St Helena Wirebird or Plover

The endemic Wirebird – Charadrius sanctaehelenae

Old Wirebird painting

Earlier Wirebird conservation through the Saint Helena National Trust.

In 2006 a monitoring officer was employed by the Trust – Mr Gavin Ellick, also known by his nickname as Eddie Duff. His primary role was to learn about the Wirebird. This involved getting to know all locations around the island where Wirebirds were found, the habitats used,  characteristics, spotting nests, use of a GPS, and monitoring nests found weekly until they fledged. Eddie was given guidance by bird experts at the start of his career and has built up seven years of knowledge and experience so is an expert in this field (he has now been elected as an Island Councillor 2013).

Tours were conducted, ranging from school kids to tourists to anyone interested. A mitigation project linked to the airport development also came under the Saint Helena National Trust as the airport would impact upon part of the Wirebird habitat at Prosperous Bay making some areas unsuitable. This mitigation project involved clearance of flax and shrubs at Flagstaff, Deadwood, Woody Ridge Pastures and Man and Horse to expand the natural habitat for the Wirebird. Monitoring of the species is vital to catch and address any population issues.

Every year a census is carried out at thirty one different sites around the island and the Saint Helena National Trust  heads this and with the help of volunteers. All of the data is recorded and presented. Educating the public and school children is continuous.

What is happening now

Wirebird focal study sites map

Monitoring of the wirebird continues. Through this monitoring process it was apparent that predators were a threat to the wirebird and prevented the population from increasing. It is currently listed as critically endangered on the international Red Data list. Something needed to be done increase the chance of survival and thus prevent it from becoming extinct like other bird species on St Helena. The Saint Helena National Trust (SHNT), the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), the UK Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA), the St Helena Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA), the UK Overseas Territories Environmental Programme (OTEP), the Department for International Development (DfID), and the St Helena government Agriculture & Natural Resources Department (ANRD) all took action and funded a Predator Control Programme. The project was setup by RSPB scientists Steffen Oppel and Dr Fiona Burns in July 2011. Eddie remained in his role as monitoring officer. The project employed another three full time staff and one part time. The staff employed were Dr Chris Hillman as Project Manager, Kevin George as Field Crew Supervisor, Deny Leo as Field Operator, and Martina Peters as Data processor. In the second year Martina moved within the SHNT to another project and Sanjay Bargo took on this part time position until the end of this aspect of the project in March 2013.

Wirebird team 2012

The Wirebird Team (L-R) “Eddie Duff (a.k.a. Gavin Ellick), Deni Leo, Chris Hillman & Kevin George

The aim for the first year, 2011 – 2012, was to monitor the cat population by installing field camera traps and rotating them every two weeks. Monitoring the rodent population was achieved by setting tracking tunnels and wax chew blocks every month. Wirebird numbers, nests and chick survival were continually monitored. The focus was on four areas – Prosperous Bay, Deadwood, Man & Horse and Broadbottom. All of the information gathered was fed into a database and submitted to Steffen Oppel for analysis.

The second year 2012 – 2013 we started cat trapping and continued with the other tasks, feeding data back all the time. As cat trapping continued, from field observations alone we could see the benefits. The census conducted in January 2013 confirmed Wirebirds were on the increase with noticeably more juveniles.

Wirebird census chart 1988-2013

For the team this was very rewarding as all of the hard work was paying off. At the time of writing this page (July 2013), Steffen Oppel has produced feedback from data submitted showing the outcome of cat trapping. For rats, we noticed a sharp increase in activity in the pasture areas after cat control,  while in the semi-desert rats did not increase. For mice, there was a substantial increase in both habitats, and in the semi-desert there were so many mice that they were recorded in pretty much every tunnel that we deployed. Cats decreased in both areas. Rabbits in semi-desert areas increased more than in pasture lands. We monitored a total of 109 Wirebird (St Helena Plover) nests in the semi-desert, and nest survival almost tripled, whereas in pastures the increase was only 15%. Cat trapping and removal, rodent monitoring, field camera deployment and monitoring of Wirebirds is still ongoing. This project is funded until March 2014.

Wirebird tours continue with students, tourists, film crews and the public (see leaflet). During the project we have also visited Prince Andrew School to give presentations to students interested in conservation, taken them on Wirebird tours and get them to help the Wirebird by being involved in habitat clearance.

Wirebird clearance - PAS students

Prince Andrew School students on a field trip restoring Wirebird habitat

Airport development is progressing. We have met with Basil Read Environmental Team and Halcrow Employees to give a presentation and training on Wirebird monitoring and detection, with field work so that they have the necessary information to implement measures on site to protect the Wirebird and minimise impacts during the airport construction and the later operational phase.

What is planned for the future.

If funding is available we hope to continue monitoring the wirebird population, vital to the population’s survival as trends are now known and any critical variations can be detected and addressed rapidly. We hope to have at least a four to six month cat trapping programmes before and during part of the peak nesting season (Sep-Mar each year) to give a window of opportunity (a breeding space) for the Wirebird. This also creates a natural balance with nature. Continued clearance of invasive species will continue to keep habitat available. Work with the grazing syndicates will continue to keep pasture lands to the required height for Wirebirds to feed and nest. With the predicted increase in tourism, there is a plan for taking tourists into Wirebird territory, causing as little impact as possible. There is also potential for conducting predator control in the airport development areas.

With this approach the Wirebird’s chances of survival are increased, and we hope they are respected and enjoyed for many years to come.

Royal Society for the Protection of Birds

Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (UK)Overseas Territories Environment ProgrammeSt Helena Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to AnimalsDepartment for International Development (UK)
business card ANRD

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