The Environmental Conservation Section of the St Helena Government Agriculture and Natural Resources Department
The Environmental Conservation Section is primarily involved in saving and rehabilitating St Helenas native habitats and species.
The original vegetation of the Island has been almost entirely destroyed by man and his associated animals. Semi-natural forest and scrub covers less than 1% of the Island in isolated remnants on the central ridge and scattered populations in the mid-altitude and coastal zones.
Habitat restoration work is mainly focused on the restoration of the tree fern and cabbage tree habitats within the Islands only National Park, Dianas Peak National Park more often referred to as the Peaks. Smaller scale work is being carried out in other isolated habitats.
A management plan to rehabilitate the Peaks was initiated in 1995 when it was realised that this unique habitat was being lost at a rate of approximately five metres a year due to a combination of: habitat loss, habitat fragmentation, species decline and loss and invasion of alien plant species. The aim of the plan was to reverse the trend of habitat and species loss and control the rate of alien invasion
The invasion of alien plants not only posses a serious threat to the Peaks habitats but also to fragmented populations and habitats on the Crown wastes.
Today about 60%, the drier outer parts, of the Island is either barren and eroded or being re-colonised mostly by naturalised alien species such as: Schinus terebinthifolius, Olea africana, Pittosporum undulatum, Psidium guajava, Opuntia vulgaris, and other exotic species and to a far lesser extent native species.
The native flora of the Island comprises 60 species of flowering plants and ferns, 50 of which are endemic. There are ten endemic genera which is remarkably high for such a small Island. Out of the total flora of about 320 species, 240 species are naturalised alien species.
Of the endemic species known to have existed, six are now extinct, 4 are extinct in the wild, 16 are critically endangered or endangered and 7 are vulnerable to extinction.
The Environmental Conservation Section manages species recovery programmes for fourteen species. The programmes include: monitoring, propagation, establishment and maintenance of seed orchards, seed collection and storage and re-introduction.
In addition to the recovery programmes the ECS carries out biannual surveys of the main populations of all of the endemic flowering plants. These surveys serve to highlight priority conservation needs for the species or populations upon which action is taken.
Recovery of St Helena Endemic Plants A project supported by the WWF
Since 1997 WWF-UK have funded a two-year project to support the recovery of five endemic species of flowering plants and reduce the threat of their extinction.
The project aimed to achieve this through:
1. The development and implementation of species recovery programmes for five endemic plant species.
2. The establishment of seed orchards or ex-situ collections for four species
3. The investigation of pest, disease, reproductive and genetic problems facing four species and identification of solutions.
4. The training of ECS personnel in species recovery techniques.
Current status of species:
The bastard gumwood, Commidendrum rotundifolium
- Vegetative propagation methods have been improved and a few individuals have been successfully propagated.
- The biggest success has been in the germination of 54 seedlings and the establishment of a seed orchard.
- Floral biology and genetic studies into diversity and hybridisation are being studied by Antonia Eastwood a Ph.D student at Royal Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh.
The she-cabbage, Lachanodes arborea
- Seed viability and productivity are low.
- Vegetative propagation methods have proven to be successful and two seeds orchards have been established each providing representative genotypes from the entire species.
- Seven previously unknown individuals have been discovered from two sites.
- The largest population continues to decline rapidly but clones and seedlings continue to thrive in seed orchards.
- Dr Mike Fay of the Royal Botanic Gardens. Kew will be supervising genetic diversity studies.
The St Helena olive, Nesiota elliptica
- The olive has continued to decline despite all efforts.
- Only two individuals are surviving
- Assistance has and is being sort to attract a plant pathologist to the Island to provide technical assistance.
The St Helena rosemary, Phylica polifolia
- Vegetative propagation has had mixed success. Rooted cuttings have repeatedly failed following transplanting.
- Two seed orchards have been established representing the two distinct phenotypic forms, prostrate and upright. The phenotypic variation, characteristic of the two main sites was borne out in a genetic study.
- Seed production and viability are both good.
The large bellflower, Wahlenbergia linifolia
- Cuttings have failed repeatedly.
- Seed viability good and a seed orchard has been established.
- Germplasm collection put on hold pending hybridisation study.
- Genetic studies into diversity and hybridisation at the University of Arizona ground to a halt but Dr Mike Fay of the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew has agreed to continue the work.
Seabird survey programme sponsored by the RSPB
In 1997 the RSPB sponsored a small project to survey seabird populations on the offshore islands and in particular Shore and George Islands and the adjacent mainland Gill Point.
The principle aim of the project was to investigate the level of cat predation on mainland nesting sites.
Predation was signifianct in the nesting season as evidence, many dens were discovered filled with bird remains, and bird remains and egg shells scattered throughout the area.
THE WIREBIRD PROJECT:
A Darwin Initiative funded project supervised by Dr Ken Norris of the School of Animal and Microbial Sciences at the University of Reading and Dr Neil McCulloch.
The project has been working in close collaboration with the Environmental Conservation Section (ECS). Todate two members of staff have received training in survey techniques. A programme to monitor the effects on the wirebird population of construction and operation of wind turbine generators on Deadwood Plain has also been worked out and trailed with ECS personnel.
Background to the project
The wirebird is the last survivor of a number of remarkable birds that were found only on St Helena. The other species succumbed long ago to the rats and cats that accompanied the first human colonists to the Island and to the environmental changes wrought by the settlers themselves.
The wirebird along with the surviving endemic plants, invertebrates and fish, a valuable part of the Islands natural heritage.
The project aims to:
1. estimate the number of wirebirds there are on the island and to see how numbers have changes since the last census in 1989.
2. Determine how environmental conditions have changed at wirebird sites since the last census in 1989.
3. Determine productivity and death rate of the wirebirds
4. Identify the main threats to the survival of the wirebirds
5. Train ECS staff in survey techniques and methods of habitat monitoring and bird-ringing.
6. Raise public awareness of the wirebird and its conservation problems.
The project began in November 1998 and will run until 2001.
Two censuses, covering 31 sites throughout the island, have been carried out since the start of the project. When compared to the corresponding counts ten years ago they have revealed a substantial decline in numbers, representing a fall of almost 20%.
One of the projects, supported by the St Helena Government, to celebrate the Millennium on St Helena is to plant a gumwood forest in an area known as Horse Point. The gumwood, Commidendrum robustum, is a rare endemic tree of the family, Compositae. It is the National tree of St Helena.
Planting gumwood trees for the Millennium will be symbolic of growth and life for St Helena and the wasteland on which it is planted. It is one of few projects that could still be in existence for the next Millennium. Moreover it could become a self-sustaining forest the likes of which do not exist on the Island today. It is planned to encourage everyone on the Island to be involved and plant a gumwood tree, so that there will be at least 5010 trees planting in the Millennium Year.
The forest could provide many benefits to the Island and will be an investment made by people today that can be enjoyed by people in the future. The forest will:
1. support the conservation of the endemic gumwood tree;
2. provide soil cover to reduce erosion;
3. contribute to the rehabilitation of the land;
4. as it grows support many other species of plants, insects and birds;
5. provide a green cover to help beautify the area;
6. be a recreational area for everyone;
7. be a long lasting (hopefully at least until the next Millennium) reminder of the Millennium and of the people of St Helena who were involved in tree planting;
8. be a symbol of the local interest in the environment, and
9. be a project that everyone can be involved in.
All Government Departments are actively involved and responsible for actioning different parts of the project. However, the key to the project is public support as it is hoped that as many people as possible plant their own tree: from playgroup age to old age pensioners. Thus it is hoped that as well as the Islands schools and Government Departments, youth Groups; Church Groups; Community groups; non-Governmental organisations, and private businesses will get involved.
For Saints not living on the Island at the time of planting and for friends of St Helena there will also be an opportunity to join in.
When will the project take place?
The project is expected to take place between July and August 2000.
For more information about the project please contact:
Environmental Co-ordinator, Broadway House,
St Helena Island, South Atlantic Ocean
tel. + 290 2105, fax + 290 2802
The Advisory Committee on the Environment
The Advisory Committee on the Environment was established in 1997 with the aim of making Island Institutions aware of and responsible for the present and potential impacts of their activities on the environment.
The ACE comprises seven members from within and outside government. The activities of the group are co-ordinated by the Environmental Co-ordinator in the Office of the Chief Secretary.
The objectives are:
- To improve the flow of information on environmental implications of major planning and policy decisions.
- To liaise between sectors on environmental issues of common concern.
- To initiate policy proposals on environmental issues.
- To co-ordinate the on-going development of the sustainable environment and development process.
The St Helena Nature Conservation Group
c/o PO Box 48, St Helena Island, SAO. Tel. + 290 4419, fax. + 290 4978
The St Helena Nature Conservation Group (SNCG) was established in 1993 with the aim of fostering awareness and conservation of the flora and fauna of the Island both terrestrial and marine.
Today, the group has a small core of committee members who are currently involved in several activities that relate to the groups objectives.
Identification and recording of various species including, collating and disseminating literature and sources of information.
Recognising the need for guides to species identification for educational and visitor information the SNCG has begun two projects:
1. A project for the Millennium will be the production of a Guide to the Trees of Jamestown, the Islands capital.
2. The production of a Guide to the flora of St Helena.
Assessment of various species and their habitat.
The St Helena boxwood, a species thought to have been extinct for over 100 years was rediscovered in November 1997 by Stedson Stroud a founder member of the group. The group is very keen to secure a future for the boxwood and will be actively involved in developing to a recovery plan for it. Until now the group has not been directly involved in the Islands species recovery programmes and sees this as a perfect opportunity to get their hands dirty. (picture of boxwood inset beside Lots Wife)
Conservation, encouraging, sponsoring, canvassing and supporting an awareness and action towards conservation, especially in key habitats
In an effort to become more proactive in raising awareness of the environment the group launched and is co-ordinating environmental awareness year, October 1998 to September 1999.
Activities have included:
- a series of 18 walks to key places of interest around the Island and the setting out of post boxes, stamps and stamp books to encourage walkers to return to these places.
- Launching of an island wide litter campaign
Priority needs determining priorities for conservation
- Members of the group include Government officers which helps to facilitate the exchange of information particularly in communicating local concerns to Government.
- Involvement in preparatory work for this conference has also helped the SNCG to contribute to decisions regarding the Islands priority needs.
Co-ordination linking with bodies both Government and non-government on a national and international level, towards achieving the aim of the group.
The SNCG has a representative on working groups for the Tourism Master Plan, a national system plan of protected areas and the Advisory Committee on the Environment.
Litter on St Helena is a subject that people often comment upon, often by first time visitors to the Island or, those who have returned after years of absence but, mostly by concerned residents who come across litter in some form or another on a regular basis be they at school, on the street, in the countryside, at the coast, or at work.
St Helena is an island in the middle of the South Atlantic Ocean and as such it conjures up an image of clean unpolluted air, sea and land. An image that some feel we should preserve not only to protect quality of life for people today but also to assist in economic development by promoting St Helena through sustainable tourism development.
The campaign is being managed in collaboration with the St Helena Nature Conservation Group and members from SAVE. The aim of the campaign is to work towards a cleaner Island by encouraging change in attitudes to littering through: raising awareness, education, encouraging responsibility, partnership and providing examples for others to follow.
It is hoped that the campaign will lead to the adoption of an integrated approach to combating litter by encouraging different groups of people at different levels and all ages (Government, schools, private sector, non-governmental organisations, Churches, individuals) to become involved to work towards a sustainable improvement in the environment.
Amongst other things the campaign includes:
- Radio request shows
- A litter jingle and locally written and produced song on litter to be played at regular intervals over the radio
- regular articles or interviews on the radio and newspaper related to the litter issue.
- An island wide poster campaign promoting keeping St Helena litter free.
- Cartoon series in the newspaper.
- A series of competitions for both school age pupils and adults.
- An exhibition of the results of the competition will be set out at the Sandy Bay Environmental Centre and a booklet of the best works will be produced.
- Wherever possible teachers have been asked to include litter and waste themes in their lessons.
- Assembleys or other discussions or activities if requested by teachers.
- A recycling workshop will be held at Sandy Bay Environmental Centre on making useful products from recycling items usually considered as waste.
- Promotion of litter issues such as litter clean ups events and the global perspective on litter and waste will be organised through the St Helena news.
- Encouraging responsibility asking: Government Departments and the private sector to be more responsible for the waste that they generate and Government Departments and the private sector to be as tidy as possible in the execution of duties.
- Provision of transportable bins for schools for school and public events.
St Helena has adopted the England and Wales National Curriculum programmes of study in the core subjects including science. At all the four key stages environmental education is emphasised and reference is made to general principles whilst using local examples.
In the First Schools (Yrs R-3) Science is taught by general teachers, many of whom have no specialised scientific training. In the Middle Schools (Yrs 4-7) and Prince Andrews School (Yrs 8-13) Science is taught by specialists.
Sandy Bay Environmental Centre
Sandy Bay First School closed in August 1987 and the Education Department has retained the premises for use and development as an Environmental Centre.
The Environmental Centre is managed by a volunteer steering committee that is responsible for the development of the Centre, including fund raising, to achieve its aims. HE Governor David Smallman formally opened the Centre in February 1998.
Its aims are:
- To educate pupils of all ages and teachers about the environment and ecology of St Helena.
- To provide a centre equipped for day visitors
- To provide residential facilities for adults and children
- To provide an interpretative centre for St Helenians and visitors
- To provide ecological field study facilities for visiting scientists.
The Centre is open all year round and has interpretative displays about the history, geology and natural history of the Island. Toilet (including handicapped) facilities, showers and a kitchen are available. Endemic plants have been established in the grounds. The Centre is well placed for all access to both the Peaks National Park and the whole of the Sandy Bay area.
At present tours of the Island are starting to use the Centre as a regular stopping point.
Courses have been run at the Centre for pupils, teachers and interested adults. Tutors have been local and overseas.
Later this year it is planned to run a course for taxi drivers and potential tourist guides.
As part of the activities organised for the Environmental Awareness Year the Sandy Bay Environmental Centre committee organised a craft workshop. Open to everyone, visitors were encouraged to join in any activity they wished. Age did not matter as young and old mixed together to make a variety of crafts from a selection of the traditional island crafts of seed work, lace making, inlay and fretwork to crafts based on items collected from the environment.