Rare species and iconic landscapes, from the polar regions to the Caribbean seas, will receive protection through UK Government funding to help enhance the environment in the UK Overseas Territories.
Seventeen innovative new projects around the globe will receive a share of around £3.5 million from the Darwin Plus initiative, designed to support the preservation of international nature and achieve commitments in the UK Government’s 25 Year Environment Plan.
The diverse array of projects receiving funding include radar tracking of albatrosses in the south Atlantic, exploring the deepest parts of the Atlantic Ocean and protecting wetlands in the Caribbean – home to more than 185 species of water birds, including a number of globally threatened species.
Environment Minister Thérèse Coffey said:
These 17 projects receiving funding through Darwin Plus will make a significant contribution to international conservation, demonstrating the UK’s global leadership in this field.
Protecting and enhancing nature in our Overseas Territories will help to make crucial activities such as agriculture, fisheries, forestry and tourism more sustainable.
Minister of State for the Overseas Territories Lord (Tariq) Ahmad of Wimbledon said:
The UK’s Overseas Territories have some of the world’s most pristine waters and natural environments, from the polar regions to the Pacific, and we are committed to doing all we can to preserve them.
This funding will help conservation projects continue their good work, boosting protections for wildlife in areas including the Atlantic and the Caribbean and supporting sustainable livelihoods which will preserve our precious environment for future generations.
Albatrosses and radar tracking
One of the successful projects will see albatrosses and petrels benefit from further research using ‘bird-borne’ radar devices. Developed by scientists at the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), the attached radars will measure how often tracked wandering albatrosses interact with legal and illegal fishing vessels in the south Atlantic to map the areas and times when birds of different age and sex are most susceptible to bycatch – becoming caught up in fishing nets.
The project’s results will be shared with stakeholders to better target bycatch observer programmes, monitor compliance with bycatch mitigation and highlight the impact of bycatch on seabirds.
The UK is a signatory to the Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels (ACAP), part of the Convention on Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS). This agreement has been extremely successful in substantially reducing levels of seabird bycatch in a number of important fisheries where rates have been reduced to virtually zero from levels that were historically concerning.
Professor Richard Phillips, leader of the Higher Predators and Conservation group at the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) said:
The British Antarctic Survey is delighted to be awarded this funding from Darwin Plus, which is for a collaboration between BAS and BirdLife International. The project will use a range of technologies – GPS, loggers that record 3-D acceleration and novel radar-detecting tags – to quantify interactions of tracked wandering albatrosses with legal and illegal fishing vessels. The technology will provide much-needed information on the areas and periods of highest bycatch.
Another project focuses on monitoring and understanding drivers of change in the Akrotiri wetlands, part of the UK Overseas Territory of Akrotiri and Dhekelia on the island of Cyprus and home to a large population of flamingoes.
Akrotiri Salt Lake is the largest inland water body on Cyprus and is considered one of the eastern Mediterranean’s most important wetlands.
The project will use remote sensing, on-the-ground measurements of water quality and vegetation, and assess community interactions between native and non-native species including mosquitoes. It will establish baselines and procedures for evaluating the health of this highly-valued wetland.
The information collected will provide long-term species and environmental data for the Sovereign Base Areas and wider Cyprus.
Recently the British Military Police at RAF Akrotiri have reduced the illegal killing of birds around the Sovereign Base Area by 72 per cent.
Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said:
As a major landowner in the UK and around the world, the military has a responsibility to protect and enhance our environment. I’m delighted that a project in RAF Akrotiri has been successful in securing a grant from Darwin Plus, which will be vital to boost conservation efforts in the region.
This work will run alongside other conservation projects across the defence estate, including restoring the 99-year-old Bulford Kiwi, cleaning plastics off Tregantle beach and rehabilitating veterans through archaeology.
Jodey Peyton, ecologist at the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology and project manager for Darwin Plus, said:
We are delighted to be given the opportunity to collaboratively explore the interplay between invasive non-native species, climate and land-use change across the internationally important Ramsar site, Lake Akrotiri, within the Western Sovereign Base Area.
Bringing together experts from hydrological, ecological and societal perspectives, our research will provide evidence to promote and protect the incredible diversity of species that depend on the lake and the functions they provide.
This latest round of funding includes projects to protect important wetlands in the Caribbean and strengthening biosecurity measures on St Helena and Ascension Island, Pitcairn and Tristan da Cunha. Some of the projects will be delivered in and around the Falkland Islands and South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, both important hotspots for wildlife.
The British Geological Survey has received funding to explore the South Sandwich Trench, one of the deepest parts of the southern ocean at approximately 8100 metres, as part of the Five Deeps Expedition. The project will use a Deep Submergence Vehicle (DSV) Limiting Factor, the only full ocean depth manned submersible and a fleet of free-fall landers which will deliver scientific equipment to the sea floor to acquire video and physical samples.
Darwin Plus will deliver commitments in the 25 Year Environment Plan on nature and protection of the natural environment in the UK Overseas Territories. Round 7 of Darwin Plus received 51 applications, the highest number ever. In 2018, 13 projects were awarded funding.
Professor Stephen Blackmore, Chair of the Darwin Plus Advisory Group said:
The range of the projects funded by Darwin Plus in our UK Overseas Territories shows how we can effect change and better support and protect nature around the globe.
I am proud that we are delivering Darwin Plus funding to benefit animal and plant species and their habitats, which are vital to humanity’s economic and social development.
The fund is administered by the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), with additional funding support from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
More information on applying for Darwin Plus funding can be found on Gov.uk.