Brexit: Will the Falkland Islands wildlife suffer?

By Manish Pandey
Newsbeat reporter

  • Published
Black-browed albatrossImage source, Getty Images

Squids, penguins and elephant seals.

No, not a scene from a David Attenborough series, but just some of the wildlife that live in the Falkland Islands.

But local conservationists are worried that the Falklands will not have enough resources to protect its environment after the UK leaves the EU.

"We might stop being able to protect the amazing wildlife," Michelle Winnard, a local conservationist, tells Radio 1 Newsbeat.

The Falkland Islands sit in the south-west Atlantic Ocean - and remains the subject of a dispute between Britain and Argentina who fought a war over it in 1982.

It held a referendum in 2013 and opted to remain an overseas UK territory - which means the Falklands are self-governing - but the UK is still responsible for foreign and defence matters.

Image source, Caroline Weir
Image caption,
Sei whales are believed to be an endangered species

The Falkland Islands did not get a vote in the 2016 EU referendum. After the result was announced, the government said it would work with the UK government to achieve a good deal for the Falkands.

Michelle, 28, works for Falklands Conservation - a non-governmental organisation focused on preserving the islands' wildlife. She believes that money from the EU has been vital in supporting their work.

Between 2008-2019, the EU has provided the Falkland Islands with more than £10m - including £1.5m to undertake environmental projects. But this will no longer be available once the UK leaves the EU.

One of these projects involves endangered sei whales - one of the world's fastest whales that can reach speeds of up to 30 miles per hour.

Michelle's team studied how the whales used the waters around Berkeley Sound - an area in the Falklands.

The presence of at least 87 whales there suggested it was an "important feeding area" for them.

As a result, future decisions about how best to use these waters, which were previously earmarked for industrial activity like shipping and fishing, as well as tourism, "will take these findings into account", says Michelle.

Image source, Michelle Winnard
Image caption,
Michelle says without EU-funded projects, there could be a loss of species and biodiversity

The UK government does say it will continue to provide funding to protect the environment through a scheme called Darwin Plus, which provides funding for environmental projects in UK overseas territories.

A spokesperson from the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) told Newsbeat: "The UK is a world leader in environmental protection and we have been very clear that we will continue to uphold these protections in the British Overseas Territories, and, where possible, enhance these standards even further.

"We are working to make sure public funding can continue to support the protection of the environment in our overseas territories after we leave the EU."

The Chancellor, Sajid Javid, also announced in the recent spending review - which is the government's plans on how it will spend your money - that it would give an additional £30m to support the maintenance and restoration of vital habitats for wildlife.

'A special way to live'

"I've grown up living so close to the ocean that you wake up and the first thing you can hear is the sound of a penguin," Gabriella Hoy, 26, tells Newsbeat.

She has grown up on the Falkland Islands surrounded by nature.

Image source, Gabriella Hoy/Instagram
Image caption,
Gabriella has grown up with nature on her doorstep

"Lots of people around the world have to see penguins in zoos.

"So, it's incredible to grow up with that natural experience. It makes you really appreciate wildlife."

"Recently, when out for a walk, I've seen South Georgian sea lions in the harbour because it's the season when they all start coming up here."

Image source, Getty Images

Teslyn Barkman, 31, is an independent politician and the youngest ever elected representative in the Falkland Islands. She's also the person responsible for natural resources like agriculture and fish life, along with Brexit negotiations.

She says the UK's spending plan applies to all of the UK's overseas territories - which together make up more than 90% of the UK's wildlife - and not just the Falklands.

"So it'll be like putting all of your eggs in one basket."

'Crucial to the economy'

Teslyn says the environment is "incredibly important" to the Falkland economy.

"It's about having security - our economy is dependent on natural resources so we need to protect these," she says.

"64% of our income comes from fisheries and marine management activities. We have one of the most sustainable fisheries in the world."

Image source, Falkland Islands Government
Image caption,
Teslyn says the UK government has listened to concerns but more could be done

She refers to squid - sea creature and food - which "feeds two-thirds of Europe". Nearly all of the Falklands fishing exports in 2018 went to the EU.

Current environmental protections have enabled "a record-breaking year" of fishery, according to Teslyn.

"It is thriving, and so is incredibly valuable as an environmental resource - it's crucial to the survival of a single-resource economy like ours."

Wildlife and environment in the Falklands is also responsible for growing tourism - which has contributed £4m to the economy.

A reputational boost

Teslyn adds that while Brexit is providing challenges - there have also been positives.

She says it has enabled the Falklands to "strengthen the trading relationship with the UK".

"Two-thirds of our meat exports were being sold into the European market - but we've had trading arrangements agreed between overseas territories and the UK - so we've been able to direct those contracts into the UK."

Image source, Getty Images

She adds that Brexit also "put a microscope" on the fact the Falklands is "a single-resource economy" - which means they will be trying to grow "into other areas".

And she claims the importance given to the Falkland Islands by the UK government has increased.

"I don't think most people were aware just how important that relationship with the EU was in terms of trade and the quality of squid we produce in the quantities that we do. So it's had a positive impact on the reputation of the Falklands."

Gabriella adds: "A lot of the generations here want to protect the environment.

"We've grown up with it and it's become our lifestyle. You're always excited when you're in nature."

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