Protecting Our Territories from Alien Invaders

 

25 March 2010

 

From Bermuda to Pitcairn, the amazing wealth of plants and animals in the UK’s Overseas Territories are being safeguarded by the incredible work of the local populations. And now, with additional support from UK Government, the rich variety of plants and animals will be further protected from invasive alien species.

 

These aliens are a major cause of biodiversity loss globally, and their impacts are often most severe on the island environments typical of our Overseas Territories. Those plants and animals which have lived there for hundreds of years, such as Green turtles, the Cayman Blue Iguana and the Montserrat Mountain Chicken, are often vulnerable to these invaders. This is because of their previous isolation from predators, diseases or competitors. The majority of global extinctions since 1500 have occurred on islands. For example, 67% of threatened birds on oceanic islands are threatened by invasive alien species, compared to only 8% on continents. These aliens are also thought to be responsible for the extinction of at least 65 bird species, more than any other known factor.

 

The Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) has developed a work programme which aims to give nature conservation advice and support to UK and Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies governments. Addressing the negative impact of invasive alien species is a key issue, and recently Defra has given JNCC £250,000 to focus on tackling the invading threat to our Overseas Territories. This is a contribution to International Year of Biodiversity. Overseas Territories themselves have identified their key priorities for this funding.

 

A vast range of activities will be supported by this funding. Activities range from survey work to public awareness campaigns, from eradication and control projects to prevention plans. For example, on St Helena, the bastard gumwood tree Commindendrum rotundifolium is on the brink of extinction, there is currently only one known pure tree. The funding provided will support its recovery by the removal of invasives plants and the propagation and planting of pure bastard gumwood trees in their place. Mass planting of this tree will allow it to re-establish, hopefully saving it from extinction.

 

In the Caribbean the Cayman Islands, Turks and Caicos Islands, and the British Virgin Islands will use £60,000 of the funding to focus and develop efforts to monitor and control lionfish. These lionfish, with few known natural predators, pose a major threat to coral reefs by significantly reducing the young populations of a wide range of native reef fish - for example, cardinal, parrotfish and damselfish. There is the potential that this can have a negative impact on the tourism industry, a key source of income for Caribbean Islands.

 

Funds from this initiative will also be used determine the extent of marine alien species at key points around South Georgia, Falklands and Tristan, and to eradicate and control high priority alien species, including plants and rodents, in the Falklands, Ascension, and St Helena.

 

Minister for Marine and Natural Environment, Huw Irranca-Davies said: “This is certainly a case where out of sight, should not mean out of our minds. These places are homes to unique creatures, which cannot be found anywhere else. Our planet’s range of plants and animals, its biodiversity, is there to be safeguarded by us for future generations, and I am glad that this funding is helping to maintain such a legacy. ”

 

Marcus Yeo, Managing Director of JNCC noted: “JNCC is delighted to be the catalyst for such a huge range of positive action for nature conservation in the Overseas Territories which are so important for global biodiversity. To be able to see so much being gained for so little should be an inspiration to all conservationists, not only in the UK, but across the world.”

 

- ENDS -

 

Notes to Editors:

 

1. The Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) is the statutory adviser to Government on UK and international nature conservation, on behalf of the Council for Nature Conservation and the Countryside, the Countryside Council for Wales, Natural England and Scottish Natural Heritage. Its work contributes to maintaining and enriching biological diversity, conserving geological features and sustaining natural systems.

 

2. Other examples of projects being funded include: Educating the general public about invasive species ecology, threats and management in Anguilla; minimizing the destructive impacts of the invasive Red Fire Ants by controlling the scale and distribution of infestation in Montserrat; contributing to a project to eradicate Rattus exulans from Henderson Island a UK Overseas Territory in the Pacific; Providing a guide book to raise awareness of invasive species in Bermuda and controlling invasive acacia trees in Sovereign Base Area Cyprus.

 

3. For further information, please contact the JNCC Communications Team, Tel: 01733 866839 or Email