A Millennium Gumwood Forest for St Helena

History

The gumwood, Commidendrum robustum, is a rare endemic tree of the family, Compositae. It is the National tree of St Helena.

St Helena was well wooded between 400-600 metres above sea level and the dominant species of this woodland was the gumwood. This woodland was initially fragmented between 1502 and 1659 by goats introduced by the Portuguese to provide fresh meat for homeward bound sailors. Large wooded areas were still in existence when the Island was settled but with few exceptions these were quickly destroyed through the early settlers demands for firewood, animal grazing and timber. As well as historical descriptions place names give evidence of the former range of the gumwood forests: Longwood, Deadwood, Bottom Woods, Levelwood, Woody Ridge, Woody Point, Woodlands, Gumwoods, Half Tree Hollow and Thompson’s Wood

The Great Wood was a wooded plain comprising the areas now known as Deadwood, Longwood, Bottom Woods and Horse Point that remained wooded long after gumwood woodland elsewhere had been destroyed. In 1683 the East India Company failed to carry out their plan to enclose an area of 2 miles square from Hutt’s Gate to Flagstaff and out to Horse Point to forestall the impending timber shortage and prevent browsing by animals. Later in 1725 the thinning wood was again the subject of conservation efforts and an area around Mulberry Gut to Bottom Woods was finally fenced. By 1728 crops were tried at Longwood and the more it was thought that there was greater promise in crops and pasturage at Longwood than gumwoods. By 1810 few gumwoods remained and attention remained focused on planting other species. Today the only ancient gumwoods that remain are three gumwoods beside Piccolo Hill that were probably planted in the early 20th Century.

It is rather hard to imagine now that people used to get lost in the Great Wood. The Great wood is of historical interest to the Island and its legacy of failed conservation efforts because of the need to support, albeit unsustainably, people’s demand for fuelwood and grazing

Retired Forestry Officer Norman Williams and retired Conservation Officer George Benjamin were responsible for successfully re-introducing gumwoods to Horse Point. Plantings initiated in the early 1980s have grown well and numbers have been expanded more recently with gumwood plantings in 1995 and 1998.

A plan for the Millennium

One of the projects to celebrate the Millennium on St Helena is to plant a gumwood forest in an area around Horse Point to be known as the Millennium Forest. The forest is a symbol of growth and life. Planting gumwood trees for the Millennium will mark a new period 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 alive for the next Millennium. It is planned to encourage everyone on the Island to be involved and plant a gumwood tree.

The forest will provide several benefits to the Island:

1. It will support the conservation of the endemic gumwood and the re-introduction efforts on Horse Point.

2. The trees will provide soil cover to reduce soil erosion and contribute to the rehabilitation of the land.

3. As the trees and forest grows it could support many other endemic and indigenous species of plants, insects and birds.

4. Trees will help to beautify the area by developing a ’green cover’,

5. The site will provide a recreational area for everyone and also be a tourist attraction.

6. It will 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,

7. It will be a symbol of the Island’s commitment to the conservation of the environment, and

8. It will be a project that everyone can be involved in and thus one that will encourage ’local ownership’.

At the entrance to the forest there will be an entrance gate/information centre that will house a notice board(s) providing information about the project and the names and ages of those people who planted a tree or had a tree planted on their behalf.

Trees will be planted within a demarcated area and a final design will be drawn up to include picnic/viewing areas, pathways and open areas. Funding is being sought for windbreaks, tree guards, the entrance/information centre and notice boards. How much can be achieved in the Millennium year will depend on what monies can be raised.

Participation

A key aspect of the project is public support as it is hoped that as many people as possible participate and plant their own tree: from playgroup age to old age pensioners. Thus the project will involve schools, youth Groups, Church Groups, Community groups, non-Governmental organisations, private businesses and Government Departments.

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. You can contact Rebecca Cairns-Wicks

(Broadway House, St Helena Island, South Atlantic Ocean, tel. + 290 2105, fax + 290 2802 or email ace@atlantis.co.uk ), giving your name to request that a tree be planted on your behalf. Your name and age will then be added to the list of names recorded as participating in the event. Donations to pay for the cost of a tree (1 per tree) or trees would be appreciated. Plaques may be bought to personalise individual trees but these have not yet been costed.

The St Helena Government supports the project and all of the Government Departments are actively involved and responsible for actioning different parts of the project.

It is anticipated that the project will take place between July and August 2000, during the winter period on St Helena.

For more information about the project or to subscribe to the Millennium Forest or make donations use this

link

 

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