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World Creativity and Innovation Week: supporting innovative projects in the UK Overseas Territories

By Ness Amaral-Rogers, Jessica Magnus and Chloe Hatton

UK Overseas TerritoriesInnovation

To celebrate World Creativity and Innovation Week (WCIW), we have a series of blog posts looking at some of our recent innovative work. Today it's the turn of our International Implementation Team.

World Creativity and Innovation Week (WCIW) is a worldwide event celebrating the use of novel tools or methods as a way of adapting to emerging issues. Running from 15 to 21 April 2024, the day concludes with World Creativity and Innovation Day (WCID) on Sunday 21 April, where the focus is on innovation which supports economic, social and sustainable development.

At JNCC, Innovation is one of our core values. In our blog posts this week, we will be shining a light on the new and aiming-to-be-improved. You can find out how we’re adapting cutting-edge techniques and unique solutions, and employing them to help nature recover. In today's post, our International Implementation Team tell us about the design of an innovative fund – Darwin Plus Local – which supports new environmental projects in the UK Overseas Territories.

Darwin Plus Local is a new fund designed and run by Defra, NIRAS and JNCC as part of the UK Government’s wider Darwin Plus funding offer to UK Overseas Territories. Darwin Plus Local has been introduced to support small-scale environmental projects, with the aim of building capacity and contributing to local economies. Darwin Plus Local provides grants for lead partners based in a UK Overseas Territory, of up to £50,000 for organisations, and £20,000 for individuals.

Applicants to Darwin Plus Local must demonstrate how their project will contribute to measurable outcomes in at least one of the following Darwin Plus themes with an overall focus on biodiversity and the natural environment: biodiversity, climate change, environmental quality, or capability and capacity building.

The funding scheme itself has been innovative: its development was commissioned by Defra in response to the fact that small organisations and individuals were finding the application process for the higher value Darwin Plus scheme challenging. In response to this issue, the JNCC team were tasked with designing a streamlined application process for a small grant scheme which helps applicants build confidence and familiarity in the grant application process. Over time, this is intended to help more people and organisations in the UK Overseas Territories access larger grant funding programmes, including the other Darwin Plus schemes.

Since the streamlined application process launched in January 2023, JNCC has delivered three full application rounds, and round four will be launching on 22 April this year. There has been great success across the three application rounds so far, with over 70% of applications being successful: Across rounds 1 to 3, Defra has awarded funding to 93 projects, totalling more than £3.4 million.

Innovation in the projects themselves is also encouraged through the fund. Pilot projects to test new solutions in a specific area, or with a specific group, are eligible for funding, and innovation is listed as a desirable criteria in the application. 

One of the successful projects was Bermuda’s Living Reefs Foundation’s project to preserve and restore coral reefs by rearing young corals in its land-based hatchery and planting them onto reef habitat (DPL00004: Building Capacity for Coral Restoration: Contributing to Bermuda’s Blue Infrastructure). Bermuda’s reefs are categorised as high risk due to coastal development and boat traffic resulting from close proximity to Bermuda’s high-density population areas. Darwin Plus Local provided £49,977 to support increased monitoring and training for scientists to enhance coastal protections. State of the art technology was trialled to produce accurate 3-dimensional (3D) maps of the seabed which will allow continued assessment of young coral growth.

In the British Virgin Islands, Darwin Plus Local is supporting a project which is testing the consumption of sargassum seaweed and the production of vermi-compost for agricultural use by Earthworms (Pontodrilus sp.) (DPL00051: Enquiry into the Pontodrilus sp. Earthworm’s consumption of sargassum seaweed). High volumes of sargassum seaweed have begun washing up on beaches in the Caribbean region since 2011, and can become a physical barrier to coastal access for humans and biodiversity, as well as releasing toxic gases as the seaweed decomposes.  The explosive growth of this phenomenon in recent years is a major environmental hazard in many UK Overseas Territories, posing a risk to public health and local biodiversity. If the project proves to be successful in rapid decomposition of the sargassum and the production of a safe compost, its methodology could be rolled out to other areas.

In the Cayman Islands, Darwin Plus Local has provided £35,408 to support a pilot project trialling the use of crushed recycled glass in burlap bags to help restore seabeds and encourage recovery of depleted mangrove and seagrass populations, while at the same time lowering the island’s carbon footprint within construction and farming practices (DPLOOO54: Can crushed recycled glass help solve environmental problems in Cayman).  This project aimed to demonstrate that diverting crushed glass, a waste product that Cayman has in abundance, from landfill to restore seabed blow outs and areas affected by dredging could help solve some of Cayman’s priority environmental concerns.

Don't forget to look out for further blog posts this week, celebrating our innovative work. 

Image: Bermudan coastline (© Tbaylous, courtesy of iStock)

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