In recent decades, influencing policy-makers at a European Union level has also been important for promoting conservation and sound environmental management in the UKOTs. Our work in this area has included submissions to formal inquiries and consultations, as well as less formal awareness-raising activities and liaison with key contacts. Influence of this kind has the potential to direct future strategic, research and funding opportunities relating to ‘overseas entities’ (Outermost Regions and Overseas Countries and Territories – ORs/OCTs) of EU Member States, including the UK. It is pleasing to see the European Commission promoting ideas for support of conservation in these entities originally put to the Commission several years ago by UKOTCF and its partners in Bioverseas, a grouping with similar conservation umbrella bodies of those other EU states with overseas territories, although the status of funding now open to UKOTs is unclear as UK prepares to leave the EU.
At a European level, we contributed to consultations on Future Relations Between the EU and the Overseas Countries and Territories(October 2008) and invasive alien species (April 2008). A European Commission paper Towards an EU Strategy on Invasive Species was published towards the end of 2008, and specifically noted the particular impact of species invasions on isolated islands with high biodiversity value, such as the Overseas Countries and Territories of EU Member States, and acknowledged that they do not receive appropriate attention in this regard. Bioverseas, the group of which we are part, with the roughly equivalent umbrella bodies for French and Netherlands OCTs, introduced to the European Commission some years ago the idea of support for nature areas in the OCTs. We were delighted that the Commission’s then Environmental Director later adopted this idea, in the Voluntary scheme for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services in Territories of European Overseas (BEST), and we continued to support this. IUCN Europe coordinate this programme, despite limited knowledge previously of working with the Overseas Countries and Territories (OCTs); they separate the work into regional hubs and work with bodies based there.
To help this, we supported the facilitation of regional meetings between the coordinating bodies of this pilot funding scheme and the UKOTs at the Gibraltar conference 2015, and contributed to the ecosystem profiles for each region. These had been intended to inform a funding strategies/ business case to put to the European Commission in order to provide further and more long-term support for the OCTs.
The BEST programme included swift grants (up to €50k), small grants (up to €100k) and medium grants (up to €300k). So far, they have supported many bodies in the UKOTs to undertake on-the-ground projects. Although eligibility requirements made it difficult for us to apply for this funding, we have coordinated project proposals, which have gone on to be successful individually under the small grants in Montserrat and the Turks and Caicos Islands.
Sadly, after more than ten years of lobbying for this, it is unclear what will happen to this as a result of the UK voting to be removed from the European Union.