A duty to fulfil

"They are more exotic than the gulls, gannets and terns of Britain's home coastlines, but many of the fascinating and charismatic species of birds on the remote shores of UK overseas territories are now close to extinction. In a report to the government, the RSPB warns 33 species of birds, including penguins, parrots and albatrosses, are now critically endangered across the remnants of the empire. And that means we have a duty to fulfil," writes Robin McKie of the Guardian.

Chinstrap Penguin (Pygoscelis antarcticus) on South Sandwich Islands Photo: Christopher

"Our overseas territories hold more threatened bird species than the entire European continent," said Graham Madge from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), an IUCN Member. "Yet only £1.4m a year is spent by the government protecting habitats that provide homes for these endangered creatures. We need to spend 10 times that amount to save them."

The report of RSPB is part of a series of submissions to the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO), which is preparing a white paper on Britain's strategy regarding its 14 overseas territories, including Montserrat, Bermuda, the Falklands, Tristan da Cunha and the atolls of the British Indian Ocean Territories, as well as a chunk of the Antarctic. The white paper will propose economic and political changes in policies for running these areas and will outline ways to use them more actively to bolster Britain's defences.

The key concern for environment groups such as the RSPB is the need to improve care of the alarming number of threatened and endangered animals now found in these territories. "The overseas territories hold 85% of the threatened biodiversity for which the UK is responsible," said Jonathan Glenn-Hall of the RSPB. A typical example is the Tristan albatross, which breeds almost exclusively on Gough Island, part of the Tristan da Cunha archipelago in the South Atlantic.

Birds are not the only concern, the RSPB admits. For example, on St Helena introduced plants such as bilberry and furze have pushed many native plants to the edge of extinction with the St Helena olive tree being declared extinct in 2004.

Other threatened species include the blue iguana on the Cayman Islands and turtles in the Caribbean which will lose many nesting sites as global warming melts ice caps and causes sea levels to rise.

Read the full article on the Guardian.

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