The first year of this project has flown by (excuse the pun!) and Conservation Officer Gavin Ellick better known as Eddie, has gleaned a vast amount of knowledge from his observations of the wirebird working mainly on his own in the field after an initial few weeks with Dr Tony Prater from the RSPB. He has also worked lately with volunteers Robin & Julia Springett and Mark & Fraser Carpenter and benefited from his visit to the UK where he worked with the RSPB at one of their reserves, spent time with Dr Prater and also at the headquarters of RSPB at Sandy.
The trial restoration project has got off the ground with two paddocks being re-fenced and one having invasive weeds cleared from it. The Cattle syndicate has worked closely with us and together we have overcome any hiccups along the way.
Robin & Julia, both ornithologist with a lot of experience in census work, assisted Eddie and A&NRD staff to complete the annual census within a calendar month from December to January. They also identified several “visiting” birds during their stay. Mark & Fraser worked at finding and examining cat scat to provide evidence of the feral cats’ predation on wirebirds and sea birds.
Recent plans to site further wind turbines in the trial area on Deadwood have led us to make strong representations to have alternative sites looked at – the trial will be affected by loss of pasture when the haul route to the airport site is built and as Deadwood is a key wirebird area we shall resist any attempt to add to the three turbines already sited on the pasture.
April will see Dr Prater arrive for a short visit with Ms Mackinnon a facilitator – the purpose of the visit is to run workshops to evolve a Species Action Plan for the Wirebird with local stakeholders. Dr Prater will take advantage of the visit to review the project and agree targets for the next year.
Picture Gavin “Eddie” Ellick, Conservation Officer SHNT.
Invasive species control efforts
March saw the last (with the exception of the two which were returned as unfinished) of the alien plant control and endemic planting contracts at High Peak. This (nearly) brings to an end this part of the project and the results are positive. Thanks are extended to Marjorie Fowler (Senior Forestry Assistant (Conservation)), Myra Young (Forestry Officer) and the Environmental Conservation Section team for all the support with contract preparation, site visits, tender boards, checking etc and to also to Vince Williams who managed the contracts before his retirement.
Successful regeneration of the native flora including ferns, Dwarf Jellico, St Helena Lobelia, Diana’s Peak Grass and He Cabbage is happening in many of the places cleared of invasives and planted endemic Whitewood and He Cabbage seedlings are growing well.
New Zealand flax (Phormium tenax), bilberry (Solanum mauritianum), whiteweed (Eupatorium palladium) and other alien invasive species have been brought under control, in the terraces below High Peak, by physical removal followed by regular weeding. Regular maintenance is necessary but in most cases these species are now easily removable with hand pulling.
The Environmental Conservation Section of the Agriculture & Natural Resources Department will be responsible for maintaining the area post project and they have requested, within their 2007-2008 budget, the additional resources needed to do this. Regular maintenance and increased planting of native trees will contribute significantly to the conservation of the peaks flora and fauna at High Peak.
Work to curb the spread of flax on the vertical slope of High Peak and save the tree fern thicket which survives there was stopped last year when the radios which the rope team use for their climbing safety failed. New radios have been purchased and although other factors are also limiting progress, it is hoped that work will resume shortly. Like the terraces below, the slope will require regular maintenance in order to keep the flax and other invasives from regenerating and spreading back in to smother the native flora. The limited availability of trained personnel and the limited finances to support the working on ropes programme are a cause for concern. The Environmental Conservation Section applied for the additional finances, in their 2007-2008 budget, needed in order to maintain the success achieved thus far, but it is not clear yet whether they were successful with this or the other application for additional funding after cuts to budgets were requested.
Special ‘plant bugs’ discovered at High Peak and The Depot
During a stay on the island from late December 2005 to early March 2006, Myrtle and Philip Ashmole – together with their colleague Howard Mendel – carried out a field survey of the invertebrates of the Peaks. While still on the island they wrote a series of articles reporting on some of the more striking animals that they found. Since returning to the UK they have been working to identify more of the species in the samples. This is a massive and time consuming task requiring research and involving the assistance of specialists to confirm identifications for some of the diverse taxonomic groups.
Just recently, in working on their collections at The Depot, they have found two interesting species from the family Miridae, or plant bugs. Mirids are mostly plant feeders and on St Helena there are 14 known species. The two that have been found are from the subfamily Phylinae, represented on the island by one widespread species and nine or ten endemic species in eight endemic genera. This is an unusually diverse group and in their book “St Helena and Ascension Island; a natural history” Philip and Myrtle suggest that the species have evolved on St Helena, apparently adapting to different endemic plants, from one or two ancient colonisations. Philip describes this as “one of the most important insect radiations on St Helena” which he hopes will be the subject of further study in the future.
One of the species in the collections is believed to be Helenocoris horridus, although it will now need to be checked by a specialist. This is the only member of an endemic genus and was discovered by the Belgian entomologists, who described it from Tree ferns and other ferns on the central ridge, including High Peak.
The second species, found during general collecting at The Depot, seems to belong to another endemic genus, Oligobiella. The only known species is one of the smallest members of the family Miridae at 1-1.5 mm long; only about four specimens have been found previously, from West Lodge and the Peaks.
A third, possibly even more interesting species was found in deep tree fern litter on the cliff at High Peak. This is the area that is being actively restored by a team working on ropes. This species is related to the other two, being another member of the Miridae, and may well be a new endemic species. Its characteristics are similar to those commonly found in invertebrates physically adapted to subterranean life, which are known as troglobites. Specialists for this group of insects are few and far between but Philip will be trying to make progress on the formal identification of the species (or description of it as “new to science”).
The finding of these specialist ‘plant bugs’ at the Depot and High Peak, add to our knowledge and understanding of the biodiversity and ecology of the peaks tree fern thicket and add ‘weight’ to our suspicions that these sites are indeed special and should be conserved as part of the efforts to care for the habitats of the peaks.
Recovery Planning for threatened endemics of the Peaks
A workshop held at the Adult Vocation and Education Centre on Tuesday 6th February 2007, under the OTEP Peaks Protected Area Planning Project, made a significant step forward in the fight to save some of St Helena’s endemic species that are most threatened with extinction.
The workshop was facilitated by Dr Rebecca Cairns-Wicks and brought together the Senior Forestry Assistant (Conservation), Marjorie Fowler and all the staff from the Environmental Conservation Section, Forestry Officer Myra Young, Director of the National Trust Cathy Hopkins, Environmental Co-ordinator Isabel Peters, the newly appointed South Atlantic Invasive Species Project Officer, Andrew Darlow and Shayla Ellick, who as a student at Prince Andrew School studying Environmental Science is carrying out a project on the False Gumwood.
The aim of the workshop was to develop species recovery plans for three endemic tree species (She-Cabbage, False Gumwood and Redwood) and two endemic herbs (Large Bellflower and Dwarf Jellico) that grow or grew within the peaks and are Critically Endangered – that is they face an extremely high risk of becoming extinct.
The day long work shop provided a forum where the collective knowledge of the species and experience in their cultivation was brought together and shared, and the actions needed to reduce the threat of their extinction identified.
The people charged with the responsibility to take the recovery plans forward is the small team of Environmental Conservation staff based at the nursery at Scotland and on the Peaks. But what is clear is that their plans for the future will be fruitless unless they have the resources they need. Access to reliable transport, training, funding to support working on ropes and three additional staff to support the existing three man team permanently based on the Peaks are all urgently required.
Project Reports May 2003
Projects Reports October 2003
Projects Reports January 2004
Projects Reports April/May 2004
Projects Reports August 2004
Project Reports November 2004
Project Reports Feburary 2005
Project Reports June 2005
Project Reports July 2006
Project Reports December 2006
Newsletter 17 Dec 2007
OTEP Conserving St Helena’s Gumwoods Project
We were delighted to hear in March that the Trust’s application to the DFID/FCO Overseas Territories Environment Programme (OTEP) for a two year project to conserve St Helena’s Gumwoods was successful. This project will provide much needed investment for conservation of the Endangered St Helena Gumwood, primarily at two key sites: Peak Dale, where the largest remnant of woodland survives, with approximately 1,000 trees and the Millennium Forest, where approximately 6,000 trees have been planted by the public.
Improved infrastructure and organisational management of Peak Dale Gumwoods and the Millennium Forest will enable the forests to realise their potential as places of inspiration & education that engages people in conservation. With the intention of securing the successful long term survival of these two contrasting unique and valuable forests as places of large scale habitat restoration.
The timing of this project could not have been better, with funding for the Millennium Forest at a low ebb and Government resources for gumwood conservation extremely limited. Over the last two years sponsorship and donations for trees has managed to sustain planting and maintenance of the Millennium forest and meet half the costs of employing the two full time staff. Since July last year the full employment costs have had to be met when the Department of Employment and Social Security Adult Training Scheme, which had provided the other half of the employment costs, came to an end. This has been a significant drain on finances. It is hoped that the project will provide the impetus to generate more secure income for the Millennium Forest.
Key to the implementation of the programme is the employment of a Projects Officer and a Conservation Assistant to work alongside them. The advertisement for the Projects Officer should be published for a month from mid-April to mid-May with the hope of securing the post by the beginning of June. In addition to managing the gumwoods project the post holder will be expected to manage other Trust OTEP Projects, the OTEP St Helena Wirebird project and the extension of the OTEP St Helena Environmental Information System (SHEIS) project. It will also require the support of other projects and the development of new projects.
"Hebridean Spirit Copse" revisited
Passengers and crew of the Hebridean Spirit were able to take advantage of a visit to the Millennium Forest as part of their pre-booked Magma Way tour of the Island on Tuesday 3rd April 2007. The visit was added to the tour so that the passengers could view the newly planted ‘Hebridean Spirit Copse’ of 500 gumwoods at the Millennium Forest. The trees had been sponsored by passengers of the previous voyage of the Hebridean Spirit when it visited St Helena in 21st March 2006. This generous support was inspired by one of the passengers Keith Cook and was supported by Tim Earl, the naturalist travelling with the passengers on their voyage, who gave a brief talk about the forest on his return the ship later that day. Their efforts inspired other passengers and £1,000 was raised by the ship for tree planting. Additionally, Richard Paice on his return to the UK sent £250.00 through the ISA Charity for a further copse of 100 trees. The two plantations have been sited next to each other.