Overseas Territories Minister Henry Bellingham met representatives of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds on Wednesday, and received a pledge signed by almost 17,000 of their members, asking the UK Government to ensure that the valuable biodiversity of the Overseas Territories is preserved.
The Minister welcomed the work that RSPB does in the Territories, with the support of the UK Government and in collaboration with OT governments. This work has included a recent program to eradicate invasive rats which were eating the chicks of the endangered Henderson Petrel on Henderson Island in the Pitcairn Islands.
Henry Bellingham and RSPB hosted an event with Sir David Attenborough last year to raise funds for that project.
Receiving the pledge, Henry Bellingham said: “I am delighted to see that so many RSPB members are aware of the incredible biodiversity found in the UK’s Overseas Territories, and share our recognition of its value. I welcome this contribution to our ongoing consultation and we in Government look forward to continuing to work closely with the RSPB and other partners to help protect and conserve the rich biodiversity of our Overseas Territories for the future.”
Dr Tim Stowe, the RSPB director of international operations said that “we must care of our islands and the exceptional species that live on them. We welcome the UK Government's new approach to the Territories, and hope it will fulfill this promising new engagement by developing its Overseas Territories Biodiversity Strategy.
“Three hundred and fifteen species in the Overseas Territories face extinction. Their survival is in our hands but time is running out”.
UK Overseas Territories contain over 85% of the UK's globally threatened species and are home of an assortment of species, from penguins to parrots and hummingbirds to seabirds and whales.
Their unique environments are home to hundreds of species found nowhere else, a third of the world's albatrosses and the largest and most pristine coral atoll on earth, the Chagos Islands in the Indian Ocean.
RSPB presented Mr Bellingham with an image of a yellow-nosed albatross – one of the 33 bird species in the UK Overseas Territories threatened by extinction – made up of the names of supporters who have added their voice.
The UK government is currently consulting on a new strategy for Overseas Territories. Results of the consultation will eventually feed into a White Paper and the RSPB hopes the Government will step up to the environmental challenges faced by the Territories.
Dr Tim Stowe said: “These pledges are a clear demonstration that people care about Overseas Territories and want the Government to take action.
“We are urging the Government to consider its 2020 biodiversity obligations and commit to developing and implementing its Overseas Territories Biodiversity Strategy in the upcoming White Paper.
“This could save hundreds of British species from the threat of global extinction, but will need a proactive program of work with dedicated staff and a much larger percentage of the biodiversity budget than the 0.1% currently allocated – that's just 10 pence in every £100 of conservation spending”.
All 14 territories, mostly made up of island groups, are a treasure trove of spectacular species, some of which are found nowhere else on Earth, but hundreds of them are sliding towards extinction.