The British Red Cross has launched an appeal for people caught in the path of Hurricane Irma, including in UK overseas territories in the Caribbean.
The category five hurricane is the most powerful ever recorded in the Atlantic Ocean.
Trevor Botting, former chief of police on St Helena, has been posting updates on Twitter from the Turks and Caicos Islands, where he is in the same role. “It’s going to be a rough few days,” he wrote, with the storm expected to hit on Thursday evening.
Red Cross teams in Barbuda and the British territory of Anguilla are reporting extensive damage. Its volunteers have been gathering relief supplies in Anguilla, the British Virgin Islands, Montserrat, and the Turks and Caicos Islands.
Photographs from the British Virgin Islands have shown a large fleet of hire yachts piled up on one another, with many overturned.
In the UK, Prime Minister Theresa May and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson have promised strong support, especially for the UK territories.
Mr Johnson said: “Our thoughts go out to the people who have been affected, to those families who have lost loved ones, and as you can expect we are doing everything we can with humanitarian relief and assistance.
“We have the fleet auxiliary boat RFS Mounts Bay in the vicinity, we have people on the ground.
“But what we will be doing now is making an urgent assessment of the further needs of communities in the British Virgin Islands and Anguilla to see what more can be done in terms of financial and humanitarian assistance.”
Ben Webster, head of emergencies at the British Red Cross, said: “Given the scale of the anticipated emergency, any response will likely be highly complex. Some of the islands that are expected to be hit are isolated, and lack basic infrastructure.
“The impact on those communities could be catastrophic.
“Many of the Red Cross branches are already in response mode as they have been dealing with floods in the weeks before Hurricane Irma. Now they must prepare for another emergency – and another storm is following behind.”
Charles Darwin glossed over it, but now St Helena has been officially recognised as Britain’s wealthiest spot on Earth when it comes to natural treasures.
The island is home to a third of the endemic species that are found on British territory around the world – that is, plants and creatures that appear naturally in only one place.
A “stock-take” by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds puts it far ahead of second-placed Bermuda. But it also highlights severe ignorance in London about the ecology of Britain’s far-flung territories, and a lack of strategy for protecting it.
St Helena even beats the iconic Galapagos Islands – seven times over – when it comes to unique invertebrates (judged on land mass).
Sadly, spiders and insects don’t attract eco tourists in quite the same way as the natural wonders of the Galapagos, but perhaps that’s just as well, given the massive strain that tourism has brought to those islands.
Their human population has grown five-fold since the 1970s, when it had the same number of people as St Helena has today. And with three airports and a stream of cruise ships visiting, they’re under daily threat of alien species being brought in and causing havoc to a fragile eco-system.
Bio-security is already being strengthened on St Helena in readiness for the opening of its first airport in 2016.
A press release from The Castle in Jamestown describes the island as “a mid-Atlantic life-raft of rare and irreplaceable species”.
Concerns about protecting agriculture and public health are cited as further reasons to control what comes in to the island.
The RSPB’s findings have been welcomed by Linda Houston of Shelco, the group planning to build an eco resort at Broad Bottom on St Helena.
She said: “This is great news and underpins the importance of a low volume, high value tourism strategy for St Helena.
“As illustrated by our approach to invasive species clearance and the establishment of [our] wirebird sanctuary, St Helena’s biodiversity is a central component of our scheme.
“In our work at Broad Bottom we aim to encourage innovation and knowledge transfer amongst local and international renowned centres of excellence, which can be applied across the island.”
The RSPB’s stock-take of Britain’s overseas territories is the first one ever to be undertaken.
It was commissioned after a cross-party body of Members of Parliament in London attacked the British government for failing in its duty to protect the environment in its overseas territories.
The Environmental Audit Committee said the government did not even know what it was supposed to be looking after.
The survey brought together all known records from the past 300 years.
Many of the species recorded in those archives are now lost, including the St Helena olive that was rescued from apparent extinction by George Benjamin BEM, who first woke St Helenians up to the importance of their endemic plants.
He also began the planting of gumwood trees on the east of the island that evolved into the Millennium Forest.
A battle is currently being fought to save the false gumwood tree, which has died out in one of its two last remaining outposts. Just seven adult trees survive in a single location, and efforts are being made to harvest and propagate its seeds.
The same delicate technique recently saved the bastard gumwood when it became the world’s rarest tree, with only one specimen surviving.
Jeremy Harris, director of the St Helena National Trust, said: “Over 14 million years, St Helena has developed a totally unique biosphere of incredible diversity protected by thousands of miles of ocean.
“Five hundred years ago, it was discovered by people who brought goats and rats and other species that had a huge impact on its fragile environment.
“What remains today is still clearly remarkable and unique and of international significance. St Helena, now more than ever, needs our protection and care as the airport approaches, bringing with it new risks and challenges.”
Senior Veterinary Officer Joe Hollins said the opening of the airport would remove the “quarantine effect” of a five-day sea voyage to reach St Helena.
“Biosecurity on St Helena is necessarily being tightened,” he said.
“We already have laws in place for live animals and related genetic materials, and for fruit, vegetables, plants and related products; and the Bees Ordinance protects our disease-free bees and honey.
“But remaining loopholes to be closed include certain meat, dairy and fish imports.”
RSPB report highlights woeful ignorance and lack of plans
Glaring gaps in knowledge about Britain’s overseas territories and their wildlife are highlight in the RSPB’s report on its findings.
“Whole groups of species remain almost entirely undiscovered,” says the report, which was funded by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
“Whilst some excellent conservation work is underway on the ground… the UK Government still has no strategic overview of where the most urgent priorities lie, or even a simple understanding of actions undertaken, such as the number of nature reserves established.”
The UK’s environment department, Defra, has “no dedicated evidence plan for the OTs”, and its advisory body on nature conservation has no strategy for dealing with “biodiversity knowledge gaps”.
It says: “The OTs hold at least 1,500 endemic species, compared to around 90 endemic species in the UK. This is equivalent to 94 per cent of known endemic British species.
“Much of the endemic OT fauna and flora is threatened, although only 145 species (9 per cent) have ever had their global conservation status assessed. Of these, 111 (77 per cent) are listed as Globally Threatened.”
The RSPB adds that there could be 50,000 unrecorded species in the island territories – more than two thousand of them endemic.
Nearly a million people read The Observer newspaper. And in the final issue of 2013, they have been treated to a picture of Cynthia George and Raymond Hudson, posing in their scouting uniforms on Jamestown seafront.
The photographer, Jon Tonks, has a thing about uniforms.
The Observer says they illustrate the strangely British, but not-quite-British culture of the South Atlantic islands he features in his new book, Empire.
The picture of Raymond and Cynthia is one of the thousands Jon took for the book – 400 rolls of film in all.
During a five-year tour of the UK’s South Atlantic territories, he’s photographed firemen, police officers and the governor of the Falkland Islands in their official garb, and others besides.
Observer writer Sean O’Hagan says the book highlights “the often absurd traces of an older kind of Britishness that linger in these in-between, out-of-the-way territories”.
It also, we’re told, “evokes the everyday oddness of life” in these remnants of the British Empire.
Scouting, of course, is found all over the world, so there’s nothing odd about two Saints wearing their uniforms – Raymond as “an honorary member of the St Helena Scout Group”, and Cynthia as assistant beaver leader.
Jon, whose pictures of the territories previously appeared in the 50th anniversary issue of the iconic Sunday Times Magazine, travelled 50,000 miles in the course of his project, and spent 32 days at sea.
He visited the Falklands, St Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha, where he photographed two lifeboats that had been hurled up a cliff by storm seas.
The Observer’s verdict on his arduous mission: “It was worth it.”
Signed pre-launch copies of Empire can be ordered from Jon’s website, here
Click any of the thumbnails below to see larger images from Jon’s book:
The RMS St Helena is to feature as one of the “boutique cruises” promoted by the Mantis Collection, according to the UK-based Travel Mole website.
The site says Mantis has recently signed a deal with St Helena Government to turn Ladder Hill Fort into a five-star hotel. The island’s Sentinel newspaper has since reported that this is incorrect.
Mantis founder Adrian Gardiner, who spent a week on the island, is quoted saying: “We’re extremely excited to be marketing this iconic Royal Mail Ship, one of only two left in the world, as part of our growing portfolio of boutique cruises worldwide.
“This is the first of our exciting steps towards ultimately developing our very own boutique hotel on St Helena island.”
The Mantis Collection is a group of privately-owned hotels and eco lodges.
With thanks to Guy Gatien for passing on this story.
The Falkland Islands are not the only far-off territory to still feel British, writes Vanessa Barford in the BBC News Magazine.
While the world’s media focuses on the referendum on the Falklands, she says the 4,200 people on St Helena also have a very strong sense of Britishness.
She quotes Tara Thomas, who was the island’s youngest councillor: “Jamestown is like a small village in 1950s Britain, with Georgian buildings with high ceilings. There’s a place called Scotland, which is very cold. We have roasts on Sundays, cricket and football are big sports.”
Citizens of the UK’s overseas territories have been branded “plastic Brits” in the run-up to the 2012 Olympic Games, but one of them is now a strong contender to win a gold medal for Britain.
Shara Proctor of Anguilla is one of three people from the territories in Team GB. Three other territories – Bermuda, the Cayman Islands and the British Virgin Islands – are allowed to enter their own teams in the Games.
No one from the South Atlantic islands is competing this year, even though St Helena, Ascension and the Falklands have all sent sportspeople to the Commonwealth Games.
The Falklands have even produced an Olympic champion – more than 100 years ago. Louis Charles Baillon, born in 1881 in Fox Bay, won a gold medal as a member of England’s field hockey team at the 1908 Games, which also took place in London.
The “plastic Brits” furore was stirred up by some in the British media who failed to understand that people in the overseas territories were full British citizens.
Delano Williams of the Turks and Caicos Islands, who narrowly missed out on a place in Team GB in the men’s 200 metres athletics, was one of those caught up in it.
The island’s angry governor, Ric Todd, described the coverage as “nonsensical, wrong and shameful.” He said of Williams: “He is born British and he is as British as I am.”
Shara Proctor could not represent her home island of Anguilla because, like most of the territories, it is not recognised by the International Olympic Committee.
She established herself as a potential gold medallist by smashing the British long-jump record, which had stood for 29 years. She jumped 6.95 metres, five centimetres further than the previous record.
Shara, the daughter of the island’s head of sport, has been quoted saying: “If I win a medal in London it will be for Britain but, in my heart, Anguilla.”
Despite being a member of the British team, she had never actually visited England before this year. Henry Bellingham, UK Minister for the overseas territories, is understood to have requested a meeting with her.
Teenager Georgina Cassar moved from Gibraltar to train full-time as a member of the British rhythmic gymnastics team. They suffered disappointment when they were told they would not be given a place to compete the Games, but the decision was overturned on appeal.
Georgina represented Gibraltar at the Delhi Commonwealth Games. She is not the first Gibraltarian to compete in the Olympics. Peter Dignan won a bronze medal in the rowing in 1976, but as a member of the New Zealand team.
Jenaya Wade-Fray of Bermuda is also represening Great Britain, in the women’s basketball.
Bermuda, with a population of more than 60,000 on an island smaller than St Helena, is fielding the largest team from the territories. Its competitors drew cheers from the crowd during the opening ceremony, when they paraded in Bermuda shorts.
Brothers Zander and Jesse Kirland are competing together in the sailing. Team captain Jesse was chosen to carry the flag in the opening ceremony, but said: “I would like my brother to do that.” His wish was granted.
The rest of Bermuda’s team are all Olympic veterans: long jumpers Arantxa King and Tyrone Smith, triathletes Flora Duffy and Tyler Butterfield, show jumper Jillian Terceira and swimmer Roy Burch.
The Cayman Islands competitors have already begun their campaign, with brothers Shaune and Brett Fraser finishing 8th and 5th in their heats in the 200m freestyle. They both have other events.
Athletes Ronald Forbes, Kemar Hyman and Cydonie Mothersill – who made the final of the women’s 200m in Beijing – compete in the track events.
The British Virgin Islands – population 22,000 – have two athletes competing: Tahesia Harrigan-Scott runs in the women’s 100m, and Alexander J’Maal is in the men’s 100m.
Neither the Cayman Islands or the British Virgin Islands have ever won a medal.
Clarence Hill won Bermuda’s only Olympic medal – pre-2012 – when he took bronze in the boxing in 1976. He made Bermuda the least populated nation ever to win a medal in the summer Olympics.
Gibraltar may not have its own team of sportsmen competing, but it will have a squad taking part in the sailing at Weymouth. Eight Gibraltar Defence Police Officers will be helming fast rigid-hulled inflatable boats as part of the security operation.
A planned referendum on the future sovereignty of the Falkland Islands could be an embarrassing disaster if it is not properly managed, the chief executive of the islands’ government has warned.
The referendum has been called to spell out islanders’ feelings about whether to remain a British overseas territory, in response to political pressure from Argentina.
Keith Padgett told a public meeting the precise wording of the question used in the referendum must be “unbiased” if it is to give the world a message that “we are responsible and we know what form of governance we want.”
St Helenians with resident status in the islands are expected to be eligible to take part in the vote.
A full report appears in Penguin News, the islands’ newspaper
An alleged ploy to stop people of the Chagos Islands returning to their homes in the British overseas territory can be tested in court, the UK’s Independent newspaper reports. It says a judge has ordered that two senior government officials must face cross-examination over a secret US document that appeared on the WikiLeaks website. It suggested a fishing ban created as part of a marine reserve would make it impossible for exiles to return to the islands, from which they were illegal removed to make way for a US air base.
The Queen has signed a new law preventing people in St Helena trading sensitive goods with Iran.
Any Saints who supply materials for making nuclear weapons, say – or lend their expertise – face up to seven years in prison.
The Iran (Restrictive Measures) (Overseas Territories) Order 2012 was passed by “The Queen’s Most Excellent Majesty in Council” at the Court at Windsor Castle on 10 July 2012.
The document says: “Her Majesty, in exercise of the powers conferred on her by Section 1 of the United Nations Act 1946 section 112 of the Saint Helena Act 1833, and the British Settlements Act 1887 and 1945, is pleased, by and with the advice of Her Privy Council, to order as follows…”
The new law, called a Statutory Instrument, makes it illegal to supply various services or goods, including gold and diamonds, unless granted a licence by the governor.
It’s also now illegal for anyone in St Helena to launder newly-printed Iranian banknotes.
Although the law applies to all the UK’s overseas territories, it makes specific reference to Ascension, St Helena and Tristan da Cunha. Read it here… just to be on the safe side.