No PE teacher? Appoint one of the pupils: first head recalls the challenges of creating ‘a school like no other’

JOHN BIRCHALL has proud memories of his time setting up “a school like no other anywhere else in the world” on St Helena. He shared a few of them in a special assembly to mark on the 25th anniversary of Prince Andrew School – in a video message from China.

Some of the teachers on St Helena were somewhat nervous about the idea of moving to the big new building that was going up on Francis Plain. But young Nick Stevens had little time to dwell on the prospect: a sudden staff shortage meant he was a pupil one day, and a teacher the next.

Click the pic to read about John Birchall

Click the pic to read about John Birchall

John Birchall shares both memories in an internet address that was played to current students and staff on 3 October 2014, a quarter of a century on.

“I arrived in early summer in 1986,” he says, “to be immediately involved in a ceremony on a wet grey day on an empty Francis Plain to lay the foundation stone for Prince Andrew School.

“I recollect touring the first and middle schools to try to reassure the teachers assigned to Prince Andrew School that working in a school of this size was not quite the daunting prospect they imagined it to be.

“I recall a young Nicky Stevens being catapulted from Year 11 student to PE teacher in the space of a day on the departure of a member of staff… and being even more surprised how he quickly grew into the role under the stewardship of your current headmaster.”

Nick Stevens in his Games kit

Nick Stevens in his Games kit

The new job was the start of a career that saw Nick go on to be the creative force behind the New Horizons youth centre in Jamestown, and eventually to head St Helena’s team at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Scotland.

He’s also been an occasional football pundit on the BBC World Service.

His mentor, Paul Starkie, was employed as an adviser from 1988 to 1992, sent out by the UK government. He went on to work in Indonesia and Belgium before returning to PAS as head teacher in 2012 – with his St Helenian wife, Lisa, and son Zac.

John Birchall has also gone a long way since leaving the school in 1989, having served as its first head teacher. He went on to work in Oman, Spain and Indonesia, before becoming academic director of a chain of colleges educating 6,000 students in China.

“The years I spent on St Helena were among the most challenging and the most rewarding I have experienced in my 42 years of education to date,” he says in an address he posted on the YouTube video-sharing website.

Paul Starkie returned as head

Paul Starkie returned as head

“When I lie at night and dream, I often find myself transported back in some way to find myself trudging up Ladder Hill, strolling Francis Plain or wandering around Longwood. Such is the lasting impact of St Helena,” he says.

In those days, some of the older pupils were paid to attend school in an arrangement with the Public Works Department.

“I recall paying wages to all the PWD students on a Friday, assisted by Miss Doris Peters and Miss Joy George,” says John.

“And I recall taking part in the community education classes, where I made what must have been the worst table every constructed on St Helena.

“My most lasting memory was leading the proceedings 25 years ago when we held the opening ceremony.

“I remember the enormous sense of pride which echoed round the hall as the entire school, resplendent in school uniform and Prince Andrew School ties, sang the Prince Andrew School song for the very first time under the musical direction of the late Mr Eric George.

Click the pic to watch John's video

Click the pic to watch John’s video

“I recollect to this day the true sense of community that prevailed, and the way in which students felt truly privileged to have such splendid surroundings to pursue their educational dreams.”

He tells pupils: “I hope this sense of Prince Andrew School being your school, and a feeling of pride in it being a school like no other anywhere else in the world, still prevails today as it did in 1989.”

He gives his congratulations for recent significant improvements in GCSE results.

John extends “a special personal thank-you” to Basil George, who was chief education officer at the time “and whose drive and vision contributed greatly to creation the school you enjoy today.”

He ends by urging the people of St Helena to “build upon the silver jubilee spirit to take Prince Andrew School to new levels in the years ahead.”

Governor Mark Capes and Basil George were among special guests who heard music pieces from the school choir and various pupils at the special assembly. It ended with student president Lizemarie Robbertse and vice student president Chrystabel Greentree speaking about the importance of striving for success.

Watch John Bircall’s address in full here

SEE ALSO:
New school head brings Saint family back home
Nick Stevens goes global from St Helena

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Barry and Merrill, the Umbrella-ella-ella fellas

umbrella barry francis merrill lawrence 640Click the pic to hear Barry Francis and Merrill Lawrence on guitars in a rather good rendition of the song, Umbrella. Nicely filmed by Vision Media, too.

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Welcome to St Helena Airport…

Airport newsletter number 51: click the link at the bottom of the story to read it

Airport newsletter number 51: click the link at the bottom of the story to read it

St Helena’s airport will officially be known as… St Helena Airport.

So says the 51st Airport Update, reporting the decision by executive councillors. “The name is strongly supported by the aviation industry and has instant recognition for passengers,” it says.

The newsletter also reports on open days at the end of September, at which about 1,600 people – a third of the island population – saw the completed work to fill in Dry Gut and create an extra 400 metres of level ground for the runway.

The structure of the building that will house services such as the air traffic control has also been completed.

And the update tells of Craig Yon’s success in earning a blasting qualification that gives him a key role in setting explosives. An examiner came from Namibia to assess him.

Click to read: Airport Update 51 (.pdf file).

  • There was talk of St Helena’s first and only airport being called St Helena International. But the last word of that name would have been rather superfluous. If it wasn’t not going to be an international airport, then where would the aeroplanes fly to – Francis Plain?
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Sailing for St Helena with a floorboard for a rudder

The yacht Benguela is the same type as a former Governor's Cup Yacht Race winner

The yacht Benguela is the same type as a former Governor’s Cup Yacht Race winner. Picture: 2 Oceans Maritime Academy

When the rudder failed on the yacht Benguela, its crew tried lashing a floorboard to a pole to take its place.

It worked, well enough to steer the 42-foot sail training vessel to within reach of rescue boats from St Helena.

Now the principal of the 2 Oceans Maritime Academy in Cape Town has thanked “all of St Helena” for the kindness shown to the yacht’s seven crew.

Sean Cumming said the Fast 42 vessel had just made its fourth visit to the island in a year and a half, on a voyage to enable student yachtsmen to notch up sea miles.

Its sister yacht, Diel, also visited in March 2014 on a training voyage from Cape Town to Rio and back via Tristan da Cunha.

Sean said: “Benguela suffered rudder failure in the early hours of Monday 29 September, due east of St Helena, while on the return leg to Cape Town.

“The skipper and crew attempted to repair the steering and drifted to a position north-east of the island.

“Around 0730 Universal Time they were able to set up a jury rudder using the spinnaker pole and a floorboard lashed to it.

“This allowed the vessel to make its way slowly towards the island under power until they were due north.

“I then made contact with Sean Burns of the Governor’s office, who was extremely helpful. He then contacted the relevant emergency personnel, who sent vessels out to assist, eventually towing Benguela back Jamestown.”

Trevor “Otto” Thomas, skipper of the fishing vessel MFV Extractor, agreed to accompany the island’s rescue vessel on the operation because of the distance and heavy seas anticipated.

“I would like to commend all involved in the assistance of Benguela,” said Sean Cumming. “You can imagine how stressful this has been for 2 Oceans, the parents of the crew, and family.

“We were updated on the progress through the office of the Governor and are extremely grateful to all who assisted.

“St Helena is a wonderful island to visit and we are so grateful that the rescue crew are so professional and friendly. The hospitality extended to the crew has been amazing. We will continue to visit the island as part of our yachtmaster programme.

“Thank you, all of St Helena.”

SEE ALSO:
Island crews hailed for ten-hour rescue operation
2 Ocean Maritime Academy
2 Ocean’s Fast 42 yachts

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Island crews hailed for ten-hour rescue operation

Fishing vessel Extractor joined the rescue operation. Picture: Bruce Salt

Fishing vessel Extractor joined the rescue operation. Picture: Bruce Salt

Rescuers have been praised after venturing far out in heavy seas to bring a yacht crew to the safety of St Helena.

The ten-hour operation began when a call for assistance was received from the yacht Benguela, 80 miles north of the island with rudder problems.

The rescue boat Lima put to sea from Jamestown with the island’s offshore fishing vessel, MFV Extractor, soon after the alarm was raised at about 9.30am on Monday, 29 September 2014.

Rescue boat Lima. Picture: Bruce Salt

Rescue boat Lima. Picture: Bruce Salt

“Given the sea conditions and the likely action required, support was sought from the skipper of the Extractor,” said a government statement.

“The yacht had limited steering but was able to head, at slow speed, towards St Helena.

“When it was 25 to 30 miles from the island the rudder failed completely. The sea rescue boat had made good progress and arrived on the scene to ensure the safety of the seven persons on board.”

The two rescue boats worked together under skippers Craig Scipio and Trevor Thomas to tow the yacht back to St Helena, arriving in James Bay at about 8pm.

“All crews of the Lima, Extractor and Benguela were uninjured but tired after a long rescue deployment,” said the statement.

Benguela is one of two Fast 42 yachts used for sail training by the 2 Oceans Maritime Academy in Cape Town. It was on a “mileage voyage” to St Helena, giving trainees the chance to build up ocean experience.

The MFV Extractor was only brought to Jamestown in April 2014 after being purchased by a specially created consortium to allow the island to exploit the rich fishing grounds around its offshore sea mounts.

extractor 450 by BruceSaltClick to see a gallery of Bruce Salt’s Extractor pictures

St Helena’s Chief of Police, Trevor Botting, said: “This was a challenging rescue in heavy seas but the sea rescue team, working with the skipper and crew of the Extractor, did a fantastic job in ensuring the safety of the Benguela and its crew.

“I am grateful to the skipper of the Extractor for the support given to the sea rescue crew but not surprised at the level of support given when needed.

“Working together, they provided a professional and timely response to those in need in the waters surrounding St Helena.”

Governor Mark Capes praised both crews. “Thanks to their courage, professionalism and well honed seafaring skills, the operation ended happily with the safe return of all concerned,” he said.

SEE ALSO:
Sailing for St Helena with a floorboard for a rudder

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Alonzo walks it to win mountain bike challenge

Alonzo Henry has won St Helena’s first ever mountain bike competition after snatching the lead on a challenging section of the course.

He and Rémi Bruneton were the first pair away from the start at Millennium Forest, with the Frenchman setting a fast pace over the five-mile route to Cox’s Battery and back.

St Helena Wirebird reports that Rick Walters, Ross Leo and Michael Davis, starting slightly later, were hot on the leaders’ heels.

Click to watch Andy Day’s videoScreen Shot 2014-09-25 at 23.49.42

“At the bottom of the valley there is a dangerous drop zone so all riders were advised to get off their bikes and walk this area,” says the Wirebird report. “It was here that Alonzo Henry took advantage and got into lead position and continued to hold his position to the finish line at the Millennium Forest.”

He finished in a time of 27.01 minutes, with a clear 48-second lead over Rémi. Ross Leo finished third in 28.10.

Sixteen riders in all took part, all finishing in well under an hour. The remaining 13 were: Rick Walters, Nigel McMichael, Lizemarie Robbertse, John Woolacot, Michael David, Hannah Lowe, Louis Allen Youde, Deon Robbertse, Michael Moors, Derrick Alexander, Dennis Leo and Steven Theron.

Riders were briefed by Merrill Joshua, the island’s tourism projects manager and an adventure sports enthusiast.

The National Trust ran a cafe, SanRay’s sold food and soft drinks, and Leroy Fowler dispensed pop corn and candy floss. Various family activities were run by Creative St Helena and the National Trust. A children’s cycling trail was set up through the Millennium Forest.

Alonzo’s prize was a trophy and a GoPro camera – popular for filming adventure activities. To see what they can do, have a look at these films by island cameraman Julian Beard:

Swimming with whale sharks
St Helena motorcyle ride
More Julian Beard videos

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Hotel plans win support from ExCo

A large hotel could be built on Jamestown’s Waterfront.

Executive councillors gave approval for the idea to be explored as a future option – after endorsing a separate plan to convert numbers 1, 2 and 3 Main Street into four-star accommodation.

Both ideas were put before the council at a special meeting on Tuesday, 23 September 2014.

A press release says tourism experts have advised that accommodation of a high standard will be needed when the island’s airport opens in 2016.

The council approved the option to develop the Government-owned building into a hotel with at least 30 bedrooms.

The former East India Company building would have a restaurant and bar that could cater for up to 90 people.

A new building would be constructed at the rear to provide accommodation, including hotel rooms with disabled access – if planning permission is given.

The press release said: “This four-star hotel will complement other local initiatives in developing tourist accommodation, and will serve as a catalyst for economic development, including the involvement of local producers and service providers.

“Executive Council also considered an option for the development of a larger hotel at the Waterfront and approved the exploration of this option for the future.

“Further detailed design work will now proceed for the development of 1, 2 and 3 Main Street as a quality hotel. The public will be kept informed and will have an opportunity to view the plans and drawings once these have been finalised.”

  • Executive Council also noted a positive meeting at the Rock Club to consult on the development of a solar farm around the site of the current rifle range at Half Tree Hollow.  “There was overwhelming support for the project,” said the press release.
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Lost chance to save the giant earwig: they got there too soon

Labidura herculeana - picture courtesy of the Royal Museum of Central Africa in Belgium. Click to see a larger image

Labidura herculeana – picture courtesy of the Royal Museum of Central Africa in Belgium. Click to see a larger image

If only things had been different back in the 1960s, Dave Clarke of London Zoo might now know what it was like to have a three-inch-long earwig wriggling in his hands.

But they weren’t, and half a century on, the St Helena Giant Earwig looks set to be declared extinct. Not that Dave is giving up hope completely.

He led an expedition to the island in 1988, hoping to find live specimens for a captive breeding programme to save the species. It appears they got there too late.

Dave Clarke looked for giant earwigs in the 80s

Dave Clarke looked for giant earwigs in the 80s

The tragedy was that a team from Belgium found live specimens in the 1960s, but the idea of captive breeding just hadn’t taken hold yet. In effect, they had got there too early.

“It is a massive frustration,” admits Dave, team leader of the Bugs and Butterflies exhibits for the Zoological Society of London.

“The last time they had been properly seen was in the 1960s – the Belgian expeditions,” says Dave.

“They made an assessment of live specimens but they weren’t properly seen since, though there was a report of them being seen in 1967.

“Back in the 50s and 60s it wasn’t such a high consideration to be looking at conservation breeding. It is much more an initial consideration these days.”

To be fair, even London Zoo didn’t start doing it until the 1980s. Now it can have the main population of a threatened species in a single room. “You can do a lot in a small space,” says Dave. “It’s not quite as expensive as trying to save tigers.”

Earwig hunters travelled from the Royal Museum of Central Africa

Earwig hunters travelled from the Royal Museum of Central Africa

Even with invertebrates, though, funding is a problem – including on St Helena. And even if the Belgians had taken live specimens of Labidura herculeana back to the Royal Museum for Central Africa, they may not have survived.

It has since been tried with another of St Helena’s more “charismatic” invertebrates – unsuccessfully.

“There’s only a limited amount you can do with captive breeding, even with invertebrates,” says Dave. “Many species are reliant on habitats which are difficult to replicate in captivity.

“A current example is the St Helena Spiky Yellow Woodlouse, which is only found on The Peaks. That is probably a population of a hundred, but we wouldn’t want to take animals out of the wild for captive breeding because we simply don’t know the best way to keep them in captivity.

“We have tried once before, but none survived.”

Sadly, no members of the Belgian expeditions are thought to be alive either, so they cannot be asked about their adventure. The Africa museum kindly supplied pictures of the giant earwig in their collection, but could find none of the expedition itself.

Their findings were included in a 1980 book on the island’s natural riches.

Extract from a 1980 book describing the giant earwig, by Alan Brindle

Extract from a 1980 book describing the giant earwig, by Alan Brindle

When Dave Clarke led the Operation Hercules expedition to St Helena in 1988, the giant earwig was already listed as threatened and potentially extinct. But there were grounds for hope.

“We knew that the chances were slim,” says Dave.

“Knowing that specimens of the forceps were being found we thought there may be a chance, especially with the recent efforts to recreate some of the habitats with the planting of gumwoods on the side of Horse Point Plain.

“We thought, if there was a remnant population there was a chance they could improve and hang on and do better given the habitat protection that was going on.”

The Dodo of the Dermaptera, as it has been nicknamed, was always elusive. The Belgium team had described now the earwigs lived under rocks, and would quickly retreat into deep fissures in the soil.

“It was just physical searching and setting up pitfall traps, because we were also looking for the endemic ground beetle. Unfortunately we weren’t finding any of those either.

“We did come across some of the pincers of the earwig but we weren’t able to tell how recently they were alive. They did look quite fresh, although may have been decades old.”

At the time, there was little understanding of the global significance of St Helena’s invertebrates. In 2014 the island was declared to have more endemic species of them, per square mile of land, than the Galapagos Islands.

London Zoo saw its importance, sending a second expedition in 1993. “We did quite a lot of publicity, including going on the Wogan programme, which was one of the biggest TV slots in the UK.

“We ran a symposium in London – St Helena Natural Treasury. That did stimulate more interest.

“The giant earwig was very much a flagship for endemic invertebrates, and something that would capture the general public’s imagination, having an earwig over three inches long.”

Even the most glamorous of St Helena’s invertebrates are no match for the marine iguanas of the Galapagos in terms of public appeal, admits Dave. “But they can be flagships for protecting the habitat, which has a knock-on for other species.

“That is being done on The Peaks. But it’s a slow process.”

Dave supported the recent idea of choosing a new national flower in place of the arum lily – a beautiful but invasive alien species. It makes a poor symbol for St Helena’s efforts to protect the endemic plants that are unique to St Helena.

“St Helena has suffered more than most from introductions having a negative effect on the native flora and fauna,” he says. “So I would support it being an endemic.”

And what about a national invertebrate?

“I hadn’t thought about that. Certainly highest in our mind is the spiky yellow woodlouse, because it does still exist. We might have considered the giant earwig before but I think we are too late.

“It will be 50 years next year since the last definitive living specimens were collected. But we never know: it might still reappear.

“A species of snail from the Seychelles was declared extinct in 2007 but was found this year, alive.

“Maybe there are some earwigs clinging on there somewhere. But they will only survive if we reinstate those habitats.”

  • Dave had strong praise for his namesake Dave Pryce, who has been assessing the state of St Helena’s 400-or-so endemic invertebrates for the Bugs on the Brink project – and who warned that he expected to submit a formal proposal to declare the giant earwig extinct. But there were concerns about whether there would be enough funding for him to continue his work on the island, especially his efforts to conserve the spiky yellow woodlouse.

SEE ALSO: Rare island woodlouse ‘is just hanging on’

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Oh no, earwig go…

Takeshi Yamada, a collector of strange creatures, is the proud owner of what appears to be a St Helena giant earwig – a specimen made more valuable by last week’s news that the species is likely to be officially declared extinct.

But it doesn’t deceive Dr Roger Key, who visited St Helena in 2013 as part of the Bugs on the Brink project.

He has posted a picture of the creature on the internet, with the following caption:

“Don’t be fooled! This a clever fake, produced by Takeshi Yamada. As far as I can gather it is the head of a longhorn beetle, various bits of probably two cockroaches (the thorax, abdomen and wings) and the ‘pincers’ are probably jaws from a large beetle or dobsonfly.”

Mr Takeshi is no fraud. He is an artist who creates fantastical creatures, including a vast sea monster, using his skills as a taxidermist.

Click here to see the picture.

SEE ALSO: Rare island woodlouse is ‘just hanging on’, says expert

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Pictures bring back the holiday fun

children's medals 2 640The summer holidays have come to an end for UK school children but one last gallery of images should bring back happy memories of the 2014 Reading Sports. Click here to flick through 68 pictures – cheerful and cheeky – of the children’s medal presentations.

children's medals 640 3SEE ALSO:
Gallery 1: Fancy Dress
Gallery 2: Seen at the Sports
Gallery 3: Children’s races
Gallery 4: Teen races
Gallery 5: Adult races
Gallery 6: Inflatable fun

Plus: Donald whizzes from Oz for ‘brilliant’ Reading Sports (report)

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