The UK’s footprint on global biodiversity Contents

3Biodiversity in the UK Overseas Territories

59.This chapter examines the state of biodiversity in the UK Overseas Territories (UKOTs) and explores how gaps in the conservation of species in these Territories can be closed.

60.Around 90 per cent of the biodiversity for which the UK Government has responsibility resides in the UK Overseas Territories.85 The biodiverse environments in these territories, all but one of which are islands, range from sub-Antarctic islands in the South Atlantic to rainforests in the Caribbean and tropical islands in the remote Pacific. They contain unique species and wildlife concentrations found nowhere else in the world. The UKOTs in the South Atlantic and Antarctic are of global importance for their seabird colonies: they contain one third of the world’s albatrosses and a quarter of its penguins.86

61.Environmental policy in the UKOTs is the responsibility of the administration of each territory. The JNCC supports UKOT administrations in their implementation of Multilateral Environmental Agreements and of UK Government policy.87

62.The UKOTs are home to 94 per cent of British endemic species,88 30 per cent of which are found on St Helena alone.89 42 species previously indigenous to the present UKOTs are now considered to have gone extinct: while most of these losses are reckoned to be historic (i.e. between the 16th and 19th centuries), three species were lost in the 20th century and a further three have been lost since 2000. 10 per cent of the species found in the UKOTs or in their territorial waters are currently considered at risk of extinction, including 40 per cent of sharks, rays and skates.90

63.Introduced invasive non-native species are one of the primary threats to biodiversity across the UKOTs. In Gough Island, part of the Tristan da Cunha archipelago in the South Atlantic, invasive mice species are said to be killing over 1 million seabird eggs and chicks a year, including the endangered Tristan Albatross.91 Globally, Gough has been rated as the island with the third greatest need of eradication of invasive species.92 One of the largest conservation interventions planned across the UKOTs (costing £9 million) is being developed to address the problem.93

64.The National Biodiversity Network stated it was difficult to determine how well the UK was addressing biodiversity loss in the UKOTs, as there were no comprehensive datasets on the majority of species.94 It is estimated that less than a third of species have been recorded. The Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (CIEEM) also said there was a lack of data on soil properties, weather patterns at an island scale, climate change prediction data, and the environmental range within which endemic species could exist.95 Additionally, CIEEM noted that a lack of knowledge of the importance of biodiversity, especially with respect to key decision-makers, a lack of personnel with the skills and experience to deliver environmental projects, and a lack of funding all presented further significant challenges to addressing biodiversity loss in the UKOTs.96

Box 2: UK Overseas Territory Case Study—the state of biodiversity in the Cayman Islands

We received written evidence from a Caymanian, Linda Clark, on her experience of the state of biodiversity in the Cayman Islands. She told us that virgin habitat and ecosystems were being lost at an alarming rate due to unplanned development and mismanagement. This was posing a threat to endangered species on the islands.

West Side Grand Cayman mangrove loss from 1976–2013

The map shows the loss of mangrove ecosystems from 1976–2013. Linda Clark stated that this loss was driven by the financial service industry growth increasing demand for housing and infrastructure. In 2015 the Cayman Islands Office of the Auditor General’s (OAG) published a report on national land development and Government real property. The report found developments were approved “outside of the normal planning process…with no public disclosure until after the Government had committed to them.” Linda told us these findings had not been addressed.

Overall, Linda observed that over-tourism, mismanagement and development was leading to seagrass removal, coral reef disease and dredging, beach erosion, ecosystem degradation and threats to endangered plant and animal species. She also noted that a failure to implement import restrictions on avoidable waste was leading to large dump sites close to mangrove wetlands. See images below of dump sites and burning.

Dump site in the Cayman Islands

Waste burning in the Cayman Islands

To address environmental degradation in the Cayman Islands, Linda recommended that the Government engage and educate decision-makers in the Cayman Islands on the importance of natural capital, biodiversity loss and ecosystems. She also recommended that the Government support training for decision-makers on how to embed natural capital factors into decision making and how to comply with local, national and international legislation.

Source: Linda Clark (BIO0066)

65.Governmental expenditure on international biodiversity conservation, including in the UKOTs, has increased steadily since 2000/01.97 Funding for terrestrial biodiversity conservation is available through the Darwin Plus Programme: this has been raised to £10 million per annum from 2021/2022 until the end of the present Parliament.98 For marine conservation activities across the UKOTs, the Government established a £25m Blue Belt Programme in 2016 to protect 4 million km2 of oceanic waters—almost 60% of the UK’s total 6.8 million km2 marine area.99

66.Environmental matters are the responsibility of the administration of each individual territory. On behalf of the UK Government, the JNCC developed the 2011 UK OT Biodiversity Strategy: it monitors biodiversity in the UKOTs and assists in implementing projects.100 To better conserve the environment and species within OTs, the JNCC has recommended the following actions:

Box 3: Landscape scale conservation

Landscape-scale conservation (also known as ecosystem approach) is land management that involves working in collaboration and working at a large scale—often around a catchment, estuary or other recognisable landscape unit. This is a scale at which natural systems tend to work best and where there is often most opportunity to deliver environmental, social and economic benefits that are more difficult to achieve by managing small sites individually.

Source: Scottish Environment Protection Agency, “What is Landscape-Scale Conservation?”, accessed 14 September 2021

Terrestrial biodiversity conservation in UKOTs

67.We received several written evidence submissions which, like the JNCC, recommended the need for investment in landscape scale conservation projects in the UKOTs.103 The RSPB said that funding was one of the key impediments to progress in this respect, as, owing to their constitutional status, the Territories were ineligible for most domestic and international environment funding.104

68.One of the only funding mechanisms available is the Darwin Plus programme, the Defra-sponsored initiative for UKOT environmental projects. As indicated above, the Government recently announced an increase in the annual funding stream for the Darwin Plus programme, to £10m per annum.105 While welcoming this, the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (CIEEM) noted that UKOTs were concerned over the future of funding for environmental projects, given that the diverse range of EU funding programmes would no longer be available to them.106 For example, the EU BEST project (a voluntary scheme for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services in Territories of European overseas) was able to tackle larger projects which involved infrastructure and on-the-ground action. The CIEEM also noted that it was difficult for commercial companies to lead Darwin Plus bids because of the cost structure involved: this was limiting the valuable role that commercial UK organisations could have in working in partnership with research and conservation parties and sharing their expertise on projects.107 To address the need for funding for landscape scale projects in the UKOTs the RSPB recommended that funding under the Darwin Plus Programme be separated into three tiers:

a)Small-scale UKOT grassroots conservation projects up to £100,000 in size. RSPB recommended that these projects only be available to in-Territory organisations, replacing the EU BEST project funding.

b)Medium-scale UKOT conservation projects up to £300,000 in size, as currently funded via Darwin Plus.108

c)Large-scale restoration projects of between £1 million and £3 million in value. This would provide funding for transformational projects, such as eradications of introduced species, wetland restoration for flood control, peatland restoration for climate mitigation etc.109

69.CIEEM said large research projects involving the UKOTs were also very difficult for UK universities to obtain funding for.110 This is because to qualify for funding, most research must be delivered on UKOT islands. CIEEM recommend that research funds which include the UKOTs even as project partners would greatly enhance the chance of funding and therefore the scientific understanding of the biodiversity of the UKOT islands. CIEEM also recommend that a portal for UKOTs to post research questions should be set up, which could be accessed by those studying environmental subjects in the UK. This could help address significant knowledge gaps in UKOT biodiversity and address the specific research needs of UKOTs.

70.Minister Lord Goldsmith told us that given various EU nature funds are no longer available to the overseas territories, the Government is internally looking at how it can improve its offer for the overseas territories.111

Marine biodiversity conservation in UKOTs

71.The UK and the UKOTs are together responsible for the fifth largest area of ocean in the world, which represents a significant responsibility and opportunity in every major ocean basin on the planet.112 The UK Government’s flagship Blue Belt Programme, initiated in 2016, has overseen a transformation in marine protection and is on track to provide long-term protection of 4 million km2 of oceanic water—almost 60 per cent of the UK’s total 6.8 million km2 marine area.113 This has in turn enabled the UK to take an international leadership role in pushing for a new global ‘30 by 30’ ocean target (to protect 30 per cent of the world’s oceans by 2030) under the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). Specifically, the UK created the Global Ocean Alliance in 2019 in support of achieving its goal of 30 per cent protection, and at the time of writing, under its leadership the membership has expanded to 56 members.114

Source: Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (2021)

72.The main risk to the Blue Belt Programme is now ensuring the long-term protection of its large-scale marine reserves. The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) has committed to funding the programme for 2021/22, with £8 million funding confirmed, however there is no information about funding beyond 2022.115 In written evidence several environment groups and think tanks recommended the Government maintains its commitment of £7 million per annum to fund the management and enforcement of the programme.116 In the Blue Belt Annual Report, the Government set out the future objectives of the programme, which were to provide support for the management, enforcement and scientific monitoring of Marine Protected Areas, and to develop understanding of the effectiveness of the marine protection in place.117 The programme will also focus on building capacity and skills in OTs and will provide support to other UKOTs wishing to join the programme. We have not been able to find a long-term timetable or budget plan for the programme. It is also unclear what status the programme has following the publication of the March 2021 Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy.

73.In our previous biodiversity report we recommended that the Government should make greater use of earth observation data as a cost-effective means of filling gaps in the data obtained from terrestrial monitoring.118 The JNCC told us that a similar approach should be adopted for the monitoring of biodiversity in UKOTs.119 The JNCC recommended that the Government mobilise UK science ‘at its best’ including the transfer of knowledge to OTs around the use of earth observation data. We note monitoring of the Blue Belt programme could be improved using earth observation data too.

Our view

74.The UK Overseas Territories are home to 94 per cent of British endemic species and 90 per cent of the biodiversity for which the UK Government has responsibility. The territories are also of global importance given the large proportion of the world’s albatross and penguin species found in these territories. Given this, environmental preservation and the improvement of these territories must be a priority for the UK Government. We welcome the impressive global leadership the UK has demonstrated through the establishment of the Blue Belt Programme, and the Global Ocean Alliance.

75.To further improve the state of biodiversity in the Overseas Territories, we recommend that gaps in their protection be rectified. Namely, we recommend that:

a)Ministers assure and set out the long-term funding plan for the Blue Belt Programme. In response to this report the Government should set out the programme’s long-term timetable, budget, and status following the Government’s 2021 Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy.

b)Ministers review the environmental funding gap implications for the Overseas Territories following the UK leaving the EU. In response to this report Ministers should set out how the UK could fund landscape scale environmental projects with the potential for transformative biodiversity restoration.

c)In the Government’s response to this report, Ministers should evaluate the feasibility of an environmental research portal for Overseas Territories.

d)Ministers should consider opportunities to use increasing global aerial surveillance capabilities from high altitude or space to monitor the Blue Belt Programme.

85 Environmental Audit Committee, Tenth Report of Session 2013–14, Sustainability in the UK Overseas Territories, HC 332

86 Churchyard T, et al. The biodiversity of the United Kingdom’s Overseas Territories: a stock take of species occurrence and assessment of key knowledge gaps. Biodiversity and Conservation, 25(9) (2016). p 1677–1694

87 JNCC (BIO0012)

89 Churchyard T, et al. The biodiversity of the United Kingdom’s Overseas Territories: a stock take of species occurrence and assessment of key knowledge gaps. Biodiversity and Conservation, 25(9) (2016). p 1677–1694

90 Hayhow et al, The State of Nature 2019.

91 Caravaggi A, et al. The impacts of introduced House Mice on the breeding success of nesting seabirds on Gough Island. (2019)

92 Holmes ND, et al. Globally important islands where eradicating invasive mammals will benefit highly threatened vertebrates. PloS one, 14 (3) (2019)

93 Hayhow et al, The State of Nature 2019. The State of Nature partnership, (2019) p 10.

94 National Biodiversity Network Trust (BIO0026)

95 Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (BIO0039)

96 Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (BIO0039)

97 Defra (BIO0054)

98 If the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 is not repealed or amended, the present Parliament is set to run until March 2024.

99 Defra (BIO0054)

100 JNCC (BIO0012)

101 Ibid. The JNCC said current training was too often linked to short-term, highly focussed projects, and left a limited legacy.

102 JNCC (BIO0012)

103 JNCC (BIO0012); RSPB (BIO0023); Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (BIO0039); WWF (BIO0047)

104 RSPB (BIO0023)

105 HM Treasury (2020) Budget 2020, section 2.17

106 Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (BIO0039)

107 Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (BIO0039)

108 There is currently no upper limit on grants, but the average grant is worth £100,000 and Defra “would not expect to see projects exceed £500,000. Defra, Darwin Plus Guidance Notes for Applicants Round 10 2021–2022, (2021) p 7

109 RSPB (BIO0023)

110 Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (BIO0039)

112 RSPB (BIO0023)

113 Defra (BIO0054)

114 UK Government, “Global Ocean Alliance: 30by30 initiative”, accessed 3 September 2021

115 FCDO, The Blue Belt Programme, (June 2021)

116 Great British Oceans (BIO0013); Bright Blue (BIO0006); RSPB (BIO0023)

118 Environmental Audit Committee, First Report of Session 2021–22, Biodiversity in the UK: bloom or bust?, HC 136

119 JNCC (BIO0012)

Published: 30 September 2021 Site information    Accessibility statement