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The UK Overseas Territories

Did you know that the vast majority of the UK’s unique flora and fauna lies not in Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales or England but in the ‘Overseas Territories’? These territories harbour extraordinary natural wealth but are under severe threat. 

In 2024, we are working with the John Ellerman Foundation to offer funders a new UKOTs Learning Series. It’s an opportunity for funders to discover more about these diverse and important environments, how and why they are under threat and what funders can do to radically increase the support for those working on the ground to safeguard their future. You can sign up now and read further details below. 

Two penguins with black, white and yellow markings stand on the top of a cliff with the sea in the background.
(Credit: Trevor Glass)

What are the UK Overseas Territories (UKOTs)?

There are 14 UK Overseas Territories with a combined population of around 300,000 people and a combined area seven times the size of the UK. They include St Helena in the South Atlantic with its unique but threatened cloud-forest habitat; the Turks and Caicos Islands in the Caribbean including the region’s largest and most pristine uninhabited island; and South Georgia, also in the South Atlantic, with its incredible abundance of marine mammals and birdlife. 

An astonishing 94% of the UK’s endemic species live in the Overseas Territories. The territories host every significant habitat type on earth, including rainforest, tundra, desert, coral reef and icefield, along with a quarter of the world’s penguins and the fifth largest marine estate on the planet.

And yet, for a multitude of reasons, action to protect and restore this phenomenal natural environment receives extremely low levels of support: just a tiny fraction of one percent of total environmental giving from UK trusts and foundations. If this situation continues, we risk standing by while globally important species and habitats, for which the UK bears significant responsibility, are lost.

A view of the South Georgia and Sandwich Islands - beautiful snowpeaked mountains and cliffs above a deep blue see.
South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands.

The UKOTs learning series

Join us on a journey to explore the fascinating diversity of life and habitats present in the UKOTs, understand the threats they face and how individual and collective action could radically improve the system of support for the people and organisations working there. By signing up for this learning series you will:

  • Learn about the some of UK’s most important but least well known and least protected natural wonders
  • Meet some of the people working in the UKOTs and globally at the front line of the impacts of climate change, habitat destruction and invasive species
  • Connect with other funders and philanthropists from the UK and beyond
  • Explore the systemic challenges and barriers that lead to environmental work in the UKOTs receiving significantly less support and attention than in the rest of the UK, drawing out the implications for other issues and places.
  • Consider the colonial history of the UKOTs and what the impact of that has been on their environment and governance
  • Identify opportunities to fund impactful and well-evidenced projects
  • Hear about innovative practice in the UKOTs and elsewhere seeking to change how environmental action works, and help design interventions that could have a positive long-term effect in the UKOTs.

The learning series is designed as a coherent journey for participants, with each event building on the last, but with short briefings available to help get you up to speed if you miss one of the events. However, we are keen to engage as many people as possible, so do join the series even if you can’t attend all of the sessions live.

Our ultimate goal is to safeguard the globally important UK Overseas Territories through the preservation and regeneration of their unique ecosystems and species and for the vital role they play in response to the nature and climate crises. That goal will be realised by supporting local communities and NGOs working tirelessly for current and future generations.

A large group of King Penguins waddle on a beach.
King Penguins, West Falkland (Credit: Ben Tubby, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons).

Upcoming learning events

Our first event, ‘The Incredible Nature of the UK Overseas Territories’ will take place online on Monday 15 July from 14:00-16:00 BST. It will be an opportunity to learn about the extraordinary beauty, diversity and richness of the natural environment of the UKOTs, as well as the pressures, threats and challenges that ecosystems are experiencing. You will get to meet some of the people working in the UKOTs and globally at the front line of the impacts of climate change, habitat destruction and invasive species, and hear their views, priorities and concerns. You will have the opportunity to connect with other funders and philanthropists from the UK and beyond, and help shape the future of this learning series with your questions and thoughts.

Our second event will build on the first and explore what is working and not working in protecting and improving nature in the UKOTs and why, and where funding comes in. As with all the events, we will ensure there is space for people with on-the-ground experience to share their views, and will provide plenty of opportunity for networking and sharing your own experiences and challenges.

Subsequent events will then go on to share innovative practice within the UK Overseas Territories, highlight brilliant ideas from around the world, and identify the approaches and ideas that could create a long-term change in the protection and enhancement of nature in the UKOTs. 

How to sign up

Sign up by filling in this simple form. All event details will be emailed to you directly. This learning programme is free and open to all funders interested in the UKOTs.

UKOTs and decolonisation

The Territories have varied colonial pasts, with a common history of impositions from Whitehall. Today the Territories are in a constitutional partnership with the UK. Territory citizens are British nationals, and a Territory can cease its relationship with the UK if that is the democratically expressed will of its people. At EFN we recognise that the many injustices of colonialism left a lasting legacy around the world. Through our work in the Territories, we aim to support decolonialisation by funnelling resources to Territory-based organisations to support conservation priorities determined by them. These very small communities are generally not able to generate locally the necessary resources to protect their extensive environmental assets.*

* Can the UK Overseas Territories fund themselves?

The Territories vary enormously in their economic circumstances – four are eligible for development aid whilst a few of the larger ones have similar levels of wealth to the UK. The majority have very small populations (nine have fewer than 5,000 inhabitants), which leads to significant financial constraints. A few larger Caribbean Territory Governments operate multinational corporation tax systems that have led to them being identified by the Tax Justice Network as corporate tax havens. We are working to increase local support for NGOs in these places, for example by assisting the efforts of the Conservation Collective to develop a Cayman Islands Conservation Fund.