by Sara J Cross, Forum Co-ordinator

The biodiversity of the UK Dependent Territories is rich, varied and under threat. Conservation organisations in the UK concerned about the decline of natural habitats and species in the Dependent Territories, have joined together to assist local organisations in protecting their fragile biodiversity resources. The UK Dependent Territories Conservation Forum (the Forum), established in 1987, is the co-ordinating body responsible for promoting joint action. The Forum exists to promote and co-ordinate the conservation of the diverse and increasingly threatened plant and animal species and natural habitats of the Dependencies. It aims to do this by providing assistance in the form of expertise, information and liaison between non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and governments, both in the UK and in the Dependencies themselves.

Forum membership has grown steadily since 1987, and is extended to all non-governmental conservation groups in the Dependencies. Current UK supporting members are: the British Association of Nature Conservationists (BANC), British Ornithologists' Union (BOU), Fauna & Flora International (FFI), the National Trust, Plantlife, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), World Conservation Monitoring Centre (WCMC), World Wide Fund for Nature-United Kingdom (WWF-UK) and the Zoological Society of London (ZSL). These organisations show their commitment to the Forum's objectives by providing core support on an annual basis.

Environmental institutions and NGOs in the UK play a vital role in the study and conservation of biodiversity in the Dependencies. The Forum is able to pool this valuable resource and co-ordinate the direction of technical assistance, expertise and funding to conservation projects and local groups in the Dependencies, as well as representing conservation issues and needs to government departments. Forum members meet quarterly to discuss, prioritise and network conservation projects and to co-ordinate each others ongoing programmes in the Dependencies. Information resources are managed in extensive manual files and on a computerised database which records projects, legislation and contacts. The Forum can also draw on the information holdings of its supporting members, for example, the project reports maintained by WWF and the global computerised holdings of WCMC.

The core work involved in running the Forum is done by a part-time Co-ordinator. The Co-ordinator is responsible for organising meetings, the dissemination of information, managing Forum projects, the production of Forum News, routine administration, liaison with Forum sponsors, local conservation groups and government staff, and representing the Forum to other interested parties. The Forum currently has three specialist working groups, namely the St Helena Working Group, the Pitcairn Working Group and the Caribbean Biodiversity Working Group, which each play an important role, pooling specialist interests and expertise, facilitating projects and linking closely with the government and conservation groups in the Territory concerned.

Recent Forum activities

The Forum is regularly called upon to advise on project funding by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) and WWF-UK. It also undertakes or initiates priority projects, usually in association with member organisations or other conservation agencies. In recent years the Forum has been involved in the activities listed below:

  • A major review of implementation of the Ramsar Convention (on Wetlands of International Importance especially as waterfowl habitat) in the UK Dependent Territories, undertaken jointly with the International Wetlands and Waterfowl Research Bureau (IWRB), commissioned by the Department of the Environment.
  • Production of a series of biodiversity profiles of the UK Dependent Territories undertaken with WCMC and commissioned by the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC).
  • The development of an Ecological Restoration Project for Ascension Island, funded jointly by FCO, RSPB and WWF-UK.
  • Production of a management plan for Henderson Island - a World Heritage Site in the Pitcairn Islands - commissioned by JNCC and FCO.

Recent NGO achievements

Of the 16 British Dependent Territories, 10 currently have at least one locally based NGO concerned with environmental matters (see Table 1). These primarily voluntary groups manage to achieve a tremendous amount on relatively small, sporadic budgets, and often lead conservation activities, public awareness and environmental education within their countries. They work in an advisory capacity to local governments and produce a range of publications. Some own land, which, apart from sites of historic value, is managed to conserve and enhance wildlife. In many cases the true extent of each organisation's involvement in nature conservation is not widely known but some of their recent achievements are detailed below:

  • In 1992 the National Trust for the Cayman Islands acquired 71 hectares of primary habitat on Grand Cayman. This Mastic Reserve protects low-elevation dry forest, of which little remains in the Caribbean.
  • The National Trust of the Turks and Caicos Islands published a bird list of the islands in 1994, and is developing environmental education programmes on the value of mangroves and about the islands' national parks.
  • The Bermuda Audubon Society has acquired several wetland reserves and is enhancing their wildlife value.
  • The Montserrat National Trust runs environmental education schemes, including school and village competitions, radio programmes and campaigns about waste disposal and the preservation of the habitat of the Montserrat oriole Icterus oberi.
  • Falklands Conservation has established a seabird monitoring programme.

The Review

In March 1996, the Forum published an 80 page document, entitled UK Dependent Territories: A Conservation Review,* with support from the Darwin Initiative. The Review aims to raise awareness of the work and needs of Dependent Territory conservation groups, to outline what UK NGOs believe should now be done to implement practical conservation measures and what the Forum itself will do over the next five years. This document has been produced as a result of extensive research and wide collaboration. The consultative process included a questionnaire survey of voluntary conservation organisations within the UK Dependent Territories, interviews with conservation bodies in the Caribbean Dependencies and detailed discussions with experts and organisations based in the UK and overseas.

It is not the intention of this report to produce 'action plans' for each Dependency but rather to highlight their outstanding conservation needs. For example, the recommendations that the Forum will help to promote and implement over the next five years for Tristan da Cunha appear in Table 2 (below) since an article on this Dependency features in the magazine.

The Forum is aware that all their recommendations form the basis for an extensive programme of work, which may not be fully feasible given the current level of resources available for conservation in the Dependencies. These recommendations, which have been compiled from a variety of sources, are presented as a starting point for the identification of key project activities. Collaborative efforts are now required between the various agencies to develop strategies for implementation.

* Copies of this document are available price 10 UK pounds from the

UK Dependent Territories Conservation Forum,
14 Goose Acre,
nr Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire,
LU7 0SR, UK.

Table 2. Forum Review recommendations for Tristan da Cunha

Conservation policy

A policy should be established to diminish the risk of introduction of potentially damaging organisms to all islands in the Tristan da Cunha group.

Regulations regarding tourist and other visits to uninhabited islands should be drafted and vigorously enforced.

The ponds at Nightingale Island should be designated as Ramsar sites for their large population of Yellow-nosed albatross and adjacent Wilkins' bunting habitat.

All rockhopper penguin colonies on the main island of Tristan should be afforded sanctuary status.

An environmental Advisory Committee should be established to cover all the proclaimed nature/wildlife reserves and sanctuaries within the Tristan da Cunha group.

Principles espoused in the Gough Island Management Plan need to be applied to the management of all the uninhabited islands in the group.


The Tristan da Cunha Conservation Ordinance should be revised to encompass all biota.

Wildlife reserves declared under the Conservation Ordinance should be upgraded to nature reserves to protect all organisms as well as natural features found within the reserves.

The limit for reserves should be extended to 12 nautical miles from shore.

Education, training and public awareness

A visitor's guide to the natural history of the Islands should be produced.

The island museum on Tristan should be expanded to include an account of the islands' natural history.

Protected areas

A management plan should be drafted for the newly declared Inaccessible Island Nature Reserve.

Biodiversity (species)

Monitoring programmes are needed to assess whether the current levels of exploitation of great shearwaters and rockhopper penguins on Nightingale Island are sustainable.

A monitoring programme is needed to assess whether the current level of exploitation of the island tree Phylica arborea for wood on both Nightingale and Tristan is sustainable.

Low-level monitoring of flax Phormium tenax (and other potentially damaging alien plant species) is needed on Inaccessible and Nightingale Islands, with the option for control operations if deemed necessary.

Vessels visiting the islands should be advised of the problems of seabirds being dazzled by bright lights at night, and the use of floodlights on ships operating offshore should be discontinued.

Biodiversity (habitats)

A survey of plants and invertebrates, with special emphasis on endemic species, is required on the main island of Tristan.

The impact of sheep grazing on the vegetation and other biota of the base and peak of Tristan should be investigated.

The status and impacts of introduced invertebrates on all islands should be assessed.