitan UK, but the UK focus of these directions effectively
renders UKOT World Heritage Sites ineligible due to their location.
In this instance, the Minister for the Overseas Territories, Henry
Bellingham, has announced that he will approach DCMS to make the
case for including the UKOTs in HLF funding. We believe this is
an excellent example of the FCO fulfilling its role of representing
the Overseas Territories within Whitehall, and would welcome similar
action with other departments.
13. Even if Defra and
DCMS do step up to the mark, the FCO still has an important role
to play as it has direct contact with the Territories and so is
often in a position to represent or support their biodiversity
interests. The in-Territory knowledge and relationships of FCO
staff are crucial for the delivery of effective and strategic
UK Government action. Moreover, the FCO has direct responsibility
for some of the most biodiverse and ecologically important Territories
of allBIOT and South Georgiaso must be able to work
on environmental issues itself.
14. The RSPB would suggest
that one indicator for assessing the Foreign Secretary's claim
to be putting the FCO "at the centre of Government"
is by monitoring whether the department is effective at mainstreaming
one of its core responsibilitiesthe Overseas Territoriesinto
the other relevant Government departments.
15. The FCO must also
work to ensure that the interests of the UKOTs are better represented
at an EU level. For instance, the EU's main funding tool for biodiversity
(LIFE +) is currently closed to the UK Overseas Territories, though
open to the French Outermost Regions. Such a major funding source
would have a highly significant impact on UKOT conservation, and
the FCO needs to work with Defra to ensure that strong representations
are made to the European Commission in order to open up LIFE +
and develop new funding streams like the BEST initiative.
16. The RSPB appreciates the support given by
Governor's offices on Territories to biodiversity conservation
projects, as well as efforts made by the FCO to brief Governors
and other office-holders before they take up office on Territories.
However, considering the fundamental importance of the natural
environment to the economies of the Territories, we are concerned
that some posts do not give it sufficient priority. As Governors
are involved in the highest levels of decision-making in the Territories,
they could play a much greater role in ensuring:
(a) better provision of information to Territory
governments on the importance of the natural environment to the
economy and quality of life.
(b) the UK Government's responsibilities for
international conventions such as the Convention on Biological
Diversity are implemented.
(c) the establishment and implementation of effective
environmental governance systems on the territories (eg land planning,
strategic environment assessment, environmental impact assessment
(d) the promotion of UK conservation expertise
in the Territories and support to UK funded environmental projects.
(e) the provision of support to assist capacity-building
in civil society within the environment sector.
(f) the encouragement of all Territories to ratify
and strengthen existing multilateral environmental agreements
by helping to implement them through the provision of financial
and technical support.
(g) all development programmes, particularly
those funded by the UK Government, undergo appropriate environmental
assessment before they are considered for approval.
(h) greater support from
the FCO and UK Government in responding rapidly to urgent environmental
EXPLAINING UK FOREIGN
17. The FCO has a key role to explain to the
British public the UK's responsibilities with regard to the Overseas
Territories. Greater awareness of the Overseas Territories would
help solve many of the problems that arise from being out-of-sight
and thus out-of-mind. For instance, the French Government has
declared 2011 to be the Year of its Overseas Territories. A similar
action in the UK would be of great benefit in showcasing to the
British public the unique communities and biodiversity for which
the UK is responsible.
18. Non-governmental organisations such as the
RSPB have a long history of working effectively in partnership
with emerging NGO partners and local governments in the Overseas
Territories. This has lead to a detailed understanding of the
particular environmental challenges faced by the individual Territories,
as well as long-term relationships with key partners. NGOs such
as the RSPB are thus well placed to work with and advise the FCO
on the development of relevant policy. NGOs can also deliver desired
conservation outcomes. A pertinent example is the RSPB's Henderson
Island Restoration Project, to which the FCO has contributed £188,000
via the Overseas Territories Environment Programme (OTEP). The
RSPB has raised over £900,000 from non-governmental sources
and will soon lead the operation to save this threatened World
19. The FCO also needs to work to build up effective
and sustainable non-governmental organisations in the Overseas
Territories. Civil society has a very valuable role to play in
improving governance and delivering successful, community-supported
conservation outcomes. Many Territory-based NGOs rely to a significant
extent on funding from Territory governments however, so are not
able to respond objectively when consulted on issues such as development
proposals because they may be threatened with budget cuts if they
raise objections. Staff at these very small organisations may
also not have the skills and/or sufficient time to engage effectively
in policy or planning processes. The FCO and the Governors' offices
need to work to support civil society in the Overseas Territories,
consulting with local organisations early and often, and helping
them to build capacity.
29 November 2010
10 There are only 47 Pitcairn Islanders and over 70
endemic species in the Pitcairn Island group. Back
Report is available at:
The Costing Biodiversity Conservation Priorities in the UK Overseas
Territories report is available on the RSPB website at:
August 2010: Henderson Island World Heritage Site (Pitcairn),
Decision 34COM 7B.27. June 2009: Gough & Inaccessible Islands
World Heritage Site (Tristan da Cunha), Decision 33COM 7B.32.
The voluntary scheme for Biodiversity and Ecosystems Services
in the European Overseas Territories (BEST) is a follow-up to
the "Message from Reunion". It aims to establish a voluntary
scheme for the protection of species and habitats, inspired by
the Natura 2000 approach. It is currently under discussion at
the European Commission. Back
For instance the 2006 stranding of an oilrig off the coast of
Tristan da Cunha, or the introduction of new invasive alien species. Back