The UK Overseas Territories

UK Overseas Territories have their own identity and governing structure and are not represented in the UK Parliament; however, they form part of the nation-state of UK. The exact relationship between Overseas Territories and the UK differs for each of the Territories, but generally the UK is responsible for defence and international relations (including international conventions), as well as other aspects in some Territories, and is expected to provide general advice and support in most aspects of government. The UK also has reserve powers in respect of legislation.

The Crown Dependencies

Crown Dependencies are independently administered jurisdictions, and do not form part of the United Kingdom or the European Union, but are attached to the UK Crown and UK deals with most international matters. They are not sovereign states. However, they each have their own legislative assemblies and can legislate on local matters with the approval of the Crown. The High Court of Tynwald in the Isle of Man, is over 1,000 years old, making it the oldest parliament in the world.

Global overview of UKOTs/CDs
Global Overview of the UK Overseas Territories Credit: UKOTCF

Conservation in the UKOTs and CDs

In 1986, the British Association of Nature Conservationists (BANC) commissioned a short desk-study of conservation in what were then called the Dependent Territories; this was funded by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF-UK). The aims of this study were to pull together the scattered information on the natural history of the Territories and to find out where the responsibility lay for conservation within the UK Government. At that time, there was a growing interest amongst NGOs and also within International Branch of the Nature Conservancy Council (NCC), the statutory body for nature conservation in Great Britain, in promoting conservation in the Dependencies (now UK Overseas Territories). NCC sponsored the compilation of data held by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources Conservation Monitoring Centre (IUCN/CMC – now the World Conservation Monitoring Centre. WCMC), which was made available for the study. The Royal Botanic Gardens Kew (RBGK), made available plant conservation bibliographies. Part of the growing interest was stimulated by production of the International Waterfowl & Wetlands Research Bureau (IWRB – now Wetlands International)/IUCN Wetland Directories which led to interest in the Ramsar Convention, and contact between the UK Department of the Environment and the Dependencies concerning wetland sites.

The UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) had some input to the BANC/WWF UK study by nominating contacts in each Territory. The result of the short review was the publication of “Fragments of Paradise” in 1987.

Fragments of Paradise- book cover
Fragments of Paradise Book Cover

This included a series of recommendations for action in each Territory and 3 general recommendations. The first of these was that a co-ordinating body should be established for NGOs. This recommendation was taken up with the formation of the NGO Forum for Nature Conservation in the UK DTs (later the UK Overseas Territories Conservation Forum – or UKOTCF or Overseas Territories Conservation, for short). Initial members were BANC, International Council for Bird Preservation (ICBP) British Section, WWF-UK and the Marine Conservation Society, which each paid subscriptions to establish the Forum. The intention was that matching funds would be found from Government sources but this did not happen. And so, for the next few years, the Forum existed on an annual budget of £2500, a lot of voluntary support and goodwill of the member organisations. WWF-UK’s programme for the conservation of biodiversity in the Dependent Territories was developed as a response to “Fragments of Paradise”. The priority areas for support by several member organisations continues to be guided by discussion within the Forum.

Growth and Development

Since our outset or soon after, we have operated as a liaison body with part-time staff producing a newsletter, co-ordinating project activities, and providing information and advice. By the mid-1990s, the members and associates asked the Forum to add collaborative projects and their management to its remit in some cases, and it did so. The current members, listed on the membership page, provide some funds on a subscription basis. Associate organisations are listed also. 

Until the mid-1990s, we had an informal structure. Our activities have expanded enormously over the years and, to deal with this effectively, the Forum became formally constituted as a charitable company in 1996.

Our relationship with the UK Government has also evolved and, more particularly, a dynamic relationship developed after the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in 1992. The Rio Conference spawned the Darwin Initiativeand the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) – the UK Action Plan (1994). All of these have had significant impacts for us and more broadly for conservation in the UKOTs.

We were successful in a bid for a small grant in the first Darwin Initiative allocation, resulting in publication in 1996 of UK Dependent Territories: a Conservation Review, and this money enabled the then Coordinator to work on a more sustained basis – to put in more hours to developing the organisation so that it could be more effective in helping conservation efforts in the UKOTs. The Conservation Review. both analysed the current position and  outlined what partners in the territories considered should be done to implement practical conservation measures in the Overseas Territories and what the organisation would do over the next five years. The plan resulted from a process of extensive consultation. More effort was put also into raising awareness. For example, an illustrated booklet was produced Promoting Biodiversity Conservation in the UK’s Overseas Territories

The achievements of locally based NGOs are clearly substantial, especially given that resources are so limited. It is interesting to note the formation of new NGOs in the Overseas Territories within our life-time: Alderney Wildlife TrustAnguilla National TrustTurks and Caicos National Trust and St Helena Nature Conservation Group and the joining of the latter with other local partners to form St Helena National Trust, for all of which we can be proud to know we helped form, and also the UK-based Friends of the Chagos, now Chagos Conservation Trust

We are currently under-resourced in relation to our objectives. Partly as a result of our own success, expectations on us have increased dramatically, for example, in terms of providing advice and information to Government agencies on policy and on project development and implementation.