The UK's Wildlife Overseas: a stocktake of nature in our Overseas Territories
The UK Government has committed to “cherishing the environments” of the Overseas Territories (OTs). However, it has limited information on what species or habitats are present, what protections have been established, or which species may be at most imminent risk of extinction.
This has meant that British species may be on the cusp of disappearing forever, yet have no conservation work underway to save them. Indeed, the last known global extinction in the OTs occurred as recently as 2003, mostly due to a lack of conservation attention. Given limited resources, it is crucial that OT biodiversity knowledge is strengthened so that financial and policy support can be targeted to where it is most urgently needed.
In January 2014, the UK Environmental Audit Committee urged “enhanced monitoring” and called for Defra to co-ordinate “a comprehensive research programme” with all stakeholders. With funding from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the RSPB has started this work by completing the first ever stock-take of species across our island OTs. This brought together all known records from the last 300 years to finally reveal what species are known to be present.
- Compile the first ever stock-take of species in our island Overseas Territories
- Ascertain the number of unique British species which occur in the Territories
- Discover the proportion of OT species which have had their conservation status assessed for the IUCN Red List
Work planned or underway
A huge amount of work remains to be done. 91 per cent of unique OT species have never had their conservation status assessed under the IUCN Red List (the global benchmark for identifying conservation priorities).
Whole groups of species remain almost entirely undiscovered. Whilst some excellent conservation work is underway on the ground, often supported by the UK Government’s Darwin Plus fund, the UK Government still has no strategic overview of where the most urgent priorities lie, or even a simple understanding of actions undertaken, such as the number of nature reserves established across our Overseas Territories.
Defra has no dedicated evidence plan for the OTs, whilst the UK Government’s scientific advisory body on nature conservation, the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC), does not yet have a strategy in place to methodically address OT biodiversity knowledge gaps.
• The OTs hold at least 1,500 endemic species, compared to around 90 endemic species in the UK. This is equivalent to 94 per cent of known endemic British species.
• Much of the endemic OT fauna and flora is threatened, although only 145 species (9 per cent) have ever had their global conservation status assessed. Of these, 111 (77 per cent) are listed as Globally Threatened on the IUCN Red List.
• A few exceptions apart, we have limited knowledge about OT biodiversity (species presence, distribution, population size and conservation status). Particularly lacking information are: marine biodiversity; invertebrates; non-vascular ('lower') plants; lichen and fungi.
• We estimate that the island OTs still hold:
- around 50,000 unrecorded species
- around 2,100 undiscovered endemic species
• To date the lack of current knowledge of biodiversity in the island OTs has impeded conservation efforts. The results from this study are a vital step to address this issue strategically.
The UK is responsible for over a third of the world’s breeding albatross
The rarest British invertebrate: the world population of the spiky yellow woodlouse is just 90 pairs
Unique lizard and orchid of the Cayman Islands
The UK has more penguins under its jurisdiction than any other country in the world
Who to contact
Partner Development Officer - UK Overseas Territories
Over 100 individuals from across the UK, the Overseas Territories and the rest of the world kindly provided their expert input into the report, for which we are extremely grateful.
Funding for the stocktake was generously provided by the Foreign & Commonwealth Office.