Project aims to bring island bugs back from the brink

The rediscovery of a lost St Helena leaf-hopper, not seen since 1875, came only weeks after the launch of the Bugs on the Brink project on the island. As the UK charity Buglife reports on its website, it’s almost come too late.

Many of St Helena’s unique invertebrates are on the brink of extinction, with some of its most iconic species, such as the giant earwig, feared lost within living memory.

Funded by the Darwin Initiative, the project will help to conserve St Helena’s globally threatened invertebrates.

This is the first time that anyone has set out to create a long-term plan for conserving St Helena’s invertebrates. Buglife is working alongside local partners – the St Helena National Trust and St Helena Government – and the UK’s Centre for Ecology and Hydrology. 

The island’s flora and fauna evolved in extreme isolation, resulting in more than 400 invertebrate species found nowhere else on Earth. For this reason, St Helena has been called the ‘alapagos of the South Atlantic.

Unfortunately, following its discovery in 1502, St Helena suffered immense environmental destruction, caused by introduced livestock and forest clearance. Today, much of the island’s unique wildlife is threatened with extinction.

Iconic invertebrates such as the giant earwig (Labidura herculeana), giant ground beetle (Aplothorax burchelli) and St Helena darter (a dragonfly – Sympetrum dilatatum) are believed lost within living memory.

The remnants of the native flora and fauna are struggling to survive in habitat fragments, which occupy tiny fractions of their original areas. They also face a wide range of pressures from non-native plants and animals.

The Bugs on the Brink project aims to support invertebrate conservation in the long-term, by training local staff, helping to restore native habitats, teaching school children about the vital role played by invertebrates, and raising public awareness of the special place invertebrates have in St Helena’s natural heritage.

This work will help St Helena meet future challenges, such as the airport construction and associated expansion of tourism and development.

It is hoped that invertebrates can play their part in supporting sustainable eco-tourism, on an island that is surely one of the jewels in the crown of UK biodiversity.

Richard Smith, Buglife conservation officer, said: “It is so important for us to be working with local conservationists, St Helena Government and the people of St Helena. Only together can we forge a long-term future for its unique biodiversity.”

The Bugs on the Brink project will run until January 2016.

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