Where Less is More

Friday 1st August 2014

This week is a guest blog – by Buglife’s Director of Conservation, Craig Macadam. Enjoy. Matt Shardlow.

Unless you’ve been on a different planet you’ve probably noticed that the 20th Commonwealth Games have been taking place in Glasgow. As the teams paraded in to Hampden Park it was great to see some of the overseas territories represented. These small outposts of the former British Empire, 16 in number, are spread around the globe. 

With the exception of the British Antarctic Territory, they are small islands, but what they lack in size, they more than make up for in their biological importance.  Indeed, in some cases their Coat of Arms hints at their wealth of invertebrate biodiversity. Take the Turks and Caicos Islands for example which shows a lobster and conch shell, or the British Indian Ocean Territory with its selection of marine molluscs.  The Coat of Arms of Tristan da Cunha though, with its pair of Tristan rock lobsters (Jasus tristani), hints at the real importance of these overseas territories for biodiversity.  Tristan rock lobsters are endemic to the Tristan da Cunha archipelago.

A recent ‘stocktake’ of nature in the Overseas Territories by the RSPB reveals over 1,500 endemic species are known from the UK Overseas Territories, representing 94% of unique British species.  As an example of the high level of endemism found on these remote islands, there are over 450 endemic terrestrial invertebrate species known from St Helena, well over a quarter of all the known endemics from all the territories.

85% of the Critically Endangered species for which the UK is responsible are found in the Territories and it is thought that around 50 of the endemic species once found on St Helena are now extinct.  It has been estimated that a further 2,100 unique British species are still awaiting discovery in our Territories and it is likely that many of these unknown species will be invertebrates.

As custodians of this rare and endangered biodiversity we have an international responsibility for ensuring that these unique species continue to thrive, however they are increasingly under threat from invasive non-native species, habitat loss and fragmentation, development, climate change, and even a lack of basic knowledge.

On many of the islands there has been very little or no research on the invertebrate species present.  We need to know what species are there as well as their ecology and conservation status, before we can work out what conservation action is required.  Our current Darwin Initiative Funded project on St Helena ‘Bugs on the Brink’ is working with the St Helena National Trust, St Helena Government and the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology to find out more about the invertebrates of the island, establish conservation action on the island and to raise awareness of their importance.  Our previous work on South Georgia has highlighted the impact of non-native species on the native invertebrate fauna.

Despite their importance, less than £100,000 a year is allocated by the Government to the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) for conservation in the Overseas Territories.  That represents just over £60 per endemic species – around half the price of a ticket for the Commonwealth Games closing ceremony.  We need to do much more to secure the future of this unique invertebrate biodiversity.  As the spectacle of the closing ceremony unfolds on Sunday night and the representatives of the Overseas Territories parade in to the arena, spare a thought for the invertebrates that are clinging on in these remote locations.

The RSPB has just had some great news for the UK Overseas Territory of Ascension Island.

Do you want to see a St Helena Spiky yellow woodlouse? Watch our video on St Helena and its amazing invertebrates.