HC 846 Sustainability in the Overseas Territories

Written evidence by the UK Overseas Territories Conservation Forum

Summary

The UK Overseas Territories Conservation Forum (UKOTCF) is a charity which promotes the conservation of biodiversity, ecosystem services, and their contribution, together with other aspects of natural and human heritage, to the well-being and sustainability of the UK’s Overseas Territories (UKOTs) and their local communities. UKOTCF’s some 30 member and associate organisations include leading environmental bodies in Britain, the UKOTs, and the Crown Dependencies (CDs), and much of UKOTCF’s work is in facilitating mutual assistance between these and other UKOT bodies, including government departments. In this memorandum, UKOTCF makes the following main points or recommendations, the background and rationale for which are included in the body of the memorandum:

a) UKOTCF welcomes UK Government’s (HMG’s) recognition of the global importance of, and major threats to, the wildlife of UKOTs, and the need to address its conservation as a matter of urgency (para A4).

b) UKOTCF recommends that, for the purposes of working towards sustainable development, strategic coordination be implemented through a working group chaired by a senior official within the FCO incorporating relevant departments and agencies, with NGOs (para B5).

c) UKOTCF welcomes HMG’s new commitment to exemplary environmental management in the uninhabited UKOTs. UKOTCF recommends that this commitment be extended also to the inhabited UKOTs (para B6).

d) UKOTCF recommends that HMG immediately add all uninhabited UKOTs to its ratification of the Convention on Biological Diversity and other conservation conventions, and encourage and assist other territories to join its ratifications (para B7).

e) UKOTCF recommends that HMG take a more environmentally responsible line in areas of UKOT issues where it has direct responsibility (para B11).

f) UKOTCF recommends that the Cyprus Sovereign Base Area (SBA) Administration enforces bird protection legislation, in conjunction with the neighbouring Republic of Cyprus, whose laws those of the SBAs match (para B12).

g) UKOTCF welcomes the reinstatement to approximately the level of two years ago of potential HMG funding for conservation work in UKOTs and the restoration of the eligibility of NGOs and others to apply for such funding, while having some constructive comments on the approach to be used by the newly combined fund (para C10).

h) UKOTCF recommends that the UK Government increases significantly its funding for UKOT biodiversity conservation, as already recommended four years ago by two Select Committees of the House of Commons and that this not be clawed back into funding HMG’s own bodies (para C11).

i) UKOTCF recommends that either the Darwin Plus grants (relating to UKOTs) have their own advisory panel, comprising mainly conservationists knowledgeable in current UKOT issues, and with experience of running projects in or for UKOTs, and of grant-programme management, or that, less satisfactorily, if the existing Darwin Advisory Committee continues to deal with UKOT grants, it be reinforced with several individuals with the attributes indicated above (para C13).

j) UKOTCF recommends that HMG explore with NGOs who have personnel with experience of grant programme management and UKOTs the commissioning of such bodies to run small grant programmes, thereby retaining the effective small project programme without the need to call heavily on HMG personnel time (para C15).

k) UKOTCF recommends that HMG takes a less arbitrarily restrictive view of the type of projects eligible for funding and takes note of what those working in UKOTs consider they need to achieve conservation (para C17).

l) UKOTCF recommends that UK Government engages more with the European Union institutions in order to ensure that UKOTs are not effectively excluded from EU funding for biodiversity conservation – and that, when funding is made available, procedures are simplified (para C21).

m) UKOTCF recommends that Ministers act on the importance they attach in the White Paper to the UKOTs and direct the National Lottery bodies to give at least equal priority in making grants to UKOTs as to metropolitan UK, and that more appropriate decision making systems be established with an understanding of UKOTs (para C24).

n) UKOTCF recommends that UK Government re-affirms clearly its commitment to the Environment Charters which form the basis of UK and UKOTs fulfilling their international conservation obligations – for both the inhabited and uninhabited UK Overseas Territories (para C37).

o) UKOTCF further recommends that fulfilling the Environment Charters be reinstated as a core role of the funding from HMG, now grouped under the Darwin Plus heading (para C38).

p) UKOTCF recommends that HMG supports HM Government of Gibraltar in enforcing fisheries protection legislation, resists the Government of Spain’s support for illegal activities, and instructs the Royal Navy to support HMGOG in the consequent defence of territorial waters and their resources (para C44).

q) UKOTCF recommends that HMG re-engage with the UKOTCF network and other partners to develop a real strategy, preferably shared, for conservation work in the UKOTs (para E19).

r) UKOTCF recommends that UK Government Ministers instruct their officials and agencies to respond positively to the repeated invitations from UKOTCF, its member organisations and other NGOs to restore the productive communication and collaborative working that characterised conservation work for the UKOTs, until unilaterally reduced by officials over the past half-decade (para F4).

s) UKOTCF recommends that HMG officials involved in decision making on UKOTs receive some basic training in environmental conservation and sustainable development, or at least have some technical advice on such matters available and pay regard to this (para G7).

t) UKOTCF recommends that Ministers instruct their officials to stop blocking contacts with the body that many UKOT organisations choose to link to HMG, UKOTCF, and seek to restore the positive relationship of the 1990s and early 2000s (para G16).

A. Introduction

A1. The UK Overseas Territories Conservation Forum (UKOTCF or "the Forum") is a charity which promotes the conservation of biodiversity, ecosystem services, and their contribution, together with other aspects of natural and human heritage, to the well-being and sustainability of the UK’s Overseas Territories (UKOTs) and their local communities. UKOTCF’s some 30 member and associate organisations include leading environmental bodies in Britain, the UKOTs, and the Crown Dependencies (CDs), and much of UKOTCF’s work is in facilitating mutual assistance between these and other UKOT bodies, including government departments. The Crown Dependencies (the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man) share many conservation challenges and aspects of governance with the UKOTs, including reliance on HMG to represent their interests internationally, under international conventions, including Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEAs), and in related negotiations. UKOTCF and associated organisations have given evidence to earlier inquiries by the EAC and other select committees in relation to the fulfilment of the UK's responsibilities in respect of the UKOTs. One member organisation of UKOTCF is also an agency of the UK Government; it is therefore not party to this submission.

A2. This submission is structured in relation to the questions raised in the Committee’s announcement. In order to maintain the flow of our comments, we have included most of our comments under the Committee’s second, fourth and sixth bullet points (sections C, E and G below). However, we have cross-referred in the other sections to some paragraphs in these sections.

A3. The Committee’s announcement makes reference to the White Paper The Overseas Territories: Security, Success and Sustainability, published by FCO in June 2012. UKOTCF analysed the aspects of this White Paper and its context which relate to the environment and published this analysis as Moving Backwards in UK Overseas Territories Conservation: Comments by the UK Overseas Territories Conservation Forum on the UK Government’s June 2012 White Paper The Overseas Territories: Security, Success and Sustainability (Cm 8374) (at http://www.ukotcf.org/pdf/Consultations/WP2012comments.pdf, with a shortened, preliminary version of this published in Forum News 40). UKOTCF subsequently analysed and published a further document, Key measures needed if the UK Government is to fulfil its main international responsibilities for biodiversity conservation in the UK’s Overseas Territories: Main recommendations of the UK Overseas Territories Conservation Forum (at http://www.ukotcf.org/pdf/Consultations/WhitepaperResponseKeyPts05.pdf); this identified some of the main measures which UK Government needed to take to achieve the aspirations indicated in the forewords and introductions to the White Paper, in respect of the environment. These documents provided input into a workshop on environmental aspects of the White Paper, organised by UKOTCF on 2nd October 2012, the proceedings being published as Environmental Conservation and UK Government’s June 2012 White Paper The Overseas Territories: Security, Success and Sustainability (Cm 8374) - Proceedings of a workshop on 2nd October 2012 at Gibraltar House, the Strand, London, organised by the UK Overseas Territories Conservation Forum (at http://www.ukotcf.org/pdf/Consultations/Workshop2012Proceedings05.pdf). These documents are very relevant to the subject of the Committee’s inquiry, and are therefore appended to this memorandum.

A4. UKOTCF has long underlined the fact that, in world terms, the biodiversity of UK’s Overseas Territories is even greater than that of metropolitan Britain, in terms of endemic species, proportions of other species supported, sensitive ecosystems and threatened species. UKOTCF has expressed concern that a species, the St Helena Olive, went globally extinct on UK sovereign territory in 2003 and that other species are on the brink of global extinction. Furthermore, the natural ecosystems of many UKOTs are fundamental to the economies and livelihoods of the local human communities. These include sustainable fisheries, tourism, storm protection, water supply, medicinal plants and other raw materials, amongst others. UKOTCF welcomes HMG’s recognition of the global importance of, and major threats to, the wildlife of UKOTs, and the need to address its conservation as a matter of urgency.

B. The extent to which UK Government strategy on the UKOTs embodies the principles of sustainable development and appropriately trades-off environmental protection, social development and economic growth

B1. The Forum has a very wide remit relating to the sustainability of the UK Overseas Territories but its main involvement is through concern for the environment, and our evidence will concentrate on environmental matters. However, in relation to the specific question, UKOTCF believes that the

White Paper (if that is what is meant by UK government strategy) fails to deal adequately with the need to balance the three pillars of sustainable development. Indeed, there is no specific consideration of such balance as each element is considered separately. In terms of economic growth, it is strange that only a few months after the Rio+20 meeting, where the European Union (and therefore the UK) were strongly promoting a "green growth" agenda which was adopted in the conclusions, there is no mention of this in the White Paper. This is in line with discussions held by Forum representatives with the Governor of Montserrat in February this year, who made it very clear that any growth would be purely on economic grounds – not "green growth" and with little regard for environmental or social concerns.

B2. In respect of the environment, there are strong words on this aspect within the 2012 White Paper. In his foreword, the Prime Minister says "We see an important opportunity to set world standards in our stewardship of the extraordinary natural environments we have inherited". The relevant actions seem far less strong, and inadequate to meet this aspiration and grasp that opportunity. It is further tempered by later text which suggests that oversight of exemplary environmental management is restricted to the uninhabited territories. We would note also the wording of the introduction to the Environment chapter of the White Paper "The UK Government wishes to ensure that the rich environmental assets of the Overseas Territories, for which they are internationally recognised, are cherished." This is an interesting form of words, particular the use of "cherish" being in the passive, and making no commitment to implementation of measures. The operational conclusion at the end of the Environment chapter speaks only of managing natural resources sustainably and putting environmental considerations at the heart of all decision-making. In respect of the latter point, we

are aware that UK Government has recently started an "environmental mainstreaming" exercise in some UKOTs, but are puzzled by the duplication and why it makes no reference to the comparable work (see www.ukotcf.org/charters/charterStrat.htm), a decade earlier under the Environment Charters which derived from the 1999 White Paper. We are puzzled also as to why the new exercise has been conducted in such a closed way (see paras E6-E30, F2-F4, G6-G16).

B3. UKOTCF questions also why the Environment Charters, which are so valued by local practitioners, particularly in response to policy and physical planning matters, are not mentioned in the 2012 White Paper. It has been noted by several persons that this could tend to undermine sustainable development and appropriate trade-offs (see paras C25-C38, E2-E5, E20-29).

B4. Sustainable development, by its nature, has to be implemented through iterative and integrative processes, neither of which are apparent in the White Paper – nor are there clear proposals for these to be put in place. We do welcome the desire for inclusivity among government departments in meeting the aspirations of the White Paper, but that in itself does not automatically mean there is coordination. We know from experience in one territory, the Turks & Caicos Islands (TCI), that coordination has not been achieved even under direct rule by HMG (see para B8). Currently, there is in HMG an Overseas Territories Biodiversity Group, consisting of officials from DEFRA, DFID and FCO, with a secretariat from JNCC; this misses even obvious candidates for inclusion, such as the MoD and DCMS, or the Ministry of Justice responsible for the Crown Dependencies. Its terms of reference do not allow it to make decisions and it does not report to Ministers, so it is somewhat unclear as to its purpose. Discussions in June 2012 with officials from the FCO suggested that it was no longer required. The Forum has suggested that, to assist with integration and coordination, it should be replaced by a wider ranging group of departments and should be accountable to Ministers.

B5. UKOTCF recommends that, for the purposes of working towards sustainable development, strategic coordination be implemented through a working group chaired by a senior official within the FCO incorporating relevant departments and agencies, with NGOs.

B6. UKOTCF has been concerned in the past about the legal fiction that HMG was not directly responsible for the uninhabited UKOTs. Accordingly, UKOTCF welcomes UK Government’s new commitment to exemplary environmental management in the uninhabited UKOTs (but see also paras C27, E2-E5). UKOTCF recommends that this commitment be extended also to the inhabited UKOTs.

B7. UKOTCF worked in the 1980s and 1990s to improve understanding of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands in UKOTs and Crown Dependencies, resulting eventually in all joining UK’s ratification. In recent years, HMG seems to have been less than helpful in encouraging its territories in joining further environmental conventions, although the Forum was asked, and agreed, to assist in a workshop on this topic in September 2011. In 2012, the Isle of Man became the first territory to be added to UK’s ratification of the Convention on Biological Diversity since UK (with some other territories) joined CBD nearly 20 years earlier – and this took 18 months of delays by HMG (including many problems in communications between Departments) after the Isle of Man made the request, having met the requirements. UKOTCF recommends that HMG immediately add all uninhabited UKOTs to its ratification of CBD and other conservation conventions, and encourage and assist other territories to join its ratifications.

B8. UKOTCF does not question the necessity of UK Government taking direct responsibility for governing the Turks and Caicos Islands from 2009 to November 2012. However, it notes that UK Government, in this role, has moved backwards on some aspects of sustainable development and appropriate balances in respect of environmental management. These have included: the abolition of the Conservation Fund, based on an ear-marked element of taxes on tourists and other visitors (and originally introduced by TCI Government as a condition of UK grant aid); the attempt to re-sell for built development undeveloped areas recovered after illegal sale by the previous government; the considering of deep dredging of a channel through nature protected areas, whose earlier dredging devastated some sustainable fisheries as well as the nature reserves; the encouragement of high-rise developments; and the encouragement of, and amending laws to allow, the development of a dolphinarium (or dolphin-prison). It seems that desperation over achieving income may have outweighed proper environmental considerations during the period of direct rule by UK Government.

B9. It is notable also that, against much local feeling to maintain sites of biological and cultural importance, the DFID-dominated government in Montserrat is allowing – and indeed promoting – destructive development at Pipers Pond (the only remaining mangrove area on the island), Carr’s Bay Battery historical site and the historic cemetery. Other approaches retaining these features would have been quite feasible.

B10. The failure of HMG and the Royal Navy to support the Government of Gibraltar in its attempts to enforce environmental protection legislation against illegal incursions of Spanish fishermen and the paramilitary Guardia Civil into British Gibraltar Territorial Waters (BGTW) in the context of actions from a neighbouring country (see paras C39-C44) are relevant here too. HMG failed also to deal in a timely manner with the Spanish government putting forward BGTW as part of its own Special Area of Conservation under the Habitats Directive, a proposal which was accepted by the European Commission, so that parts of BGTW are considered a UK SAC and the whole of BGTW are considered part of a Spanish SAC, leading to retrospective action in the European Court of Justice.

B11. UKOTCF recommends that HMG take a more environmentally responsible line in areas of UKOT issues where it has direct responsibility.

B12. HMG has direct responsibility, administered by the MoD, for the government of the Cyprus Sovereign Base Areas, but illegal hunting of migrant songbirds remains a problem, particularly in the Eastern SBA. UKOTCF recommends that the SBA Administration enforces bird protection legislation, in conjunction with the neighbouring Republic of Cyprus, whose laws those of the SBAs match.

C. How the UK Government is fulfilling its responsibilities to protect biodiversity in the UKOTs

C1. HMG itself acknowledges that it has not fulfilled its responsibilities. In his introduction to the 2012 White Paper, the Foreign Secretary noted that it builds on the 1999 White Paper (which acknowledged that Britain was not meeting its obligations) and once again conceded that there are environmental obligations that are not being lived up to: "It [the 2012 White Paper] is also a strategy of re-evaluation. We have not in the past devoted enough attention to the vast and pristine environments in the lands and seas of our Territories." The 2012 White Paper was presented as the vehicle by which this problem would be addressed; UKOTCF has strongly disputed that the 2012 White Paper will improve the situation (references at para A3). In fact, it is our position that it is a serious step backwards from the 1999 White Paper and the Environment Charters which resulted from that. UKOTCF considers that, unless a real strategy is developed to match positive wishes in Ministerial forewords and real actions are taken, there will be further losses of ecosystem services and further global extinctions on UK territory.

Funding by HMG

C2. The issue of funding for conservation work in the UKOTs is critically important because of the basic problem that NGOs and other bodies in the UKOTs are not eligible for most international funds, because UKOTs are considered to be British, and therefore not developing countries. The assumption is that because the UKOTs are British, Britain itself must be providing the necessary funding. For this reason, in the Environment Charters HMG committed to providing direct funding through the Environment Fund for the Overseas Territories (later replaced by the Overseas Territories Environment Programme - OTEP), promoting access to other sources of public funding and helping each Territory identify further funding partners.

C3. The 2012 White Paper notes (p 13) that "The reasonable assistance needs of the Territories are a first call on the UK’s international development budget." However, DFID’s responsibility, as its major spend, for fulfilling HMG’s target of 0.7% of GDP being spent on ODA countries tends to run counter to this, because most UKOTs do not qualify under ODA. For example, DFID’s recent adoption of the main funding of the previously DEFRA Darwin Initiative has resulted in most UKOTs effectively being excluded from the main part of the Darwin Initiative (see para E28).

C4. House of Commons Select Committees have been more than clear that the level of funding which is in fact provided is "grossly inadequate" (House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, June 2008). A few months later, the Environmental Audit Committee said, "One of the most important contributions that the Government could make to slowing the catastrophic global biodiversity loss currently occurring would be to accept its responsibilities and to provide more support for the UK Overseas Territories in this area."

C5. In 2005, UKOTCF (Forum News 27: 2) analysed figures from HMG showing the spending at least £460 million per year on biodiversity conservation in Great Britain and Northern Ireland, but only about £1 million per year, divided between all UK Overseas Territories (and none on Crown Dependencies) – despite the Territories’ limited human populations and hence limited capacity themselves to undertake vital conservation work. This is even more vital because most of the UK’s globally important biodiversity is located in UK Overseas Territories and not in Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Examples of this are well known and can be found on the Forum’s web site (www.ukotcf.org). One very conservative estimate is that there are at least ten times as many endemic species in UK Overseas Territories as in Great Britain and Northern Ireland. (Other measures give comparable ratios.) Using this as a factor to multiply the spending difference, it appears that UK Government values its responsibilities to global biodiversity in Great Britain and Northern Ireland about 5000 times more than it values its responsibilities to global biodiversity in its Overseas Territories. In fact, because of incomplete information in UK Overseas Territories (caused in part by the same shortage of resources), the difference is very much more. Re-analysis of this in 2012 indicated that this ratio has remained approximately the same.

C6. UKOTCF has never suggested that the spending by HMG on UKOT conservation should be increased by this magnitude, but estimates of needs by both NGOs and HMG’s own agencies indicate a minimum of about a 10-fold increase in budget is needed.

C7. The British Government enters international commitments, including on environmental conservation, on behalf of both itself and UK Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies. The British Government shares responsibility for this globally important biodiversity. The same 2005 analysis showed that HMG made a major contribution to international conservation, of about £40 million per year. The ‘Government Response to Environmental Audit Committee Report: "Trade Development and Environment – the role of the FCO" (Fifth Report of Session 2006-07)’, reports that "The UK is the largest financial supporter of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)." This is commendable in one respect but contrasts with HMG’s pitiably small funding for the environment in the territories for which HMG shares direct responsibility.

C8. In fact, HMG funding for conservation work in the UKOTs has increased only marginally, if at all since the EAC’s 2008 Inquiry. The new Darwin Plus fund brings together the FCO/DFID funding from OTEP (after a year’s absence of funding) and the DEFRA funding for UKOTs from the general Darwin Initiative. The funds available in the new Darwin Plus fund total only about £2 million for all Overseas Territories. (And with the new commitment to exemplary management of the uninhabited Territories, it stands to reason that the inhabited Territories are looking at a smaller share.) It seems that the amount of funding continues to be based on what Departments can spare, rather than on an assessment of the funds that would be needed actually to do the job. A strategic approach to this has been made both more complicated and easier in a sense, in that there is no longer a biodiversity strategy for the UK but each of the metropolitan devolved administrations now produce their own, with coordination through a mixture of chief scientists from the conservation agency of each of those administrations and the JNCC. However, it was noteworthy that this process initially completely missed out from the co-ordination the UK Overseas Territories Biodiversity Strategy; reference to this was inserted only after the agreement between the metropolitan administrations had been signed; so its status is somewhat uncertain. One possible way forward could have been to treat the Overseas Territories governments in the same way, for example, as Scotland, as a devolved responsibility, and incorporate their strategies into the overarching process. UKOTCF did suggest this at a planning meeting with JNCC, but it did not find favour. Also, because of ever more elaborate application and reporting requirements, funds are increasingly inaccessible to smaller UKOT governments and most NGOs based in the Territories with poor capacity.

C9. In the early stages of OTEP, there was an expectation that the fund would not normally fund HMG’s own departments and agencies. However, this expectation has gradually been eroded.

C10. UKOTCF welcomes the reinstatement to approximately the level of two years ago of potential HMG funding for conservation work in UKOTs and the restoration of the eligibility of NGOs and others to apply for such funding, while having some constructive comments (see below) on the approach to be used by the newly combined fund.

C11. UKOTCF recommends that the UK Government increases significantly its funding for UKOT biodiversity conservation, as already recommended four years ago by two Select Committees of the House of Commons, and that this not be clawed back into funding HMG’s own bodies.

C12. The recent changes mark also a further distancing of the granting process from the people doing work on the ground. The philosophy of FCO’s Environment Fund for Overseas Territories (EFOT) set up in 1999 was that FCO, the UKOTCF network and the UKOTs were a team with a shared responsibility for conservation in the UKOTs. Thus help was available from FCO or UKOTCF to prepare proposals and implement the work. With DFID joining in to create the Overseas Territories Environment Programme (OTEP), came a more formal structure, so that UKOTs became applicants and the OTEP departments just a funding body. Rather than sharing the problems and responsibility for them, the attitude was more that the territories were supplicants for UK aid. This put UKOTCF in a difficult position, as DFID/FCO would never clarify the rules as to what UKOTCF could do/not do to help applicants – usually instead taking retrospective positions. With time and changing FCO and DFID (and DEFRA & JNCC) personnel, this situation steadily became worse, with a decreasing proportion of advisory panel consisting of NGO participants and of those with experience of UKOT issues and project management. With the incorporation of grants into the Darwin Initiative, there are very few members of the advisory panel who are familiar with current UKOT issues or involved with most of the on-the-ground players in UKOT conservation – so it becomes very much a them-and-us exercise. This may be exacerbated in that the Darwin Initiative tends to have quite an academic panel, used to working in highly competitive research council situations, rather than the collaborative conservation attitude which prevailed under EFOT and, to some extent, the earlier stages of OTEP. Whilst there could be advantages in a single source of funding, this means also that an even more restricted set of people are the decision makers. UKOTCF considers that HMG and the efficacy of the deployment of public funds would benefit from a return to a system that involves fully the expertise of NGOs (and umbrella bodies like UKOTCF) working alongside officials to decide on grant funding.

C13. Accordingly, UKOTCF recommends that either the Darwin Plus grants (relating to UKOTs) have their own advisory panel, comprising mainly conservationists knowledgeable in current UKOT issues, and with experience of running projects in or for UKOTs, and of grant-programme management, or that, less satisfactorily, if the existing Darwin Advisory Committee continues to deal with UKOT grants, it be reinforced with several individuals with the attributes indicated above.

C14. EFOT and OTEP were small-project funds, and made possible, usually by combining with voluntary work, a great deal of highly cost-effective progress on small issues or piloting work which could beneficially be applied on a larger scale to address major conservation issues. UKOTCF has long called for a fund for such medium-sized and/or longer duration projects – as exists in Britain and many parts of the world, for species-recovery programmes, ecosystem restoration, organisational capacity development etc. This need was recognised too in HMG’s 2009 UKOTs Biodiversity Strategy. In this sense, one might be expected to welcome the fact that there is no limit on size of grants in the new Darwin Plus programme. However, such projects would be funded from the same total funding previously limited to small projects. Inevitably, this will mean fewer small projects, despite their excellent track record, and could mark the effective end of small projects. Current officials do not like small grants, because of the project handling time – and, indeed, it has become clear that JNCC, the HMG agency that still handles some small grants, does very little monitoring of the projects’ progress and accounting. In this context, whilst small projects are not excluded from Darwin Plus, subtle changes to the form (e.g. asking for financial management experience) and the preference of officials will probably lead to a move to larger project sizes.

C15. UKOTCF recommends that HMG explore with NGOs who have personnel with experience of grant programme management and UKOTs the commissioning of such bodies to run small grant programmes, thereby retaining the effective small project programme without the need to call heavily on HMG personnel time.

C16. The initial themes indicated for Darwin Plus do not specifically include capacity-building or environmental education, and specifically exclude projects on awareness-raising, communications and outreach (taking a very extreme view of a general government guidance issued 2½ years earlier by the incoming Coalition Government). This tends to imply that work on environmental education, websites, publications, workshops and conferences would not find favour. (There is some confusion here in that, in answer to a question from Mr Andrew Rosindell MP to ask what steps the Secretary of State for International Development is taking to promote environmental awareness in St Helena, the DFID Minister of State drew attention, in November 2012, to the new fund as a means of addressing this.)

C17. Given that such types of work are clear needs in some situations by UKOTs, UKOTCF recommends that HMG takes a less arbitrarily restrictive view of the type of projects eligible for funding and takes note of what those working in UKOTs consider they need to achieve conservation.

Funding from the European Union

C18. The European Union is an obvious place to look for funding. After considerable work by UKOTCF and others, a pilot programme Preparatory Action (Voluntary scheme for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services in Territories of the EU Outermost Regions and Overseas Countries and Territories)‘BEST’ , was established by an initiative of the European Parliament, in collaboration with Directorate-General Environment, utilising funds from Directorate-General Development Cooperation. There have been two tranches of €2 million, the first being very controversial among many EU member states with Overseas Countries and Territories (OCTs) as all the lead recipients were French and sub-tropical or tropical (or two international organisations with no on-the-ground experience of OCTs). The second tranche was slightly more balanced but included funding for government agencies which UKOTCF would contend is inappropriate. The process was unbalanced in that many of the recipients were eligible for other sources of EU funds, which the UKOTs are not. The process also flagged up the lack of experience (and therefore knowledge) of dealing with European Institutions; the sheer amount of time required to fill in a supposedly simplified proposal – which included advice that applicants should use an accountant to provide the financial information needed as it was complex; and this flagged up the lack of capacity within the UKOTs, both governmental and non-governmental, to deal with such processes.

C19. It had been assumed that the plan was to use the interest in funding for biodiversity projects in OCTs to persuade the European Institutions that there should be a permanent fund arising out of this preparatory action, with the current BEST (or, more correctly, Pre-BEST) results proving the need for it. Unfortunately, it was made clear at a meeting with the European Commission’s DG Environment in April 2012 that a permanent fund was not planned, that DG-ENV was not, and did not wish to be, a funding body. At the same meeting, the overseas entities of EU member states were advised to access existing EU budget-lines to fund environmental projects. This concept became known as the "virtual BEST" to follow the existing "pre-BEST". This, however, causes major problems for the UKOTs since, aside from the still very uncertain possibility of access to the EU fund LIFE+ for the UKOTs, there are virtually no European Union funds that are accessible to them (as opposed to the Outermost Regions, those overseas entities which are parts of metropolitan member states). At present, it seems that even inclusion in LIFE+ may not be extended to OTs, but may be extended to non-EU countries in Asia! There is a need for considerable lobbying on the part of the UK Government to change this situation. This has not been a priority in the past for HMG, but we hope that policy will change and the UK Government will lobby hard for funding possibilities for Overseas Territories. Indeed, reaching agreement to open up funding lines currently not available is something hinted at in the White Paper. It was apparent that considerable work needed to be done to ensure inclusion of sustainable funding in the new EU budget agreement for 2014 onwards, but there is little evidence that HMG has tried to do so. UKOTCF would also wish to see HMG work with other states to press the European Commission to reduce the needless and disproportionate bureaucratic load on applications and other processes.

C20. Whilst not finally agreed, the European Parliament has voted through a third tranche of funding for a pre-BEST round for 2013. The modalities for this will be agreed only once the funding has been formally approved in trialogue, but there are signs of disagreement within the Commission. Some wish to see this tranche used towards production of an ongoing sustainable process – the original intention of pre-BEST – but others seem to consider it something of a nuisance and merely wish to continue as before and fund half a dozen one-off projects. UKOTCF hopes that HMG will put its weight behind the former option (assuming the funding is agreed), and work towards a sustainable outcome.

C21. UKOTCF recommends that UK Government engages more with the European Union institutions in order to ensure that UKOTs are not effectively excluded from EU funding for biodiversity conservation – and that, when funding is made available, procedures are simplified.

National Lottery Funding

C22. The benefits of the National Lottery are not available to the UK Overseas Territories, unlike, for example its Dutch equivalent for Dutch territories. There is no bar on the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) making grants to UK organisations which would be carried out in the UKOTs, but HLF’s current stated policy is to treat any such applications as a low priority. "When making decisions on funding, HLF take into account their policy directions, which place an emphasis on funding the heritage of the UK for access by the people of the UK." HLF seems unaware that the UKOTs are sovereign UK territory, that their people are UK citizens and that many metropolitan UK citizens visit the UKOTs every year. The situation is exacerbated in that applications have to be made via a regional office in Britain. This places applications in direct competition with community projects in that British region, with decisions taken by regional committees with no knowledge of, or sympathy with, UKOTs. Perhaps all UKOT applications should go to one region, or a separate committee, and the relevant committee be briefed specifically on UKOT issues, and resourced for these.

C23. The 2012 White Paper suggests that HLF funding is available for work in the UKOTs: "The Lottery cannot currently be played in the Territories. However, distributing bodies, which make their funding decisions independently of Government, can make grants to support good causes in the Territories to organisations based in the UK and working in the Territories." This, as noted above, is explicitly contradicted by HLF policy, but if Ministers feel that projects in the UKOTs should be funded by HLF, we urge them to give the Lottery bodies a Direction in line with these intentions. Such action would also give some support to HMG’s suggestion that its various Departments are now more "joined-up."

C24. UKOTCF recommends that Ministers act on the importance they attach in the White Paper to the UKOTs and direct the National Lottery bodies to give at least equal priority in making grants to UKOTs as to metropolitan UK, and that more appropriate decision making systems be established with an understanding of UKOTs.

The Environment Charters

C25. The 1999 White Paper Partnership for Progress and Prosperity noted that the UK and its Overseas Territories have not lived up to their obligations with respect to environmental conservation, and promised to resolve that problem by negotiating Environment Charters with the Overseas Territories which would lay out responsibilities for HMG and UKOT governments, bringing in NGOs and other stakeholders. In 2001, each of the UKOTs signed a Charter, except for Gibraltar, which has subsequently adopted the language of the Charter in another form, the Cyprus Sovereign Base Areas and British Antarctic Territory. The Charters are bilateral international agreements which were signed for the UK by Valerie Amos, the then Overseas Territories Minister, and by the head of each UKOT Government.

C26. The Charters are prefaced by ten Guiding Principles, based largely on the Convention for Biological Diversity and several other Conventions to which UK and UKOTs are party. These principles are followed by the Charter Commitments, a set of mutual commitments which generally set out what each Territory Government will do and how the UK government is committed to supporting that. In essence, what the Charters do is recognise that, if care for the environment is to be devolved to the Territories themselves, the local government must be committed to best practice in its management, and HMG will in turn ensure that the Territory government has the help and resources it needs.

C27. The Charters are vitally important to the UKOTs, and especially to environmental NGOs, but the UK Government has been backing away from them over the last several years. For a number of years, HMG worked with the UKOT governments and, often through UKOTCF, with NGOs in a genuine effort to meet the commitments of the Charters, providing funding through OTEP with an open application procedure, working with NGOs both in the UK and the Territories, supporting sharing of experience and expertise among the UKOTs, etc. Then about five years ago, things started to change.

· In 2008, despite promising the Environmental Audit Committee that it would "carry out a review of the Environment Charters which have now been in place for five years" the FCO told UKOTCF (which had been asked to undertake the review of progress) that it did not have the resources to review its own performance, and, indeed, it has never carried out the review it promised to the House of Commons.

· Bi-annual meetings between HMG, the UKOTCF network, UKOT Government representatives and others to keep track of, and assist, progress in conservation were ended unilaterally by the UK Government. At first UKOTCF was told that it was just a scheduling problem, but the last meeting was held in 2008 and it was later confirmed that such meetings will not be held in future.

· Despite claiming to build on the 1999 White Paper, and having a chapter on environmental conservation, the 2012 White Paper fails to refer to the Charters even once.

· This was capped off by controversy in Bermuda about whether the Charter requirement for environmental impact assessments was binding, as the Bermuda Ombudsman asserted. In an official statement the Bermuda Minister of the Environment, Planning and Infrastructure said on 2 May 2012: "We have taken advice from both the Attorney General's office and the FCO via Government House, and conclude that the UK Environment Charter does not constitute law. It is unenforceable. Rather, the UK itself considers the Charter to be aspirational." [emphasis added]

C28. UKOTCF agrees strongly with the Bermuda Ombudsman, Arlene Brock, that the Charters are valid and binding. (see Today’s Choices – Tomorrow’s Costs ( a systemic investigation report on the SDO process), February 10, 2012 and Special Report (Ombudsman’s comment on Government’s response ) June 18, 2012, www.ombudsman.bm ).

C29. The general principles of international law provide that bilateral agreements between governments are binding: if they are signed in writing with specific commitments; are entered into without coercion or duress; and there is no express written provision that the signatories do not intend to be bound. Clearly the Environment Charters meet these criteria and were intended to meet them. This means they are binding, as the International Court of Justice held in its 1994 case (Qatar v Bahrain) which states that agreements between governments with specific commitments that are intended to be implemented are binding.

C30. UKOTCF understands that international agreements of this sort are not enforceable in court. Rather they rely on the integrity and goodwill of the signatories and their desire to be perceived as responsible members of the international community. That being said, there are other such agreements about which the UK Government would be horrified if it were suggested that they can be ignored, such as the OECD Tax Information Exchange Agreements. The 2007 TIEA between Bermuda and the UK, for example, is brought into force by the exchange of letters over the signatures of Bermuda Minister of Finance and a Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State. Imagine Britain's reaction if Bermuda were to assert that this tax information exchange agreement is 'aspirational'.

C31. In 1992, the UK became a signatory to the Convention on Biological Diversity which essentially comprises a comprehensive list of actions needed to protect species and ecosystems – a list which includes every commitment in the Charters. Section 4 of the CBD imposes accountability on each signatory for processes and activities "carried out under its jurisdiction or control, within the area of its national jurisdiction or beyond the limits of national jurisdiction." Thus Britain, as a signatory, is responsible for meeting the obligations of the Convention in its UKOTs.

C32. The 1999 White Paper lists the responsibilities HMG and the UKOT governments have with regard to sound environmental management, reflecting again the elements of the CBD. It then notes: "These responsibilities already exist, but the UK and its Overseas Territories have not always addressed these issues sufficiently consistently or systematically." It then announces the development of the Environment Charters to clarify respective roles and responsibilities. UKOTCF believes that the Charters are the means by which the UK intended to meet its international obligations under the CBD and other MEAs.

C33. The Environmental Audit Committee in its 2006-7 review of the FCO said it was "necessary to assess whether both the UK Government and the governments of the UKOTs have met their respective obligations under the Environment Charters and Multilateral Environment Agreements." They go on to describe the UK's responsibility for the UKOTs as "domestic and international environmental commitments" and to note that "failure to meet such commitments undermines the UK’s ability to influence the international community."

C34. The 2012 White Paper lists compliance with relevant multilateral environmental agreements as one of its four goals for environmental management. UKOTCF’s question is: if the Charters do not constitute the mechanism by which the UK meets its international obligations, what is that mechanism?

C35. But more importantly, most people seem to understand that the UKOTs have a variety of cultural and financial issues which affect meeting best practice in environmental management. The 1999 White Paper and the subsequent Environment Charters took a realistic look at what would be needed to enable local UKOT governments to care for their environmental resources, and developed a detailed programme of mutual commitments that would enable that to happen. Both White Papers recognise the hugely more valuable biodiversity of the UKOTs as against metropolitan UK. Why turn our backs on an established scheme that will enable effective conservation of these resources?

C36. Whilst the above paragraphs have tended to emphasise Bermuda because of the wider significance of the Ombudsman’s clear analysis, the Environment Charters are valued highly in other UKOTs also. For example, in the delay of over a decade in Cayman’s legislature passing its long-proposed environmental legislation, the Environment Department uses the Charter Commitments as a document for researchers and other parties to sign up to.

C37. UKOTCF recommends that UK Government re-affirms clearly its commitment to the Environment Charters which form the basis of UK and UKOTs fulfilling their international conservation obligations – for both the inhabited and uninhabited UK Overseas Territories.

C38. UKOTCF further recommends that fulfilling the Environment Charters be reinstated as a core role of the funding from HMG, now grouped under the Darwin Plus heading.


Protecting Gibraltar's territorial waters

C39. This issue is currently the subject of an ongoing review, with an advisory committee to the Government of Gibraltar and a Joint Commission with Spain looking at the sustainable management of marine living resources in the waters around Gibraltar; both are chaired by UKOTCF’s Chairman. The results of that review are not yet finalised, although are expected early in 2013. Clearly there is some sensitivity in providing the EAC with detailed information now ahead of publication, but the issues can be outlined now and UKOTCF would be happy to provide further evidence on this issue, subject to the approval of the Government of Gibraltar – which is unlikely to be withheld.

C40. Despite a law being passed in 1991, Gibraltar's territorial waters (BGTW) are regularly fished by Spanish vessels despite this being illegal under that law. A 1999 "understanding" agreed between the then Chief Minister of Gibraltar and the Spanish fishermen (albeit under duress) allowed for a certain number of Spanish boats to fish and the Royal Gibraltar Police (RGP) would turn a blind eye. This allowing of breaking the law was condoned by the then British government as it stopped continuation of ongoing conflict with Spain. With a new government elected in Gibraltar in late 2011, this "understanding " was revoked, leading to further dispute and conflict, and the setting up of the Commission. There have been regular incursions by Spanish fishing boats often accompanied by paramilitary Guardia Civil boats.

C41. The 2012 White Paper sets out quite clearly what Britain's responsibilities are in this situation:

P 14: "Defence and Security: the UK is committed to defend the Territories."

"International Support: the UK is responsible for the external relations of the Territories and uses its diplomatic resources and influence to promote their interests."

P 22: "We will continue to maintain an independent ability to defend the Territories – including their territorial waters and airspace – from any external security threats they may face."

"We will also ensure that the Territories are able to trade, to exploit their natural resources… free from undue external interference."

"The Royal Navy is tasked with... upholding the sovereignty of British Gibraltar Territorial Waters."

P 48: "economic activity, including tourism and fisheries is managed in a way that is consistent with the long term sustainable use of the natural environment, including over-exploitation."

P 88: "Conclusion … We are defending robustly Territories which face external threats."

C42. Despite these definitive statements of responsibility, little action has been forthcoming from HMG. The RGP are tasked with enforcing the 1991 legislation and are therefore responsible for arresting illegal fishing boats, some few of which have been intercepted and arrested. However, the Commissioner of the RGP is (quite rightly in the Forum’s view) not prepared to send unarmed police officers in small boats against armed larger Guardia Civil boats. Further, while the Royal Navy may rely on a defence that they do not undertake fisheries protection duties (unlike elsewhere in the world) and their only concern is maintaining the integrity of sovereign waters, then that still does explain why armed Spanish Guardia Civil boats accompanying the Spanish boats are not tackled when they are clearly not using the waters simply for navigation purposes. There have been a number of other incidents involving Guardia Civil boats in recent months, with one arresting a Gibraltar registered boat fishing in BGTW, and in July 2012 a Guardia Civil boat fired rubber bullets at a Gibraltar registered boat within BGTW. The Foreign Affairs Select Committee looked at this issue in 1999 and many of their recommendations have not been implemented and could still apply today.

C43. The Government of Gibraltar is seeking to manage its natural resources sustainably, but is being thwarted by the illegal fishing activities of Spanish boats. (In fact, if the waters were Spanish, it is likely that it would be illegal to fish there under Spanish law.) It would normally be assumed that the role of Governor and of the FCO would be to ensure the best interests of Gibraltar and its citizens – which in this case would be to put in place measures to stop this illegal activity. However, the exact opposite appears to be the case, with the UK government putting enormous pressure on the Gibraltar Government to allow this illegal fishing. The role of the Governor seems to have switched from looking after Gibraltar’s interests to that of not upsetting the Government of Spain.

C44. UKOTCF recommends that HMG supports HM Government of Gibraltar in enforcing fisheries protection legislation, resists the Government of Spain’s support for illegal activities, and instructs the Royal Navy to support HMGOG in the consequent defence of territorial waters and their resources.

D. How the UK Government is helping the UKOTs adapt to the impact of climate change

D1. UKOTCF has currently relatively little direct involvement with climate change issues, although there has been some interaction with UNFCCC processes in a wider context than UKOTs and adaptation. Therefore, the Forum’s comment on this question will be rather brief.

D2. First, this question relates only to adaptation. Given the size of the UKOTs, it is clear that any mitigation measures will be very small in relation to the overall task of reducing carbon emissions. However, in strategic terms, it is important for the UKOTs to show that attempts are being made to reduce carbon emissions and, for a number of the UKOTs, there is a very real possibility of attaining carbon neutrality. The most obvious of these is Montserrat, with its huge potential for geothermal energy generation, but many others have great potential for solar generation. Indeed, at the final round of applications for OTEP, and following UKOTCF providing some requested advice, there was a proposal from Pitcairn for funding of solar panels. This was outwith the funding availability, but certainly showed a willingness to engage. It was noteworthy that the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) attended the final OTEP assessors’ meeting, but we do not know whether they will be invited to attend the Darwin Plus equivalent. DECC should certainly be involved in any coordination process in place or to be established. We are aware that a contract has been let early in 2012 "to identify the scope and best way to deliver an appropriate climate change programme for all UKOTs and develop a business case (for) it. The business case will need to address how the territories can be best equipped to be

a) dealing with today's climate related risks and

b) preparing for tomorrow's climate."

We note that three possible approaches have been suggested:

1: A truly joint HMG programme. This would mean that government departments agree on the programme itself and put their budgetary contribution towards it into a joint pot.

2: A programme that mirrors for the UKOTs the model of the International Climate Fund (ICF). Programme priorities and eligibility criteria are firmly agreed between all parties; decision-making happens in a cross-Whitehall high-level board; and implementation is taken forward by the different departments. In the case of the £2.9 billion defined as ICF spend, DFID is in charge of implementing £1.8 billion, DECC of implementing £ 1 billion and DEFRA £ 100 000.

3: A programme that would be better defined as "HMG umbrella strategy" and follows the HMG collaborative approach of implementing the UKOT Biodiversity Strategy. HMG departments would agree on a joint strategy for implementing climate change related activities in the territories. Delivery of the strategy would be up to each and every department, which could use their individual delivery mechanism. The commitment to the overarching strategy would help government departments to justify their spending in implementing it and give them the flexibility to bring their spending closer in line with their own objectives.

We have not seen the final conclusions of the report but, given our comments earlier about the UKOT Biodiversity Strategy (see paras C1-C17, C25-C38, E1-E29), UKOTCF would be somewhat nervous about approach 3.

D3. In respect of Darwin Plus, we note that funding for climate change adaptation is included within the overall total available. UKOTCF would wish to see funding for climate change balanced against other immediate threats in the funding portfolio. Given the high profile of climate change issues, it would be easy to concentrate funding on that to the detriment of other factors causing biodiversity loss. We should also note, once again, that funding here falls into the same gap as other sources, with UKOTs being largely ineligible for international funds for climate-change adaptation, so almost any funding for adaptation in the UKOTs will realistically have to come from the UK.

D4. DECC produced, in April 2012, a very useful leaflet DECC Support for the Overseas Territories in which it states "Since its formation DECC has shared with the Overseas Territories information on the development of UK negotiating positions under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change." This is welcome but sharing knowledge is not the same as involvement in the negotiating process, and we are not convinced that the UK Government is sufficiently involved with the Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and related processes under the UNFCCC.

D5. The DECC leaflet further states that "DECC does not lead for HMG on international adaptation issues, but we will look to increase our engagement with the Overseas Territories in existing areas of collaboration, and to extend this engagement to cover knowledge sharing on renewable technology deployment." Rather confusingly, the document ends with "DECC now provides a single point of contact for queries and requests from the Overseas Territories to in relation to energy and climate change issues." It would be helpful if the EAC could explore this as to the lead and the relationship/coordination process.

D6. DECC notes that "In recognition of the need to improve their domestic energy security and reduce green house gas emissions, the Overseas Territories have begun to request support from DECC to help them identify suitable and locally appropriate renewable energy technologies. The 2020 Renewable Energy Roadmap summarises a large body of work on how best to address the barriers to renewables implementation. Although the Department has limited resources to support knowledge sharing in this area [emphasis added], we will look to share the roadmap proactively with the Overseas Territories, including the underlying analysis. We will respond positively to further ad-hoc requests for knowledge sharing, by directing the Overseas Territories to both internal and external sources of best practice."

D7. It should be noted that Gibraltar is in an interesting position, showing in the top ten countries in the world for carbon emissions. However, these figures are based on turnover of hydrocarbons and, as Gibraltar is a major bunkering port, this skews the figures completely.

D8. On adaptation specifically, we note that in many cases natural systems, for example mangroves, act as an efficient buffer to extreme events which appear to be increasing due to climate-change. The loss of these and terrestrial forest systems also remove natural carbon-holding and capturing capacity. Because of their prime coastal locations, it is these ecosystems that are being lost to development through either lack of, or poor, planning. Replacement, along with other adaptation measures is a very expensive process and certainly outwith the bounds of funding available under Darwin Plus as currently established.

E. Whether the recommendations in our [EAC’s] 2008 Report, Halting Biodiversity Loss, on safeguarding biodiversity and practising joined-up government to further conservation have been implemented

Funding

E1. As noted in Section C (especially paras C1-C11, C22-C23), despite calls from both the Environmental Audit Committee and the Foreign Affairs Committee in 2008 that funding for biodiversity conservation be greatly increased to meet the actual need, rather than limiting funding to what the FCO and DFID had to spare, the funding level has remained substantially the same and access to that funding has become increasingly difficult for small Territories and most NGOs (C12-C17, E20-E29, F2-F4, G8-G16).

Environment Charters

E2. Again, as noted in Section C (paras E2-E5), a promise made to the Environmental Audit Committee to review progress on the Environment Charters was never kept, and instead HMG began backing away from the Charters (paras E20-E29).

E3. At the request of the UK Government and the UKOTs, UKOTCF collated information from all parties in 2006-7 and 2009 to monitor progress on the commitments. Bodies in the UKOTs provided a good deal of information on progress on their work on the commitments, and were generally commendably open as to the nature of this. However, despite initiating the work and keeping good records on its fulfilling the commitments until at least 2003, the UK Government felt unable to supply information on its own work in this regard at the time of these reviews.

E4. When preparing supplementary evidence to address questions put to their Minister by the Committee during the Inquiry on Trade, Development and Environment: the role of the FCO, FCO officials asked UKOTCF about progress on its review on implementation of the Charters. Subsequently, the FCO Minister’s supplementary memorandum to the House of Commons EAC stated (with a slightly optimistic interpretation of UKOTCF’s estimate of the timescale): "Your Committee also asked about an assessment of the Overseas Territories Environment Charters. The UKOTCF is currently gathering information on the progress in implementing the Environment Charter Commitments for each Territory (or the equivalent for those Territories without Charters). The Forum intends to publish a progress report towards the middle of this year. The FCO will use that information, in consultation with Whitehall colleagues and the governments of the Overseas Territories, to carry out a review of the Environment Charters which have now been in place for five years."

E5. In this context, UKOTCF put a great deal of further effort into helping and encouraging UKOTs to provide information and is very pleased to note that, of the 21 entities that constitute the UKOTs and Crown Dependencies, responses were received from or on behalf of 19. In line with the Environment Charters themselves, responses were welcomed from both governmental and non-governmental bodies and, in several cases, the responses were integrated. UKOTCF did not receive information from HMG in respect of the UK Commitments in the Environment Charters, nor from those UKOTs which are directly administered by UK Government: British Indian Ocean Territory (which has an Environment Charter), British Antarctic Territory, and the Cyprus Sovereign Base Areas (although information was received from non-governmental sources for some). A few months later, the FCO reported that, although it had no problem in principle with the indicators, HMG did not have the resources to report on the implementation of its own Commitments. Since then, it has never produced the report promised to the EAC, and, as noted in the previous section, began backing away from the Charters to the point where the FCO advised the Bermuda Government, through Bermuda's Government House, that the Charters were only 'aspirational' (see paras C25-C38).

Strategic Assessment of Need

E6. One of the recommendations from the EAC's 2008 Halting Biodiversity Loss Report was: "An ecosystem assessment should be conducted in partnership with each UKOT in order to provide the baseline environmental data required and to outline the effective response options needed to halt biodiversity loss."

E7. UKOTCF had started work on some aspects of this in the 1990s, in consultation with UKOTs and the support of the Darwin Initative, the results appearing first in UK Dependent Territories – A Conservation Review (1996), and later, with updating around 2000 by some UKOTs, as a web-database on UKOTCF’s web-site. Also relevant was a further analysis, The Convention on Biological Diversity and the UK Overseas Territories, a report to the WWF-UK by the UKOTCF in April 1998 (www.ukotcf.org/pdf/cdbweb.pdf).

E8. With the development and signing of the Environment Charters in 2001, UKOTCF understood that such work would be taken forward within the context of these. UKOTCF, supported by FCO’s EFOT, played its part in this by facilitating, in 2002-3, the development of strategy to implement the Environment Charter in a pilot UKOT – for which Turks & Caicos volunteered. After this, St Helena secured funding from OTEP and, at its request, UKOTCF facilitated a strategy there too, in 2004-5. (Details of both of these can be found on www.ukotcf.org.) Around the same time, UKOTCF personnel visited the Falkland Islands to advise personnel there, who were approaching Environment Charter strategy development via an alternative route of biodiversity strategy and action plans. UKOTCF also helped Ascension personnel draft a simple Environment Charter implementation strategy; this was adopted informally, but lost when HMG cancelled local democracy there (see para E21). Following these mainly successful exercises, FCO and DFID lost interest in supporting such work (see paras B3, C25-C38, E20-E29) as well as in the monitoring of progress which it had initially asked UKOTCF to co-ordinate (see para C27, E2-E5).

E9. Therefore, UKOTCF welcomed news that FCO, DFID and DEFRA were to collaborate on developing a biodiversity strategy for UKOTs, and had asked DEFRA’s agency, JNCC, to draft this. UKOTCF was surprised that, in contrast to all previous work in this subject area, UKOTCF was not consulted in any way nor at any stage. This seemed to demonstrate a move to rather more closed approach by HMG than in the past. It also seemed to reflect, just at the time of JNCC’s adoption of a greater role in UKOTs, a transfer of responsibility for this to personnel with less experience of this subject area.

E10. The United Kingdom Overseas Territories Biodiversity Strategy, published in late 2009 by FCO, DFID, DEFRA and JNCC, suffers from the problem that it is not actually a strategy, but acts effectively as a memorandum of agreement between the three departments. This was recognised at a seminar on 23 September 2010, organised by UKOTCF and attended by representatives from UK Government Departments and agencies (Department of Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS), Department of Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA), Department for International Development (DFID), Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO), Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC)), a UKOT government representative, five UKOTCF Member/Associate organisations and other partners, and UKOTCF officers and Council members (report in Forum News 37, December 2010). UKOTCF felt that the almost total lack of stakeholder engagement in the process of developing the Strategy had resulted in a feeling of "us and them" in the NGO community, despite the ministerial Foreword specifically noting the important role of NGOs and other stakeholders. Also, the document was not a strategy by usual standards, but more a statement of aspirations; rather than assisting in decision making, it seemed designed to constrain action. The document failed to address a number of important international obligations (e.g. various aspects of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the "wise use" provisions under the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands). Environment Charters were referred to in the document, but with no specific indication of how their implementation would be advanced. There were few outputs and no outcomes in the document, and there was an absence of clear targets (e.g. achievement of "Favourable Conservation Status", as in the UK). In many respects, the wording of the Strategy was weaker than that of earlier policy documents, including the relevant 1999 and 2006 White Papers; the second of these, for example, committed FCO to "Improve the governance, environment and security of the Overseas Territories and encourage more diversified and sustainable economic development" and "Manage the impact of new international obligations affecting the Overseas Territories" and "Promote biodiversity conservation in the Overseas Territories with support for local livelihoods and sustainable development". Whilst noting that UKOT biodiversity issues were an important consideration across all relevant UK Government departments, the Strategy provided no indication (for example) of how the Department of Communities & Local Government might be engaged in relation to planning issues in the Territories; this continues to be a major concern in relation to environmental management. It seemed likely that even more of the work necessary to meet the aspirations of the Strategy would fall to the kinds of bodies that had been excluded from its development. If the Strategy were to be converted into a meaningful (say) Action Plan, it would be essential for all stakeholders to be engaged in this process.

E11. The seminar discussions revealed that officials of UK Government departments perceived the function and value of the Strategy very differently from the NGO community. The document was seen primarily as a formal commitment by DEFRA, DFID and FCO to work together in addressing UKOT environmental issues; this represented a significant step forward, given that the previous lack of a "joined-up" approach had been heavily criticised. Officials felt that, had a more detailed document been produced, it would have been very difficult to secure cross-departmental ministerial approval, and the opportunity to secure a commitment to a more integrated approach across these three departments might have been lost. Instead, there was now a useful high-level, published document, which could be used to remind Ministers of the commitment to a cross-departmental approach, of the importance of the UKOTs, and in arguing (for example) for the continuation of OTEP. Officials indicated that the lack of NGO engagement reflected the fact that this was intended to be an inward-looking document, outlining how the UK Government was working and intended in future to work on UKOT environmental issues.

E12. Officials stated that UKOTCF would be invited to the next meeting of the interdepartmental officials group, in November, where discussions would involve aspects of the forward process, although this invitation was not, in the event, forthcoming.

E13. It was agreed that it was unfortunate that very different perceptions of the Strategy had clearly arisen. UKOTCF acknowledged the value of the document in providing leverage within UK Government for a joined-up approach, and for keeping UKOTs biodiversity on the political agenda, as was now being stressed by officials. However, the document itself implied (including in the ministerial Foreword) that it represented much more than this. It appeared to advance a framework for biodiversity conservation in the UKOTs, although it was clearly inadequate for this purpose, and seemed to say to other stakeholders including NGOs "this is UK Government’s solution, now you can join in". Reflecting on the very different perceptions of the Strategy from inside and outside UK Government, a UKOT participant questioned whether these would have arisen if the twice-yearly, joint meetings between UK Government and UKOTCF (once found very valuable on both sides for "joining-up" the approaches of UK Government and the NGO community) had not been discontinued unilaterally by HMG.

E14. At that meeting, and later in discussion with Government officials, UKOTCF offered help in developing some elements necessary to produce a more complete strategy. To further redevelop a complementary approach between HMG and NGOs, and to add strategy elements into the HMG MoU confusingly entitled "Strategy", UKOTCF organised, on 28th June 2011, a further workshop on starting to develop UK objectives for biodiversity conservation in the UK Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies (report at www.ukotcf.org/pdf/fNews/BiodivWorkshop1106.pdf). UKOTCF stressed that this was not intended to replace the UK Government document which agreed the share of roles between UK government departments, but to be complementary to it. In addition, it was not intended that any draft objectives developed be prescriptive for UK Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies. Rather, they were intended to draw on previous views from UKOTs/CDs and elsewhere, to try to identified shared features. These could then be used to guide supporting work by UK Government and other outside bodies. Without clear objectives, it would difficult for these to resource, plan and execute their efforts to support the territories. The draft objectives might be useful also for UKOTs and CDs in any revisions of their own strategies. The discussions were stimulated by example presentations from two territories.

E15. The workshop made useful progress on the potential natures of strategies, particularly relating to the Environment Charters and the Aichi Targets, to which HMG had recently signed up to. However, it became clear at the workshop and afterwards that HMG officials were extremely reluctant to engage in strategic discussions even when UKOT personnel asked them to. This is difficult to reconcile with FCO’s recent comments that it wished its re-organised grant funding to take a more strategic approach. Whilst the earlier funding under EFOT and the initial years of OTEP had an underlying strategy of fulfilling the Environment Charters, the strategic objectives of the new scheme and other HMG work in this area has not been defined, or even consulted on.

E16. DEFRA expressed the view at the workshop that the Aichi Targets, which UKOTCF had incorporated in their draft for discussion, are a very heavy sledgehammer with which to address UKOT conservation. However, the UK Post-2010 Biodiversity Framework (http://jncc.defra.gov.uk/page-6189), published in July 2012 by JNCC and DEFRA on behalf of the Four Countries’ Biodiversity Group), includes, at section 2.6 Overseas Territories: "Most UK Overseas Territories (OTs) and Crown Dependencies have Environment Charters that address biodiversity issues. The UK government’s strategy (United Kingdom Overseas Territories Biodiversity Strategy) aims to enable the UK and Overseas Territories governments to meet their international obligations for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity in the UK OTs. The delivery of the Aichi targets in UK OTs will be supported by the UK government via the implementation of this strategy.

The nature of the work to implement the strategy will be to:

i. provide advice;

ii. support capacity building, evidence gathering and research; and,

iii. assist Overseas Territories to access appropriate funding mechanisms.

This work will contribute to addressing most, if not all, of the Aichi targets within the Overseas Territories."

E17. However, whilst HMG’s view of the relevance of the Aichi Targets to UKOTs and CDs seems to have become more logical, this document does not take matters further, because the "Strategy" to which reference is made is the same 2009 inter-departmental agreement which lacks objectives and most other elements that would normally constitute a strategy. Despite offers of cooperation from the Forum and continued suggestions that JNCC would be producing an action plan to implement the so-called strategy, there was nothing public being produced. Further enquiries suggested that only actions relevant to DEFRA and JNCC were being generated. Ongoing discussions with DEFRA just produced an answer that it was inappropriate for the UK government to impose objectives on the UKOTs. The Forum had never suggested that to be the outcome, but what the Forum did expect were clear objectives and an action plan for HMG to use in implementing the MoU/strategy. At the last meeting the Forum had with DEFRA in September 2012, we were once again told of the inappropriateness of producing objectives but were advised that, contrary to HMG officials’ instincts and after significant pressure from NGOs and others, they were now minded to produce a plan. The Forum has received no further information on the possible content of this and has not been consulted. However, in respect of direct imposition of policy on UKOTs, it is patently not true that this does not happen. This is witnessed by an example from Gibraltar, where the form completed for the European Commission providing details of the Special Area of Conservation under the Habitats Directive was altered (before submission to the European Commission) by HMG’s agency, JNCC, without the Government of Gibraltar’s knowledge or approval.

E18. In late 2012, HMG scheduled a 1-day meeting in March 2013 to review progress and future priorities for an implementation plan for a UKOT biodiversity strategy. Whilst UKOTCF will attempt to help this, a 3.5 year delay since the strategy and delays of 2.5 and 1.5 years since UKOTCF ran workshops to stimulate joint efforts seem to indicate some lack of priority in HMG’s view. Furthermore, the approach to the setting up of the meeting still seems to indicate a reluctance to re-engage enthusiastically with NGOs.

E19. UKOTCF recommends that HMG re-engage with the UKOTCF network and other partners to develop a real strategy, preferably shared, for conservation work in the UKOTs.

The decline in interest by FCO, and the role of other government departments and agencies

E20. The decline in interest by FCO in UKOT conservation was perhaps first apparent in its absent-minded cancellation of the Environment Fund for Overseas Territories in 2002, only a year after HMG committed to this Fund in the 2001 Environment Charters. However, some senior staff in FCO at the time were open to reasoned argument (especially at the UKOTCF-organised conference in 2003), so that the fund was reinstated in 2003 (initially on a temporary basis, and then as OTEP). However, a more permanent decline started in 2005/6 – although it was several years before the scale and nature of this became fully apparent.

E21. In 2005/6, HMG reversed its policy on Ascension in a way which had major environmental impacts (as well as on the population). In the late 1990s, the companies which used Ascension, and which were effectively allowed by HMG to run the island, had indicated that they no longer wished to do so. HMG had commissioned a study by the University of Portsmouth to look into the future constitution, resulting in March 2000 in a report. The consultants identified two options for the future of Ascension: model one "modified status quo" would result in the decline of the island. The other "public finance" option would involve a move to a more normal system of government and economy, with an elected council, the introduction of property rights, right of abode, opportunities for self-employment and investment in new business, and the opening of the airport to civilian traffic. HMG accepted the report and, in 2001, announced that it would implement the recommended "public finance" option. A first Council was elected and served its term, and a second Council elected. Until November 2005, people long resident on Ascension believed, as they had been led to believe by HMG, that they would have a right to residency, and, on this basis, a number of them had invested in local businesses. At the end of November 2005, a small group of British officials visited Ascension and the newly elected second Council, and announced that HMG had reversed its previous position, and that human rights were to be cancelled and the changes agreed and announced as definite five years earlier were not to be legislated despite their being effectively implemented already. Local representatives said that, if local residents could not invest in a place and did not have the right to stay in their home island, they were unlikely to have a commitment to the environment. The Deputy Head of FCO’s Sustainable Development Group (who was also the joint Chairman, with UKOTCF’s Chairman, of the 6-monthly joint HMG/UKOTCF network meetings) confirmed that his Group had not been consulted by the FCO colleagues reversing the policy. RSPB strongly supported UKOTCF’s concern, both bodies having heavily invested, alongside FCO, in the successful restoration of the wildlife of Ascension. FCO officials exacerbated the situation by first denying (despite the evident situation) that there had been a reversal of policy, and second by referring to citizens on Ascension as contract workers (reflecting the language used by HMG in the 1960s when evicting the inhabitants of the Chagos Islands). FCO had assumed that there would be no environmental implications. This attitude caused great concern amongst the NGO and UKOT representatives who profoundly disagreed with this, on the basis of direct experience. The FCO Deputy Head of Sustainable Development indicated that he fully understood the link to the environment, as he had been involved in FCO’s work in some developing countries to facilitate the concept of environmental democracy – and was clearly concerned by his colleague’s actions. UKOTCF was concerned that, despite a long and productive partnership with FCO in respect of Ascension, FCO had not consulted, or even advised, them of this plan for a fundamental change until UKOTCF had heard indirectly some weeks later, and that environmental aspects were clearly overlooked in the development of FCO’s proposed policy reversal. UKOTCF regretted the breakdown in the normally constructive communications.

E22. Shortly after the Ascension controversy, FCO closed down its environmental section (then the Sustainable Development Group, previously Environment Policy Department and, before that, Environment, Science & Energy Department). This series of bodies had been responsible for working with UKOTCF to set up the twice-yearly liaison meetings and other co-operation, the Environment chapter in the 1999 White Paper, the Environment Charters, and the grant programmes EFOT and later OTEP. In 2005, the FCO dropped virtually all its environmental posts, claiming that other government departments would pick up this role for the UKOTs, but in practice little of this happened and certainly not effectively. One might imagine that, with reduced UK Governmental capacity, the government would seek to fill the gap by encouraging work by NGOs and their chosen umbrella body, UKOTCF, which had worked in partnership with government for two decades. However, the reverse was true from the middle of the first decade of the millennium.

E23. With the loss of FCO’s environmental team, the HMG lead in contacts with the UKOTCF network transferred to FCO’s Overseas Territories Department (later Directorate). Whilst UKOTCF had worked well with OTD previously, alongside the environmental department links, there were changes in OTD at the same time. The normal first point of contact from mid-2006 was OTD’s Deputy Head. She appeared to take a dislike to UKOTCF, and amazed her colleagues from other HMG Departments by attending a 5-day UKOTCF-organised UKOT/Crown Dependency conservation conference in Jersey for just half a day, and speaking openly from the lectern about UKOTCF as if it were an evil foreign power. This attitude may have affected the new FCO Head of Overseas Territories, Leigh Turner; at what was supposed to be a "get-to-know" meeting in late 2006, he started by launching an attack on UKOTCF’s Chairman and Vice-Chairman over the Ascension issue of about a year earlier, before his appointment. The negative attitude seemed also to transfer to his successor as FCO Director of Overseas Territories, Colin Roberts. Whilst UKOTCF had what seemed to be a positive meeting with him in mid-2008, shortly after he took office, when he invited UKOTCF’s Chairman to drop in any time, he then refused to meet UKOTCF for nearly 4 years, until mid-2012, just before he left office. References to the ‘Big Society’ gave hope that the new Coalition Government would reverse this negative trend. In practice, however, the decline in UK Government’s interest in working with UKOTCF and its member bodies continued and possibly even accelerated.

E24. UKOTCF discovered in 2012, from a document released under an unrelated application under the Freedom of Information Act, that Colin Roberts had been trying to undermine UKOTCF, while at the same time his staff were telling UKOTCF that FCO had no problem with UKOTCF – and despite the fact that UKOTCF is the body that a range of UKOT and other NGOs selected to interact for them with the UK Government and others. UKOTCF had previously experienced a very professional attitude from FCO officials and was unused to them taking (or expressing) personal dislike. It is not clear whether this personalisation of positions by senior FCO officials influenced their attitude to inter-organisational matters, but UKOTCF is concerned that this may be the case.

E25. This secrecy meant that the UKOTCF network was unable to do anything about it nor address any issues UK Government officials may have had. From about 2006, when JNCC was given authority and resources to take an interest in UKOTs and Crown Dependencies, this body set up parallel systems to those long operated by UKOTCF for both NGO and official bodies, but excluded UKOTCF and UKOT NGOs from involvement – or even knowledge of the existence of these groups. UKOTCF considers this wasteful of public resources and disruptive to a co-operative approach.

E26. The period also showed a decline in HMG funding for UKOT conservation through the effective UKOTCF network. Payments from FCO (and, to a lesser extent, DEFRA) made up most of the total from 1999/2000 to 2004/5. With the start of the joint FCO/OTEP scheme (replacing FCO’s EFOT), grants from DFID started in 2004/5. Progressively over the next 3 years, DFID became responsible for virtually all the funding from HMG to UKOTCF, as the FCO funding dwindled to nothing. Generally, the pattern of funding (until a post-2008 reduction to a low, and now zero, level) reflected the work on conservation and environmental projects for and with the UKOTs. Peaks in 1999/2000, 2002/3, 2006 and 2008/9 reflected the 3-yearly UKOTCF-organised conference-workshops for conservation practitioners in the UKOTs – highly valued by the latter as means of cost-effectively sharing expertise and skills. The last grant award from HMG to UKOTCF was in 2008/9, with the last payment in 2011/2. HMG has not awarded any grant to support UKOTCF’s conservation work in the UKOTs for over four years.

E27. It may be relevant also that, from 2006, UKOTCF started giving evidence to House of Commons Select Committees, particularly Environmental Audit and Foreign Affairs, and that this evidence included constructive criticism, notably of FCO and DEFRA. UKOTCF is aware that the fact that it challenges the FCO and testifies to Parliamentary Committees honestly about funding and other problems has made it unpopular with officials. It might be said that the Forum is 'biting the hand that feeds it.' However, UKOTCF does not think that funding its work in support of conservation partners in the UKOTs should be dependent on refraining from offering constructive criticism and advocating on behalf of its network of UKOT organisations. The Forum has always said what it feels needs to be said. In other times this was taken positively by the FCO and acted upon. More recently, officials seem to take any criticism of policy as personal rather than a difference in professional opinion. When the FCO inadvertently eliminated EFOT a year after the Charters were signed (see para E20 and Moving Backwards in UK Overseas Territories Conservation: Comments by the UK Overseas Territories Conservation Forum on the UK Government’s June 2012 White Paper The Overseas Territories: Security, Success and Sustainability (Cm 8374), appended ant web-link at para A3), UKOTCF spoke out strongly, and the response of the officials of the day was to work with the Forum to establish OTEP. Indeed, previous officials had made it clear that they did not wish any funding by HMG to restrict the UKOTCF network from making constructive comments. This was not just because the then officials recognised that the UKOTCF network resources UKOT conservation by an even greater amount of voluntary effort, but because they recognised the benefit in solving challenges by sharing the issues.

E28. FCO’s removal of its environmental personnel in 2006 was, according to FCO, to be followed by other government departments taking on greater roles while FCO retained the policy lead for UKOTs. There was, around that time, limited increased involvement by DFID, but its current focus on targeting 0.7% of GDP for ODA countries appears to be causing a move away from UKOTs (most of which do not qualify under ODA – see para C3). DEFRA eventually, in 2009, accepted an increased responsibility for UKOTs, but this was followed almost immediately by financial constraints neutralising most of the changes (see para C3). DEFRA’s agency, JNCC, had been allowed to increase its involvement in UKOTs and CDs from about 2007. However, with this came two problems. First, JNCC tended to duplicate existing networks and efforts and not communicate with them, rather than continuing its earlier collaborative approach before the 2007 expansion of its activities in UKOTs and CDs (see para E25). Second, DEFRA seemed to adopt a novel position that JNCC had to be its monopoly supplier both of advice and as a route for managing funding. This novel approach tended to reduce support for NGOs, because JNCC decided to limit its newly created duplicate networks to governmental bodies. In a wider sense, the success of engaging, albeit not totally effectively, other government departments and agencies in UKOTs seems to have caused the little time available for liaison to be spent within government. As a consequence, the formerly strong and effective liaison between FCO and the UKOTCF network has dwindled away, despite UKOTCF’s best efforts to retain and then restore this.

E29. Whilst UKOTCF has great respect for some of JNCC’s specialist officers, it has real concern at some of its approaches to UKOTs and Crown Dependencies. These include: the duplication of previously existing networks but exclusion of NGOs (see paras E25, E28); the reluctance to collaborate or communicate with the UKOTCF network (see paras E9-E19); some questions over its management of projects supported by UK public funds (see Proceedings of a workshop on 2nd October 2012 – full reference at para 3); and failings in organisation of UKOT-related projects. JNCC’s handling of its UK OTs and CDs 2011 Biodiversity Snapshot Review (apparently made available in late 2012) provides an example of this. In 1999, JNCC published a review of biodiversity in the UKOTs. It had some problems of accuracy and completeness at the time (probably because of resource limitations). UKOTCF had been disappointed that JNCC had opted not to take up UKOTCF’s offer of September 2007, to work jointly with JNCC on the revision of this document. Co-operation from that early stage might have reduced some of the pressure on resources noted by JNCC later in respect of this project. In 2010, JNCC decided that the document needed updating. In June 2010, UKOTCF’s Honorary Executive Director (amongst others) was asked to (and agreed to) review the new version in the period mid-September to mid-October 2010. However, nothing more was heard from JNCC until the end of January 2011 (over four months after the documents were due) when the reviewers were told that the document would be ready by mid-February 2011. Despite all other stages taking longer, the time for reviewers had been reduced to three weeks. Again, silence followed, until early March 2011, when an email appeared saying that some drafts were now ready and others were to be supplied later. Despite this, reviewers were required to respond by the end of March – only three weeks later – when some drafts were only just appearing. This made it rather difficult to review the document as a whole. The work of the authors from individual territories was generally good, but it was clear that little guidance had been given to them from JNCC on approach – or even the type of items that should be covered. Omissions included published cross-territory analyses previously commissioned by HMG, and previously funded projects. Coverages of, for example, designated sites and Environment Charters are highly inconsistent. Some UKOTs are omitted, as also are mentions of other major sources of information. In summary, the Forum has to conclude that there are significant issues around both JNCC’s capacity and capabilities when dealing with UKOTs and in its understanding of and liaison with NGOs.

F. Whether UK Government strategy on the UKOTs is consistent with the conclusions and commitments on protecting biodiversity reached at the recent United Nations Rio+20 conference

F1. It is very difficult to be specific here as outcome documents of both Rio+20 and the White Paper are largely aspirational, with little concrete in the way of proposals and actions. The White Paper is mostly in line with the Rio+20 document, but the proof of the effectiveness of both will be in the outcomes. Most aspects are addressed in other sections of this memorandum. One major omission from the White Paper, as noted previously (para B1) is reference to the green growth agenda, which features highly in the Rio document but not at all in the White Paper. Interestingly it does feature in the latest JNCC business plan.

F2. It is worth, however, drawing attention in particular to paragraphs 43, 44 and 53 of Report of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 20–22 June 2012. These stress the need for broad public participation, specifically NGOs and civil society generally. Rather oddly, as we outline at paras G12-G16, the tendency of HMG in recent years has been the reverse of this – which is contrary to the text in the White Paper. From strong joint working for many years up to about seven years ago, HMG has unilaterally reduced its involvement with the network bringing together NGOs and others concerned with environmental conservation in the UKOTs, and reduced to zero its contribution to its costs, severely endangering its work.

F3. This is despite the priority action, identified in DEFRA’s 2012 paper The Environment in the United Kingdom’s Overseas Territories: UK Government and Civil Society Support: "Continued and improved coordination, cooperation and knowledge sharing on environmental management between the UK and its Territories, and between the Territories themselves." This was a role that UKOTCF had fulfilled for some time, but has had to reduce because of HMG’s removal of all support.

F4. UKOTCF recommends that UK Government Ministers instruct their officials and agencies to respond positively to the repeated invitations from UKOTCF, its member organisations and other NGOs to restore the productive communication and collaborative working that characterised conservation work for the UKOTs, until unilaterally reduced by officials over the past half-decade.

G. How weaknesses in civil society and governance in the UKOTs impact on conservation

Weaknesses in governance in the UKOTs

G1. The basic premise of devolving environmental conservation to the UKOT governments must be that they carry out their responsibilities in a manner which reflects best practice. That, of course, is what the Environment Charters lay out: the steps and policies which ensure a high standard of environmental conservation such as mandatory Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) before high-impact decisions are made. However, there are several aspects of political life in most UKOTs which run directly counter to the necessary high standards.

G2. First is the political nature of land use and development decisions. Major development decisions are considered to be the province of Ministers, who tend to feel that they know what is best and that environmental considerations are very much secondary to what they see as economic gains. Once a Minister takes over the decision regarding a major development through a Special Development Order (SDO) or similar process, the officials and departments charged with protecting the environment are effectively gagged and, rather than being allowed to advocate for the environment, their job becomes implementing the Minister's decision. They are simply outgunned by developers who have direct access to the Minister making the decision. It should be noted that this concept of absolute Ministerial discretion is what enabled the kind of corruption we saw recently in the Turks and Caicos Islands to flourish.

G3. A related point is the culture of secrecy in UKOT governments. All Cabinet decisions are made in secret and no reasons are normally given for them. And this culture of secrecy extends into many areas of government, most especially the local boards responsible for considering development applications. As an example, the Bermuda Government asserts that one reason for not requiring an EIA in Ministerial decisions regarding SDOs is that it would "'not be appropriate to mandate that Cabinet declare its deliberations over technical officer recommendations" – clearly asserting that secrecy trumps consultation. This means that decisions with huge environmental consequences are often made in secret with no public consultation.

G4. This seems a bit ironic in the face of 'The Seven Principles of Public Life' laid out in the 2012 White Paper, which includes the principle "Holders of public office should be as open as possible about all the decisions and actions that they take. They should give reasons for their actions and restrict information only when the wider public interest clearly demands." This could not be further from the reality of several UKOT governments.

G5. Another factor is that small populations of the UKOTs mean small constituencies, and often very narrow margins of victory in local elections. This makes it difficult for politicians to carry out long range policies which may be unpopular in the short term, like fisheries management decisions. What politician with a ten-vote majority is going to impose controls over something like spear fishing, when a significant number of his constituents will be angered by them?

G6. It seems extremely concerning that HMG, when directly governing a UKOT, seems to adopt some of the same practices of secrecy, lack of consultation and lack of taking account of environmental considerations. We note this (at para B8. Above) in relation to the recent period of direct rule by HMG in the Turks & Caicos Islands and effectively in Montserrat (para B9). Such problems have been noted by several parties in respect of the UKOTs in permanent direct rule from HMG, such as British Indian Ocean Territory, as well as when HMG resumed direct rule in over Ascension, for no explicit reason (see para E21).

G7. UKOTCF recommends that HMG officials involved in decision making on UKOTs receive some basic training in environmental conservation and sustainable development, or at least have some technical advice on such matters available and pay regard to this.

The importance of Territory-based NGOs

G8. Locally-based NGOs serve vital functions in conservation. They address weaknesses in civil society and local governments, they educate local people and they represent their concerns. They are aware of local issues and work at the grass-roots level to address them. They carry out valuable environmental programmes, at very low cost to all concerned. And when it happens that a local government makes a decision which would have severe environmental consequences, such as approving environmentally unsound tourism development, they are in practice the only force that can speak up for the importance of environmental conservation

G9. This last point is really critical. The current UK Government strategy for conservation in the inhabited UKOTs relies almost entirely on the governments of the UKOTs. This assumes that the UKOT Governments are using best practice in their planning and decision-making procedures. The Environment Charters recognise the importance of this by committing the UKOT Governments to (1) making their decisions in an open and consultative manner, (2) requiring Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) before making decisions on high-impact development, and (3) requiring that a public consultation be a part of the EIA. But if a local government decides not to follow this best practice, and makes a high-impact decision without environmental assessment or public consultation, the UK Government no longer becomes involved; the only bodies who try to ensure that environmental concerns are taken into account are local NGOs.

G10. A recent high-profile case in Bermuda illustrates this point clearly. In the case of Tucker’s Point, the Bermuda Government decided that it was going to grant a Special Development Order (SDO) which would allow tourism development on some of the most sensitive and environmentally valuable areas of Bermuda (including rare woodlands and caves which are habitat to numerous endemic species). Local NGOs heard rumours that this was in the pipeline and requested information from officials about it. Far from carrying out public consultation, these requests for information were either ignored or the potential SDO was outright denied until the granting of the SDO was announced as a fait accompli. Huge mobilisation of the Bermuda public, organised by local NGOs, resulted eventually in some of the most egregious elements of the SDO being modified. But, even then, there was no public consultation on the changes that were to be made. Without the NGO community, there is no one who can even try to stop a Territory government from sacrificing biodiversity to short-term economic advantage.

G11. Similar examples of the key role of NGOs could be cited from other UKOTs and CDs, including: damaging built development at Beef Island, British Virgin Islands, and Anguilla; unnecessary road development in the Cayman Islands; and current activities (actually promoted by HMG) at Montserrat and Turks & Caicos (paras B8-B9).

G12. Local NGOs and the officers of UKOTCF, a body made up of member organisations in the UKOTs and in Britain (as well as the Crown Dependencies), have long been supported by HMG and in return have contributed a great deal to the effectiveness of HMG's efforts in the UKOTs. UK officials and UKOTCF member organisations, together with UK representatives of UKOT governments, met regularly so that the UK officials could be made aware of issues of concern in the UKOTs, and the Forum (and thereby its member organisations) could be kept up to date on policies, programmes and proposals from the UK Government. Often, these meetings resulted in significant progress. One of UKOTCF’s key roles is to keep its member organisations in contact with each other and the UK Government. It does this in three ways: 1) regional working groups (Wider Caribbean Working Group, Southern Oceans Working Group, Europe Territories Working Group) meet quarterly to discuss the issues of concern to members and to share information and resources; 2) every three years since 2000 the Forum, with support from the UK Government, has held conferences at which local NGOs and governmental conservation bodies could share resources and information; and 3) through its regular newsletters and e-updates, the concerns as well as the successes of conservation in the UKOTs are disseminated. All these are supplemented by individual contacts.

G13. However, over the last few years, this mutually productive partnership between the UK Government and UKOTCF member bodies has been gradually eroded by officials, without consultation, to the point of now having been phased out. We are concerned that this is part of a general movement away from support of local NGOs and towards a conservation policy which is driven by UK officials rather than being demand-led from the UKOTs. The meetings between UK officials and UKOTCF have been dropped and officials indicated very belatedly that support for the next three-yearly conference, due in 2012, would not be forthcoming.

G14. There seems also to be a tendency amongst recent HMG officials that contacts and funding should be directed mainly through UKOT governments, a move away from a more mixed approach in the past. UKOTCF would like to see a return to a more balanced approach, for the reasons already outlined.

G15. The way in which FCO dealt with the White Paper provides the most recent example of its break-off of communications with UKOTCF, the body which many UKOT and other NGOs choose to link with HMG. Although UKOTCF spent much effort in collating information from its network to respond to FCO’s pre-White Paper consultation, virtually none of its some 30 recommendations were taken up in the White Paper (see Moving Backwards in UK Overseas Territories Conservation: Comments by the UK Overseas Territories Conservation Forum on the UK Government’s June 2012 White Paper The Overseas Territories: Security, Success and Sustainability (Cm 8374), appended). When UKOTCF invited FCO (and other government departments and agencies) to a workshop on the White Paper, the FCO then Director of Overseas Territories (after first giving the impression that HMG would participate) replied shortly before the workshop that HMG would not participate (see Environmental Conservation and UK Government’s June 2012 White Paper The Overseas Territories: Security, Success and Sustainability (Cm 8374) - Proceedings of a workshop on 2nd October 2012 at Gibraltar House, the Strand, London, organised by the UK Overseas Territories Conservation Forum, appended). In a further letter of 10th October, the then FCO Director of Overseas Territories and the DEFRA Deputy Director of International Biodiversity and Evidence declined a meeting of UKOTCF with FCO and DEFRA Ministers, "as we have recently met with you to discuss your views on the White Paper." This was not true. The officials appeared to be referring to two meetings in recent months on other topics. After 4 years of refusing to meet UKOTCF on anything, the then FCO Director of Overseas Territories met UKOTCF’s Chairman in June 2012 (see para E23). This was not to discuss the White Paper (except for the then FCO Director to say that UKOTCF would not like the contents) because the White Paper had not yet been published and was not available to discuss. The second meeting, in September 2012, was an invitation by DEFRA to UKOTCF officers to discuss other issues. At a late stage, DEFRA advised UKOTCF that they had invited FCO to attend also, but indicated that the agenda (which did not include the White Paper) had not changed, although HMG raised this matter in the meeting without warning UKOTCF.

G16. UKOTCF recommends that Ministers instruct their officials to stop blocking contacts with the body that many UKOT organisations choose to link to HMG, UKOTCF, and seek to restore the positive relationship of the 1990s and early 2000s.

H. How the introduction of ‘Marine Protected Areas’ could safeguard the marine environment in the uninhabited territories

H1. It is not clear why the question refers only to uninhabited territories, and it is not practicable to limit our comments to these. UKOTCF has long pointed out the relative neglect of several of UK’s large marine Exclusive Economic Zones and called for proper management of these, including marine protected areas as part of the suite of appropriate mechanisms. These areas are of huge importance for wildlife and ecosystem services, in some cases including sustainable fisheries. It is well recognised that effective management of both fisheries and "protected" areas depends on effective enforcement. However, this has lacked an overall HMG strategy. In fact, the presence of fisheries or other protection vessels have depended on historical accidents, rather than a strategy. The Falkland Islands and South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands acquired such vessels at least partly as a result of rebuilding following the Falklands War of 30 years ago. They are now regarded as amongst the better managed fisheries of the world. British Indian Ocean Territory managed to acquire a protection vessel from the proceeds of sale of a seized illegally fishing vessel. Other UKOTs which did not suffer such mishaps with side-benefits have not received investment for this purpose from HMG. Thus the biological riches and economic assets of Pitcairn, Ascension, and St Helena are being lost through lack of protection, and protection of Tristan da Cunha’s waters are limited to those close to the island, as the lack of a harbour limits the size of protection boat. In the case of Gibraltar, the local government’s wish to protect its no-take waters is actually being impeded by HMG’s effective encouragement of illegal fishing by boats from the neighbouring country (see paras C39-C44).

H2. UKOTCF is pleased that various conservation partners are promoting the concept of marine protected areas, with some success. We leave detailed comment to these, whom we understand are submitting evidence. However, UKOTCF should note that it considers that marine protected areas should be managed on the basis of available scientific evidence, while not delaying unduly for that to be amplified. As is evident from the above, it is essential that proper management and enforcement be resourced. The generous support for this from large institutions in some current cases is noted and welcomed. The continued overall responsibility of HMG must, however, be remembered, as well as the interests and wishes of the local communities where these exist. It will be important to put in place mechanisms to ensure that the wishes of local communities continue to be respected over time, as it cannot be assumed that the overall aims of large institutions will necessarily remain aligned.

H3. UKOTCF does not share the view that the whole of marine protected areas should necessarily be no-take zones, although it would be surprising if all such areas did not include large no-take zones. UKOTCF welcomes the designation of a large marine protected area by the Government of South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands (part of HMG). UKOTCF also supports the MPA at BIOT, but regrets some of the ways in which this was implemented, particularly the unwise and improper comments by the then FCO Director of Overseas Territories which indicated that the designation was a means of preventing re-settlement by Chagossians.

H4. The Pitcairn Islands give a clear opportunity for a large no-take protected area. This area has no current legal large-scale fishery, although there are signs of the initial impact of illegal fisheries in part of the group. The island community has expressed its welcome for such a protected area. So the challenge reduces essentially to resourcing proper protection. This latter need relates also to Tristan da Cuhna, St Helena and Ascension, as noted above.

H5. The Caribbean UKOTs, in common with other islands in the region, suffer many fishery problems, and require much fuller treatment than we can give here. There are several marine protected areas in some, but most lack effective no-take zones. This is unfortunate in that the benefits of no-take zones to both conservation and to fisheries in adjoining areas has been well demonstrated, for example in the neighbouring Bahamas (see article on The Bahamas National Park System, pp 46-49 in: A Sense of Direction: a conference on conservation in UK Overseas Territories and other small island communities, Bermuda 22nd-27th March 2003, www.ukotcf.org/confs/bermuda2003.). Other management in supposedly protected areas leaves much to be desired, with HMG officers apparently considering further damaging dredging in one such area in the Turks & Caicos Islands (see para B8).

30 November 2012

Prepared 14th January 2013