It’s been a hectic few months since the last newsletter in July and the pattern seems set to continue for the immediate future with planned visits to the island to support the OTEP/RSPB Wirebird and EU Invasive Species projects early in 2007.
This year’s United Kingdom Overseas Territories Conservation Forum (UKOTCF) conference saw St Helena represented by a delegation of 4 – the largest delegation to date. Thanks to the sponsorship of the UKOTCF for myself, and Miss Lucy Caesar (Director/Curator, the Museum of St Helena ) and of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) for Mr Gavin Ellick ( “Eddie Duff” Conservation Officer, SHNT) we were able to join Mrs Kedell Worboys (SHG UK Representative) - a blend of youth, enthusiasm, experience and energy! Eddie and Cathy also attended the workshops held before and after the conference.
The main conference started with a presentation by Martin Drury, Chairman of the Landmark Trust who gave a talk about the importance of conserving historic buildings by giving them a purpose as holiday homes for the top end of the heritage tourism market. He illustrated his talk with photos from several Overseas Territories including several houses on St Helena. The increasing concerns of how to conserve our built heritage was raised from the floor during the question time and the need to identify funding to assist private owners (and governments dependent on GIA such as St Helena) maintain and restore historic buildings and sites to support sustainable heritage tourism. We held separate meetings outside the main conference with Department for International Development (DFID) representatives on this issue and since returning to St Helena have met with Private Sector advisor Mr Peter Wilson. We hope to develop a means of steering funding of the built environment into the overall tourism-related developments which must take place alongside airport development. Without some sort of small grant system to support the private owners of historic buildings and training in restoration techniques as well as an understanding of how one can develop historic buildings without compromising their heritage value are all elements which need the urgent attention of SHNT, SHG and St Helena as a whole if we are not to lose this key asset for future sustainable tourism.
The main emphasis of the conference was on the richness and value of the biodiversity to be found in the Overseas Territories – vastly more than within the UK and Europe together! The key sessions included Environment Charters and Strategic Planning where St Helena gave a short presentation on the use of the Turks & Caicos model for developing the Environment Charter Strategy for Action and it was good to see that we are not being left behind in this work: OTEP funding has supported projects on island like the Protection of the Central Peaks; St Helena Environmental Information System| (SHEIS) and the Wirebird project. Another key session was on Environmental Education and the UKOTs. Here it was possible to highlight the Education Packs researched by former SHNT director Mrs Barbara B George and recently formatted by Robin Richards for the website and CD. Other presentations included one from Bermuda where they have an interactive Conservation pack. The integration of conservation and sustainable livelihoods saw us split our team into two in order to participate in the terrestrial and marine workshops. Eddie went to the marine workshop whilst the remaining delegates from St Helena attended the terrestrial workshop at which Dick Beales, Senior Environmental Advisor, DFID, gave a presentation on The Environmental Impacts of the airport development on St Helena. He prefaced his presentation by saying that he had worked closely with Isabel Peters to prepare the presentation. There was concern expressed from the floor about how effective mitigation measures could be when the research into recently discovered endemic invertebrates and into the wirebird was still needed to understand whether or not alternative sites could be found or other steps could be taken to reduce the loss of habitat and potential loss of species. There was an interesting session on Obtaining and Using Resources (not just money) with Gibraltar representative John Cortes, giving us an insight as to why Gibraltar ‘s volunteer source has been so successfully drawn into the environment lobby with correspondingly success in persuading government to take environmentally sound decisions. The restoration of hill slopes to native species has resulted in the return of migratory birds to this habitat. The value placed upon the environment in terms of developing sustainable tourism was also noted by contributors to this session.
The session on Species conservation issues was an opportunity for a presentation on the recently agreed EU Regional project on Invasive Species by Clare Miller from the RSPB. What is quite clear is that this project will not see work on the removal of any invasive species but will see a lot of work on researching and getting baseline information on them as a precursor to a second project under which measures would be taken for their reduction/eradication/ ongoing control. Clare will be visiting St Helena early in 2007 and the appointment of a local project officer is now being undertaken. We enjoyed the opportunity of seeing conservation work in action at the Jersey Durrell Wildlife Centre where we spent the final afternoon of the main conference viewing some of the endangered species from Overseas Territories (and elsewhere) for which Captive Breeding programmes are in place – these included the Montserrat Golden Oriole and Mountain Chicken (not a bird but a frog!).
During the conference Jersey had one of its lowest tides for four years and we visited Jersey’s first Ramsar site, walking out across the sea-bed at low water. Jersey doubles in size at low tide! We walked out through oyster beds, wave-cut platforms, sand banks and saltwater-filled gullies to one of Jersey’s defence towers. It wasn’t too hard to believe that Jersey was once linked by land to France!
Either side of the main conference was a workshop- the first on Biodiversity and Impact Assessment which was led by Dr Jo Treweek and Dr Bill Phillips and provided us with valuable insight into EIA and the importance of mainstreaming biodiversity as a key issue for developers, planners and decision-makers. This workshop included a Role play session where we undertook to lobby against a hypothetical hotel/marina development on “Paradise Isle” and had the unusual experience of being approached by the “developers” who wished to bribe us by making large monetary contributions to our organisation! Using a digital camera we recorded video footage of the “bribe” which somewhat undermined the developer’s credibility. Following the main conference Eddie and I attended a one day RSPB workshop on Bird Monitoring.
I am indebted to Mrs Phyllis Coleman Admin Assistant for her untiring work in the office & to the Trust Council members for their support. It’s also been really good to have Stephane Van de Velde working on the National Heritage Register for us as a volunteer – he is a history graduate from Belgium spending 3 months on St Helena.
With all best wishes for a Happy Christmas and Peaceful and “Green” New Year to all our members here and overseas.
Mrs Cathy Hopkins, Director