Our work in the Overseas Territories

It was a challenging year for some of the Overseas Territories, but it was not without its successes.

Hurricane force of nature

Our mission is all about saving nature, but sometimes Mother Nature gives us a kick in the teeth. In September 2017, Hurricane Irma unleashed her fury on some of the UK Overseas Territories (OTs) where we carry out conservation work – notably the British Virgin Islands, Anguilla and Turks and Caicos.

Some of our partners’ homes were damaged or destroyed and the basic infrastructure of normal life and of years of conservation work was trashed. All this is critical to the eco-tourism that underpins conservation work in the Caribbean. We’ve provided financial support to help our partners get up and running again. Progress has been slow at times, but our partners’ dogged determination has been inspiring to witness.

Making islands safer for birds

There was good news from Cyprus, where illegal trapping of migrating songbirds on the UK Sovereign Base Area of Dhekelia plummeted in autumn 2017 by around 72%, saving approximately 620,000 birds. That was thanks to joint efforts from the Base Authorities, the RSPB, BirdLife Cyprus, the Committee Against Bird Slaughter (CABS), with campaigning from Chris Packham and RSPB supporters. We can’t consider this “mission accomplished”, but it’s an important step in the right direction.

The nesting seabirds of Gough Island, in the South Atlantic, are in danger from a different foe. Introduced house mice kill an estimated one million seabird chicks every year. Together with the Government of Tristan da Cunha, we plan to eradicate the mice in 2019 (fundraising and logistics permitting).

Measuring up for success

Back in 2011, the Aichi Biodiversity Targets were set, including a commitment to protect at least 17% of land by 2020. Until now, nobody knew how many protected areas the OTs collectively had, or what area they covered. Since the publication of a peer-reviewed RSPB paper, we know the answer: 4.8% of OT land is protected – so there’s a long way to go to meet the target.

In order to protect Endangered sei whales around the Falkland Islands, we need to identify Key Biodiversity Areas. We’ve made good progress this year by funding the collection of 19 hours of acoustic data; 13,400 whale images; 117 bone and 7 faecal samples, and 11 drone recordings.

Protecting the UK’s penguins

Thanks to the OTs, the UK is responsible for more penguins than any other nation. The northern rockhopper penguin is one of the most threatened species, with 80% breeding on Tristan da Cunha. Project Pinnamin – pinnamin is the Tristanian name for the penguin – has been using a mix of traditional observation and cutting-edge tracking to help us learn more about the rapid population declines of this charismatic species. Changes in oceanographic conditions are currently a major suspect.

The #BackTheBlueBelt campaign aims to see the world’s largest network of locally-led marine reserves around the OTs. The OTs provide a major opportunity for marine conservation as together they hold the planet’s largest coral atoll, a quarter of its penguins and a third of its albatrosses. We’d like to thank the 283 MPs who signed our motion to “back the blue belt” and protect OT marine areas.