The Darwin Project acquires its name from Charles Darwin, a gentleman who lived in the 1800's and dedicated his life to world conservation, travelling to even the remotest parts of the earth (he even came to St Helena in 1836) to study the amazing world of wild flora and fauna.
Darwin's name is still very much alive today and majorly recognised in environmental conservation and so it is very fitting that the St. Helena National Trust has been lucky enough to receive financial support from the Darwin Initiative for its very own Darwin project.
The Project is funded by the UK's Department for Environment and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) for a period of 3 years to conserve St Helena's threatened native biodiversity. A part of the project is to train three apprentices each year of the programme who must participate in an Environmental Conservation Diploma, with the view to educating and increasing local capability towards protecting and conserving the islands vulnerable endemic flora and fauna; of which this year, I am one of the apprentices.
The Darwin Project focuses on two sites, both of which although are nowhere near as rich in nature as they once were, now remain the highest of the islands naturally habited endemic plant areas:
The first –:
High Peak is our wetland site, and remains naturally enriched with endemic flora such as Tree Ferns, Black Cabbage, Lobelia, High Peak Grass, Diana's Peak Grass, Dwarf Jellico and Whitewood. As a part of the project we have so far partially cleared many invasive species from the site such as Arum Lily, Wild Bilberry, Whiteweed, Kikuyu Grass, Fuchsia, Ginger, and Furze. The removal of invasives is continuously ongoing and will ultimately be a lengthy process before we achieve control, and possibly in some cases, complete eradication. In one particularly important area we call the Dell we have been planting out with He Cabbage, She Cabbage, Lobelia, Redwood and Dwarf Jellico to re-establish lost canopy cover and prevent it from drying out. In another area, by the roadside, we have created a demonstration plot by removing ginger and planting She Cabbage, Lobelia, Dogwood, Redwood, Hen & Chickens Fern and Redwood. High Peak is an important site for endemic fauna such as the Spiky Yellow Woodlouse and the Blushing Snail, by removing invasive species and increasing native species it is anticipated this will encourage the endemic fauna to flourish.
The second – :
Blue Point is our dryland site; the naturally remaining endemic flora at this site is a healthy population of Scrubwood, Plantain, Hair Grass, some Small Bellflower and a small amount of cliff Hair Grass. The team have constructed a footpath at this site and hope to make this a post-box walk in the near future. Along the footpath we have cleared New Zealand Flax, Furze, Brambles, Wild Bilberry, and Creeper. At this site we have also planted more dryland plants, Scrubwood, Small Bellflower and Plantain in hope that they will survive and increase the number of endemics in this area. Additionally at Blue Point we suspect there is also a special invertebrate fauna but it is not as yet identified or classified.
Marcie (left) planting the endemic plantain at Blue Point December 2011
I have always been at home in the outdoors, I enjoy the natural environment, and believe that we should do all we can to preserve our natural surroundings and protect our endemics, I think it is really sad that we have allowed so much of what makes St Helena unique to become extinct or to become under threat, in my opinion the major reason for this is lack of awareness. Therefore, I applied to become an apprentice to gain knowledge and experience in environmental conservation and restoration, so that in future I can be a part of educating others and preserve our natural environment.
The Darwin Initiative Project is support by our project partners:
The Darwin Initiative Project