53.In September 2016 the Government committed to establish 4 million km2 of MPAs in the Overseas Territories by 2020. The Government told us that it was committed to “working with the Overseas Territories to deliver a demonstrable increase in the protection of marine biodiversity by 2020”. Witnesses were generally positive about the progress made designating MPAs in the UKOTS. However, the UK Overseas Territories Conservation Forum emphasised that it was important not to have “prolonged delays between the announcements and the actual passage of legislation”. Whilst extensive no take areas have now been established in the UKOTs, only 7.5 km2 of the UK exclusive economic zone is fully protected from fishing. Some witnesses expressed concern at the “glaring disparity between the pace of progress in the UK Overseas Territories–in terms of overall area of sea protected - and the pace of marine conservation at home”. Jeff Knott from RSPB told us “we have ended up in a situation where the FCO is perhaps slightly showing up DEFRA at the moment in the scale of its ambition, and the slightly weirder position where British seabirds off the Chagos Islands are better protected than they would be flying off Cornwall”.
54.The extent of biodiversity existing in the UKOTs is less well documented than biodiversity in the UK. Our previous report argued that data on marine biodiversity in the UKOTs was underdeveloped as there was a “lack of basic survey data”. Whilst available data varies from territory to territory, we heard that “some territories just do not have any baseline information” as “no focused deep sea research has been conducted to date in any of the UKOTs”. The UK Overseas Territories Conservation Forum argued that significant progress had been made on marine biodiversity research in British Gibraltar Territorial Waters “as a direct result of the unilateral actions carried out by HM Government of Gibraltar (HMGoG) rather than HM Government”. Without enhanced monitoring, Defra cannot accurately report to the CBD on the full extent of biodiversity in the UKOTs or measure progress towards the UN 2020 target to halt biodiversity loss. Further, we heard that enhanced monitoring could be used to improve MPA management. Dr Jon Copley argued:
At present, we have no idea what seafloor habitats and deep-sea species are actually being protected in the majority of our new MPAs … Some marine survey work has been supported so far by NGOs, but it is limited to shallow SCUBA depths and cannot reach the much larger deep-sea areas of the MPAs… you cannot monitor or manage what you have not yet observed.
The UK Overseas Territories Conservation Forum argued that “involving the community in monitoring and data-collection would be true innovation”, but noted that the UKOTs needed support to make this happen.
55.Inadequate consultation was also considered to be an issue in the Overseas Territories. Falklands Conservation and other respondents stated that information wasn’t being shared effectively enough with the UK Overseas Territories. The Government of Gibraltar argued “To date there has been very limited consultation between [the UK Government and the Government of Gibraltar] regarding MPAs (if any)”. To achieve buy-in and widespread support for MPAs it is important that the Government consults extensively with the Overseas Territories. The UK Overseas Territories Conservation Forum argued:
It is obviously particularly top-down and that will not … work in coastal communities. It just is not going to happen, so there has to be some feeding in of civil society into this exercise.
56.To gain support for the MPA network, the Government must ensure that it consults more effectively and transparently with Governments and local communities in the Overseas Territories. It should ensure that any concerns of the UKOTs are given due consideration before designating MPAs in their waters.
57.Although the FCO has made substantial progress in designating MPAs, the ‘blue belt’ will only be effective if MPAs are properly resourced, managed, monitored and enforced. The UK Overseas Territories Conservation Forum argued that it would be hypocritical for the Government “to reap international recognition for being a trend-setter in sustainable marine management without putting in the full work to achieve that status”.
58.However, the designation of such large scale and remote MPAs presents surveillance and enforcement challenges. We heard that management measures in the Overseas Territories had been variable. Catherine Wensink of the UK Overseas Territories Conservation Forum argued that “in some cases they are … .not being effectively managed and support is needed, be that technical or financial resources”. For example, we heard that in Turks and Caicos MPA resources are “so low that even fuel for taking boats out just isn’t there”.
59.Technological advances in satellite tracking could be used to improve surveillance in the UKOTs. For example, Project Eyes on the Seas (EOS) was trialled in Pitcairn reserve from January 2015 to March 2016. The Pew Trusts explained that this technology works by merging “satellite tracking and imagery with other sources of information, such as fishing vessel databases and oceanographic data” enabling enforcement agencies to identify and monitor unlawful activities in global waters” giving enforcement agencies more actionable intelligence. They argued that this “is helping officials detect illegal fishing activity more effectively, and indeed more cheaply, than reliance solely on physical assets, such as patrol vessels”. We heard that these technologies can improve monitoring and surveillance, but that they “are not a silver bullet” as there is a need to follow up effectively on enforcement for MPAs to be effectively protected. To deter illegal activity in MPAs it is essential to have strong enforcement mechanisms in place. The Zoological Society of London noted that although surveillance of MPAs in the UKOTs is already producing actionable intelligence “follow-up enforcement is required, needing government support and capacity”.
60.Designation of an MPA is only the first step. MPAs will only be effective if they are properly resourced, managed, monitored and enforced. Many UKOTs lack the necessary resources to effectively manage their MPAs.
61.The Government must provide support to the UKOTs to help them properly detect and deter illegal activities. The Government must explore ways of strengthening surveillance and monitoring, to help detect illegal fishing activities in resource-poor UKOTs.
62.Sufficient funding needs to be available effectively to monitor and enforce Marine Protected Areas in the Overseas Territories. The Zoological Society of London argued that:
Funding across all [UKOTs] must be addressed urgently, as it underpins fundamentally the ability to designate MPAs, and subsequently implement management/enforcement … “The scarcity of capacity and resources is a continuing handicap to implementing biodiversity conservation in UKOTs” … “conditions given by funding bodies place too much strain on UKOTs and CDs … to allow for long-term continuity and success”.
63.The UK Government currently provides around £2 million of funding for environmental projects in UK Overseas Territories every year via the Overseas Territories Environment and Climate Fund (Darwin Plus). Darwin Plus was established in 2012 to provide funding for environmental projects in the UKOTs. The Government has also pledged £20 million over the next four years to support the implementation, management, surveillance, monitoring and enforcement of these new MPAs in the UKOTs. This additional funding was generally welcomed, however we heard that “a comprehensive marine research programme for the UKOTs is still required; and this is beyond the scope of the recently announced £20m”.
64.After the UK leaves the EU, the UKOTs will lose their status as Overseas Countries and Territories (OCTs) of the EU. This will affect the funding of environmental policies, because as OCTs, the UKOTs are eligible to apply for various EU funding measures. One significant source of funding which will no longer be available is European BEST funding. BEST currently provides approximately 1/3 of all environmental project funding in the UKOTs. Witnesses told us “our overseas territories will be lost without this money” and that it was essential for the UK to “commit to replacing this very effective environmental funding to at least the same level post-Brexit”.
65.The marine environment in the UKOTs could be further protected by grants derived from the National Lottery. The Heritage Lottery Fund currently funds conservation projects in the UK and it is legally permitted to fund conservation projects in the UKOTs. It has never done this because the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) directed it to prioritise accessibility for UK residents when making grants. DCMS stated that “there is no bar on Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) making such grants [for work in the UKOTs] but HLF’s current policy is to treat any such applications as a low priority”. UKOTs residents are currently unable to play the National Lottery.
66.Our predecessor’s 2014 Report on Sustainability in the Overseas Territories recommended that DCMS extended “the right to play the National Lottery to UKOTs residents using terminals and via the internet” and gave equal priority to applications from projects in the UKOTs. The Government has made no progress on this recommendation. The Government argued that “any direction that attempted to give OTs equal priority to funding as those which benefit UK citizens would not in itself guarantee funding for OT projects” as “the number of applications for funding received by Lottery distributors far outweighs the amount of funding available”. However, giving these applications equal priority would improve the chances of projects in the UKOTs receiving funding. Chagos Conservation Trust told us that it:
Would be an easy and cheap way for the government to demonstrate that the UKOTs were indeed part of the UK’s family and to assist the UKOTs in preserving their biodiversity as well as other matters of priority to the Heritage Lottery Fund.
The Government told us that there were a number of obstacles including “significant challenges in installing and running lottery terminals in such distant and disparate areas”.
67.A lack of funding in the UKOTs hampers the ability to effectively manage and enforce designated MPAs. We welcome the Government’s commitment of £20 million over the next four years to support the implementation, management, surveillance, monitoring and enforcement of MPAs in the UKOTs. However, we are concerned about the loss of EU BEST funding which currently provides approximately 1/3 of all environmental project funding in the UKOTs.
68.We recommend that the Government commits to replacing BEST funding after we leave the European Union. The UK Government should explore and promote opportunities for the UKOTs to access funding sources from environmental initiatives, NGOs, conservation groups and charities for environmental projects in the UKOTs. This should be used as an additional source of funding for projects in the UKOTs and not be utilised as an excuse to replace any existing sources of funding. This would help the Government contribute to achieving the Global Goal 14 ‘Life Below Water’.
69.The EU referendum has particular implications for MPAs in Gibraltar. Gibraltar will leave the EU with the United Kingdom. However, the Southern Waters of Gibraltar’s Special Areas of Conservation and Special Protection Areas (designated under EU Directives) are also designated as a protected area by Spain. The EU accepts both the Spanish and UK/Gibraltar designations. This means that the Spanish Government is also obliged to ensure activities in these waters comply with the Habitats Directive and are required “to perform enforcement, surveillance, monitoring and inspection functions in BGTW for that purpose”. HMG of Gibraltar expressed concern that:
With the UK leaving the EU, and not participating in the Working Groups and Committees that designate such sites, Spain will be able to act with impunity in such matters within the EU. It will no doubt take advantage of the EU to seek to assert jurisdiction in BGTW and more specifically within Gibraltar’s [MPA] network.
70.The UK Government must assess the likely impact of leaving the EU on Gibraltar’s Marine Protected Areas. In response to this report, it must set out what additional support it intends to provide to Government of Gibraltar to prevent incursions in their territorial waters. It must set out in the Great Repeal Bill and any new Fisheries or Environmental Protection Act how the funding, monitoring and evaluation of Gibraltar’s MPAs will proceed to minimise any future difficulties with Spain over management measures.