Belfast Telegraph

Friday 28 November 2014

Warning over overseas wildlife laws

The Overseas Territories are home to many threatened species as well as breeding populations of penguin, seal and albatross on South Georgia
The Overseas Territories are home to many threatened species as well as breeding populations of penguin, seal and albatross on South Georgia

Wildlife from iguanas to penguins and giant frogs are at risk from flaws in environmental laws in the UK's Overseas Territories, the RSPB has warned.

The Overseas Territories are home to 90% of the threatened species for which the UK is responsible, including the Cayman blue iguana, the Anguilla racer snake and the Montserrat mountain chicken frog, as well as breeding populations of penguin, seal and albatross on South Georgia.

The RSPB's analysis of all 14 Overseas Territories has revealed that while some have good quality environmental legislation, others lack protection for important wildlife and habitats.

Five territories have no environmental impact assessment requirement for major development.

In the Cayman Islands this gap in the legislation is leaving the endangered blue iguana at risk from plans for a major highway which will cut through old growth forest, the RSPB said.

A lack of strong networks of protected areas or the legislation to implement them in nine territories leaves important sites unprotected, such as the Centre Hills in Montserrat, home to the critically endangered mountain chicken, a giant frog.

Some territories have no marine protected areas, for example the Falkland Islands, where offshore oil development could pre-empt efforts to establish a network of conservation zones in the seas.

And in three uninhabited territories where the UK Government has committed to "exemplary environmental management", there is a lack of transparency and accountability, the report by the RSPB claimed.

The report comes nine months after the Government published its Overseas Territories White Paper in which it set out how it wanted to ensure the natural environment was protected and managed to the highest standards.

The RSPB has made a number of recommendations, including calling on the UK to help smaller Overseas Territories draft environmental laws, advocate progress on legislation which has stalled due to lack of political will, support their governments and work to ensure uninhabited territories are strong on protecting wildlife and controlling development.

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