St Helena Online


There’s gold in them stars

A dense cluster of stars photographed over St Helena
GOLD STARS ALL ROUND: a section of the night sky over St Helena, photographed by Steve Owens

The way the old saying has it, all that glisters is not gold. But in the case of the stars over St Helena, it seems the saying is wrong.

The astronomer who came to “audit” the island’s night sky in April says he’s giving it a gold rating for star-gazing. That puts it among the clearest skies in the world.

Steve Owens had been invited to the island to see whether it qualified as an International Dark Sky Place, after the accolade was given to Sark, one of the Channel Islands off the northern coast of France.

Vince Thompson describes the visit in his column in the May 4 issue of the re-launched St Helena Independent:

“In Glasgow, where Steve Owens lives, he says he can see about 200 hundred stars from his own garden.  The quality of St Helena’s night sky means 6,000 stars are visible to the naked eye.

“When Steve Owens sailed away from St Helena on 30th April he was able to tell us that the darkness of the St Helena night sky qualifies for ‘Gold Status’.  This means our sky is darker than the Isle of Sark’s which was accredited with ‘Silver Status’.”

The Dark Sky association’s rules require that public lighting meets tight standards to avoid light pollution, which can obscure the view of the galaxies.

Most of St Helena’s lighting was found to meet the rules, and measures to improve the rest are probably sufficient, according to Steve.

St Helena Government recently replaced 60 street lamps with low energy solar-powered lamps.

A statement said: “In addition to reducing the island’s reliance on fossil fuels, the new lights are of a modern design that do not emit light above the horizontal plane.

“This is a requirement for the Dark Skies accreditation, and by replacing 60 non-compliant luminaires with compliant ones we are a step closer to gaining Dark Skies accreditation.

“The guidelines for any additional lighting will be subject to the outcome of the audit being conducted by Steve Owens.”

The statement – issued before the astronomer’s visit – said positive feedback was expected on the work done to date to reduce light pollution.

The sky audit was organised by the St Helena Tourism Association. The main sponsors were Enterprise St Helena and The Consulate Hotel. 

I’m glad I got the picture I needed; Saint Helena is a very special place indeed, and not just because of its dark skies.

Steve Owens, Scotland
In Search of Darkness

Astronomer snaps night of a million stars (eventually)

St Helena Independent

Astronomer snaps night of a thousand stars (eventually)

The night sky appears as a circle in the centre of the image, with the horizon forming the circumference. Details such as headlights are visible as specks.
DARK ENOUGH FOR YOU? St Helena’s night sky: the horizon appears as a circle around the edge

This is a picture of the night sky over St Helena – and it nearly wasn’t taken. Astronomer Steve Owens had travelled from Scotland see whether the island could qualify as an International Dark Sky Place, to encourage star-gazing tourism. But clouds blocked the view. VINCE THOMPSON tells the story.

Steve Owens has completed his audit of the night sky – but his job has been made very difficult due to the ever-present cloud and rain during his week on the island.

Detail of the main image, showing lights and cloud
CLOSING IN: Approaching cloud is visible in Steve Owens’ picture (detail)

He did manage to take some dark-sky measurements earlier in the week, but more were needed and the Thursday night’s attempt to collect more data was totally unsuccessful.

On Friday night he was resolved to stay out all night if needed, to get the photo and extra data that were vital for the audit.

As time started to run out we were working on a Plan B which involved Steve leaving his very expensive camera equipment behind so Stedson George and I could complete the survey. The equipment was to be returned to him by registered post. Desperate situations require desperate measures

Steve’s survey in Friday night could not start until the moon had passed below the horizon, at about 11:20pm. Some time after 10:00pm he checked the sky and saw it was clear. He immediately gathered his equipment and drove out to the Millennium Forest car park to set up his camera and dark sky meter

Steve got there just in time to take a 360-degree photo of a clear night sky. Cloud was starting to form on the horizon.

After that he took some more dark sky meter readings that were needed, and completed his naked-eye observations, which help to indicate how clear the air is between us and the stars

This is great news and we must offer grateful thanks to Steve for being so committed to his tasks.

On Monday, 30 April 2012, he set sail for Cape Town and Scotland – job done

Keep looking up!

A star role for St Helena tourism?

In pursuit of darkness: Steve Owens’s Dark Sky Diary

The gloves are on: governor joins fight against invasives

left to right: Owe O'Sullivan, Mark Capes and Dr Rebecca Cairns-Wicks planting endemics at High Peak
PEAK PRACTICE: Dr Rebecca Cairns-Wicks shows the governor how it's done

He didn’t quite get his hands dirty… but St Helena’s governor has been helping, in a small way, to create a “cloud forest” across the highest parts of the island.

Mark Capes and chief secretary Owen O’Sullivan planted a few endemics at High Peak, where St Helena National Trust has been clearing invasive species to help endangered plants survive.

But His Excellency wore rubber gloves for the job.

conservation workers clear ground on High Peak
Clearing invasive species on High Peak (picture: St Helena National Trust)

They were at  High Peak – one of the last pockets of endemic cabbage tree woodland and tree fern thicket – during a tour of island conservation work. They also visited High Knoll Fort and the Heart Shape Waterfall.

The High Peak habitat work is being done under a £300,000 Darwin Project grant.

The moist, high-altitude habitat was once typical of St Helena’s high ground – which reaches close to 3,000 feet – but is under threat because of its isolation from other forest areas.

The National Trust is planting native plants and eradicating invasive species – including St Helena’s national flower, the arum lily – to give native plants and animals a better chance of survival.

The ultimate aim is to extend the native woodland to join up with the Peaks, to form a “cloud forest” of endemic plants – those found nowhere else in the world.

Marcia Benjamin, an apprentice on the project, wrote about it in the Trust’s December 2011 newsletter:

“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 will  be a lengthy process.

“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.

“High Peak is an important site for endemic fauna such as the spiky yellow woodlouse and the blushing snail. Increasing native species will encourage the endemic fauna to flourish.

“I have always been at home in the outdoors. I believe we should do all we can to preserve our natural surroundings and protect our endemics. It is really sad that we have allowed so much of what makes St Helena unique to become extinct or to become under threat.”

The Darwin Project is a three-year programme, funded by the UK government and managed by the St Helena National Trust, which aims to build up a skilled team with the knowledge and expertise to help conserve St Helena’s threatened native biodiversity for years to come. The Trust works in partnership with Enterprise St Helena, the Adult Vocation and Education Service and the Directorate of Agriculture and Natural Resources (source: St Helena Government).


Great job :) 

Susan Petal, wildlife blogger.
Susan’s Blog

Champagne launch for the Department of Everything
‘Aid cash used to destroy heritage,’ says Trust

The Darwin Project
Marcia Benjamin
St Helena Government

Champagne launch for the Department of Everything

Isabel Peters cracks open the fizz at the environment directorate's launch, with Tara Pelembe
Isabel Peters cracks open the fizz at the launch of St Helena's new Environmental Management Directorate

You’d be hard-pressed to better Tara Pelembe’s words on St Helena’s environment:

“It is the air that we breathe, the water that we drink, the food that we eat, the energy we use in our houses, the landscape we enjoy, the sea where we fish and also importantly, our culture and our inspiration, our history and our business.”

Tara shared her description at the official launch of St Helena’s new Environmental Management Directorate – which plays a central role in the island’s future.

Councillor Raymond Williams said: “As the airport project progresses and the island develops its economy, we will need to ensure that the environment, one of St Helena’s key tourism products, is effectively managed.”

guests at a reception in the decorated courtyard at Essex House
Guests celebrate at Essex House

Environmental protection is one of three national goals under St Helena’s new Sustainable Development Plan.

UK Environment Minister Richard Benyon joined the opening ceremony via video link.

He stressed the importance to the UK of the overseas territories’ unique ecosystems and endemic flora and fauna, referring specifically to the St Helena wirebird and the bastard gumwood, just two of the species only found on the island.

A UK government paper was published in January on the environment in the UK Overseas Territories.

Governor Mark Capes said the Coalition government’s positive approach to the overseas territories was most welcome, and had brought a “sea change” in support across Whitehall.

Staff site on steps at Essex House
They've got a big job: St Helena's environmental team

“There will be new economic and social opportunities as we develop our tourism infrastructure,” he said, “but it is essential that we take great care to manage our precious environment on this jewel of an island in the South Atlantic.”

Tara Pelembe will head the new directorate. She said it would take the lead on creating a National Environmental Plan “for the whole island, and not only for government”.

Isabel Peters, the new Manager of Environmental Assessment and Advocacy, popped the champagne cork at Essex House in Jamestown to declare the directorate officially open.

All present – including members of St Helena National Trust – shared a specially-made cake.

The launch happened on Monday, 16 April 2012

War wreck to be assessed after years of polluting bay
‘Eco resort’ moves a step closer in wirebird valley
New planning rules protect island – but what are they?
‘Aid cash used to destroy heritage,’ says Trust

St Helena Government

War wreck to be assessed after years of polluting bay

After decades of leaking oil into the waters of James Bay, the torpedoed wreck of the RFA Darkdale is to be surveyed by a team of experts from the UK. They head out to St Helena at the end of April.

A detailed article on the wartime wreck appears on the Mercopress website, here (with thanks to Joy Lawrence for spotting it).