A forest restoration project on one of the most remote inhabited islands in the world will today be presented with a major UK conservation award. But this is no ordinary forest and no ordinary island – for the trees are endangered and are found nowhere else in the world and the island is St Helena, an Overseas Territory of the UK.
Flying the flag for the International Year of Forests – the St Helena Millennium Forest Project will be presented with the Joint Nature Conservation Committee's Blue Turtle Award for nature conservation in the UK Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies.
The eastern half of St Helena was once covered with a huge swathe of native forest known as the Great Wood. During the 1700s most of the native trees had succumbed to the combined effects of felling for timber by settlers, browsing by goats and rooting by pigs; and by the twentieth century only a few of the native Gumwood trees survived. These Gumwood trees are found nowhere else in the world, and like other trees endemic to St Helena, are all threatened with extinction. At the initiative of the local community, the St Helena Millennium Forest project was launched with the goal of reinstating native forest on degraded wasteland. Over 250 hectares of land has been set aside for restoration and since 2002 over 10,000 Gumwood trees have been planted.
JNCC's Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies Programme Manager Tony Weighell, one of Award's judges, said: "I want to congratulate all involved in the St Helena Millennium Forest Project. There are many examples of communities working to conserve and manage biodiversity in the Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies and this is exactly the sort of innovative, community- based initiative that should be encouraged. For 2010, it was the unanimous choice of the judging panel. But St Helena provides important lessons for our management of forests globally – it's better to protect and conserve our forests now than to attempt to restore them later."
Defra is playing an increasingly important role in supporting biodiversity in the UK Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies. Presenting the award on behalf of JNCC, Environment Minister Richard Benyon said: "Our Overseas Territories are a precious repository of unique biodiversity and often serve as home to some of the world's most vulnerable species. Recent events in the South Atlantic have shown the fragility of such habitats and our duty to protect them has never been clearer.
"The St Helena Millennium Forest Project is an excellent example of how a community can come together for the sake of a better environment and a greener future. I'm delighted to see the excellent efforts of conservationists working in our Overseas Territories getting well- deserved credit."
Rebecca Cairns-Wicks, President of the St Helena National Trust said: "The Millennium Forest is a genuine community initiative, with hundreds of our islanders already planting endemic trees. Visitors and overseas supporters are also able to donate a tree, leaving a personal legacy to this story of ecological recovery. The St Helena National Trust has a long-term vision and commitment to the project which will expand and improve the ecological diversification of the forest and develop the site as a leading environmental tourism attraction."