New directory highlights UK's fragments of paradise


Cuban Parrot: (photo: Lynn Gape).

A major new report has highlighted the global importance of the UK's 14 overseas territories for birds - including many under the threat of extinction.

The report, published by the RSPB and BirdLife International, identifies 78 priority sites for conservation action, stretching from the remote Pitcairn Islands in the Pacific to Bermuda, and from Gibraltar to the Falkland Islands. The diversity of bird species nesting in the UK's Overseas Territories (UKOTs) include one third of the world's species of penguins and albatrosses, one pelican, one flightless duck, five hummingbirds and two parrots. Worryingly, the report recognises that fewer than half of these sites identified have been afforded any official protection.

Striated Caracara: (photo: Grahame Madge).

The UK Overseas Territories hold 34 species of bird considered under the threat of extinction and a further 13 species of global conservation concern Note. Of these 22 are confined to the UKOTs and a further 15 probably have their most important breeding sites in the UKOTs.

West Indian Whistling-duck: (photo: Michael Gore/BirdLife).

The threatened species include the critically endangered Montserrat Oriole, which is confined to the Caribbean island and which lost more than half of its world range in a devastating volcanic eruption in 1997. Seven species of albatross and five species of petrel - their smaller cousins - with important nesting populations on the UK overseas territories are affected by the impacts of long-line fishing in the Southern Ocean, particularly in the south Atlantic. The UK is one of the top four nations, along with France, New Zealand and Australia, affected by longline fisheries.

With many of the territories being relatively small and remote islands, non-native, invasive plants and animals have had a devastating impact on birds and other wildlife of the UKOTs. In particular, introduced rats and mice are having significant effects on both land and seabirds.

Southern Giant Petrel: (photo: Grahame Madge).

In a foreword to the new report, Barry Gardiner, Minister for Biodiversity, Landscape and Rural Affairs, said: "The UK's Overseas Territories are rich in wildlife, and home to many endemic species. Their total land area is less than 10 per cent of the British Isles, yet their importance in biological diversity is out of all proportion to their small size. This is underlined by the large number of globally significant bird species in the UK overseas territories. However, these bird populations face increasing pressure from invasive alien species, habitat destruction, long-line fishing and global climate change."

Commenting on the importance of the UK's Overseas Territories, the RSPB's chief executive Graham Wynne said: "Populations of many bird species around the world continue to decline; those of the UK Overseas Territories are no exception. Growing threats from invasive animals and plants, the destruction of unique habitats and the effects of long-line fishing all need to be addressed."

"These crown jewels for conservation hold more species of bird under the threat of extinction than the whole of Europe, and the threats to them are very real. Several birds found only on UK overseas territories have become extinct in the last few hundred years, putting the UK in the list of the world's top five countries for bird extinctions."

The RSPB's Sarah Sanders, author of the report, added: "In addition to the variety of species, the concentrations of seabirds, in particular, are staggering. There could be up to 50 million pairs of seabirds nesting on our territories, making the UK one of the most important nations for marine wildlife."

The report, Important Bird Areas in the United Kingdom Overseas Territories: priority sites for conservation, will be launched in Jersey at a conference dedicated to biodiversity conservation in the UK's Overseas Territories. The conference has been organised by the UK Overseas Territories Conservation Forum, with the support of the Overseas Territories Environment Programme.

Cobb's Wren: (photo: Grahame Madge).

There are 14 UK Overseas Territories: Anguilla; Bermuda; British Antarctic Territory; British Indian Ocean Territory; British Virgin Islands; Cayman Islands; the Falkland Islands; Gibraltar; Montserrat; Pitcairn Islands; St Helena, and its dependencies (Ascension and Tristan da Cunha); South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands; Sovereign Base Areas on Cyprus; and Turks and Caicos. The report does not include sites from British Antarctic Territory or from the Sovereign Base Areas on Cyprus. Because of their biologically distinct natures, the report splits Ascension, Tristan da Cunha and St Helena into separate chapters even though the first two territories are dependencies of St Helena.

Globally threatened species are listed as those species estimated by the IUCN to be facing extinction. There are three levels of threat: Critically Endangered (CR) is applied to those species facing an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild in the near future. Endangered (EN) is applied to those species facing a high risk of extinction in the wild in the near future. Vulnerable (VU) is applied to those species facing a high risk of extinction in the wild in the medium future.

Species of global conservation concern include those species almost meeting the criteria for being globally threatened. These species are listed by the IUCN as near threatened.

Globally threatened species, with levels of threat, confined to UK Overseas Territories:

  • Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross (EN), Tristan da Cunha
  • Tristan Albatross (EN), Tristan da Cunha
  • Bermuda Petrel (EN), Bermuda
  • Spectacled Petrel (CR), Tristan da Cunha
  • Atlantic Petrel (VU), Tristan da Cunha
  • Henderson Petrel (EN), Pitcairn Islands
  • Ascension Frigatebird (VU), Ascension
  • Henderson Crake (VU), Pitcairn Islands
  • Inaccessible Rail (VU), Tristan da Cunha
  • Gough Moorhen (VU), Tristan da Cunha
  • St Helena Plover (VU), St Helena
  • Henderson Fruit-dove (VU), Pitcairn Islands
  • Henderson Lorikeet (VU), Pitcairn Islands
  • Cobb’s Wren (VU) Falkland Islands
  • Henderson Reed-warbler (VU), Pitcairn Islands
  • Pitcairn Reed-warbler (VU), Pitcairn
  • Gough Bunting (VU), Tristan da Cunha
  • Tristan Bunting (VU), Tristan da Cunha
  • Grosbeak Bunting (VU, Tristan da Cunha
  • Montserrat Oriole (CR), Montserrat

Other globally threatened species, with their threat status (see note above), breeding in, but not confined to, the UK overseas territories:

  • Rockhopper Penguin (VU) Falkland Islands, Tristan da Cunha
  • Macaroni Penguin (VU) Falklands, South Georgia
  • Sooty Albatross (EN) Tristan da Cunha
  • Wandering Albatross (VU) South Georgia
  • Grey-headed Albatross (VU) South Georgia
  • Black-browed Albatross (EN) Falkland Islands, South Georgia
  • White-chinned Petrel (VU) Falkland Islands, South Georgia
  • Atlantic Petrel (VU), Tristan da Cunha
  • Phoenix Petrel (EN), Pitcairn Islands
  • Southern Giant-petrel (VU), Falklands, South Georgia, Tristan da Cunha
  • West Indian Whistling-duck (VU), Cayman, Turks and Caicos
  • Lesser Kestrel (VU), Gibraltar
  • Giant Kingbird (EN), Formerly occured on Turks and Caicos
  • Forest Thrush (VU), Montserrat

Species of global conservation concern (near threatened) confined to UK overseas territories:

  • South Georgia Pipit, South Georgia
  • Tristan Thrush, Tristan da Cunha

Species of global conservation concern nesting in the UK overseas territories:

  • Magellanic Penguin, Falkland Islands
  • Gentoo Penguin, Falkland Islands, South Georgia
  • Light-mantled Albatross, South Georgia
  • Sooty Shearwater, Falkland Islands
  • Northern Giant-petrel, South Georgia
  • Grey Petrel, Tristan da Cunha
  • Murphy’s Petrel, Pitcairn Islands
  • Striated Caracara, Falkland Islands
  • Caribbean Coot, the status of this bird is unclear on Caribbean UK Overseas Territories
  • White-crowned Pigeon, Turks and Caicos
  • Cuban Parrot, Cayman Islands
  • Vitelline Warbler, Cayman Islands

Globally threatened species which visit UK Overseas Territories regularly, but do not nest on them:

  • Balearic Shearwater (CR) Gibraltar
  • Northern Royal Albatross (EN), Falkland Islands
  • Southern Royal Albatross (VU), Falkland Islands
  • Bristle-thighed Curlew (VU), Pitcairn Islands
Written by: RSPB