Informing conservation on the UK Overseas Territories

The UK Overseas Territories hold most of the globally important biodiversity of the UK - but many species are still poorly studied

View of Bird Island, South Georgia, South Atlantic,

Overview

The UK Overseas Territories are an eclectic mix of islands strewn around the world's oceans - and they harbour an enormous diversity of species ranging from parrots to penguins, inhabiting diverse habitats from coral reefs to glaciated mountains. From volcanic desert to lush tropical rainforest.

However, much of the stunning biodiversity on the UK Overseas Territories is still little studied, in fact, there may still be many species which have not been formally described by scientists. Many of the species are threatened because human visitors brought non-native mammals with them, such as cats, rats, mice and others that prey on or compete with many of the native species.

The UK Overseas Territories therefore hold not only most of the UK's globally important biodiversity, but also the species at greatest risk of going extinct.

Our research provides strategic overviews over the number of species present and threatened, and much needed ecological detail to understand the potential causes of species declines and to develop effective solutions to save the unique biodiversity of the UK Overseas Territories.

Progress

In the past decades we have identified several key problems affecting species in the UK Overseas Territories, and we have created an inventory of how many species are known and presumed to exist in the Overseas Territories.

Invasive non-native species are a key threat and we have conducted several research programmes to facilitate a rat eradication on Henderson Island in the South Pacific Ocean and a mouse eradication on Gough Island in the South Atlantic Ocean.

On Ascension Island in the South Atlantic Ocean, we eradicated cats and thus helped the Ascension frigatebird to return to Ascension Island after 120 years. On Saint Helena Island in the South Atlantic Ocean, a predator-control programme and habitat restoration resulted in a positive population trend of the St Helena plover.

On Montserrat in the Caribbean, our research indicated that the endemic Montserrat oriole was badly affected by an erupting volcano, but high productivity in years with ample rain assisted the species to stabilise in the remaining forest.

Besides terrestrial species, we increasingly focus on the protection of marine areas, using seabirds as indicators which areas should be protected. We have tracked the marine movements of 20 seabird species, and use those data to inform marine spatial planning.

Planned Work

  • We will continue to provide detailed species-specific information on globally threatened species in the UK Overseas Territories and conduct feasibility studies and monitoring to assess the effect of our island restoration efforts.
  • We will compile seabird tracking data to identify the most important areas at sea, assess the effectiveness of already established marine protected areas, and highlight areas which will require protection in the future.
  • To inform this work, we will review all tracking data of seabirds to provide a strategic assessment which species would benefit most from protected areas and which species will require larger scale marine policies for effective conservation.

Contacts

Coast on a stormy day

Dr Steffen Oppel

Senior Conservation Scientist, Conservation Science

steffen.oppel@rspb.org.uk
Tagged with: Country: Anguilla Country: Ascension Island Country: Bermuda Country: Cayman Islands Country: Falkland Islands Country: Montserrat Country: Pitcairn Islands Country: Saint Helena Country: South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands Country: Tristan da Cunha Country: Turks and Caicos Islands Habitat: Grassland Habitat: Marine and intertidal Habitat: Wetland Habitat: Woodland Species: Albatrosses Species: Henderson crake Species: Henderson petrel Species: Henderson reed-warbler Species: Madeiran storm petrel Species: Montserrat oriole Species: Northern rockhopper penguin Species: St. Helena plover Species: Tristan albatross Project status: Project types: Research