St Helena Online

Tag: environment

UK ‘doesn’t even know’ about island eco threats, say MPs

The UK has been accused by a Westminster committee of failing to protect endangered plants and creatures in its overseas territories.

The Environmental Audit Committee said the UK was not taking proper responsibility for the 517 globally threatened species in its care.

Its chairman, Joan Walley MP, said: “The UK government doesn’t even know precisely what it is responsible for, because it has failed accurately to assess and catalogue those species and habitats.

“During our inquiry, the UK government expressed vague aspirations to ‘cherish’ the environment in the overseas territories, but it was unwilling to acknowledge or to address its responsibilities under United Nations treaties.”

The EAC report reveals that the government’s environment department, Defra, has refused to allow any of its staff to visit the territories.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, which has long had staff working on St Helena, estimated the UK needed to spend £80 million over  a five-year period to protect the wildlife in some of the most ecologically rich places on the planet.

During the committee hearings, St Helena was singled out for introducing controls on development, thanks to efforts to minimise the ecological impact of its new airport.

The air access project has sparked intensive efforts to study and protect the island’s wildlife, including 45 plants and 400 invertebrates that are unique to the island.

The UK Overseas Territories Conservation Forum welcomed the findings of the Environmental Audit Committee.

It said: “The EAC finds that successive governments have failed to give sufficient priority to safeguarding 90% of the UK’s biodiversity.

“The present government is criticised for being unwilling to address its responsibilities despite fine words in the 2012 White Paper, The Overseas Territories: Security, Success and Sustainability.”

UKOTCF Executive Director Dr Mike Pienkowski said: “Time is not on our side and, given the level of concern expressed in the report, immediate action is required.”

In an article for the St Helena Independent, Vince Thompson writes: “It remains to be seen if the Men from the UK Ministries, who appear to be so easily confused when questioned in detail about their Overseas Territories, find the report so overpowering they will actually take action on the report’s recommendations.”

The sensitivity of island ecology was illustrated by conservationist Dave Higgins, the man writing action plans for St Helena’s conservation areas, in an interview with the Yorkshire Post.

He told the paper the “museum rarity” of the island’s ecology was both frightening and exciting.

“The 823m-high summit of Diana’s Peak, which is 50 hectares of mountain range, holds more endemic species than any European country,” he said.

“Almost half of the invertebrates living in the islands’ national parks cannot be found anywhere else in the world.

“To date conservationists know of 200 species of endemic invertebrate just in the Peaks. Some of these are reliant on a single tree species.

“Local conservationists tell me that if we lose one of our endemic plant species there could be a suite of invertebrate extinctions.

“All around these biological jewels lies the threat of non-native species and habitat loss. The island’s wonder is under constant siege.”

St Helena and Ascension appear to fare better than many of their sister territories in the Caribbean, which are under greater pressure from both tourist developments and climate change.

St Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha make up one of 14 UK overseas territories. The others are the Falkland Islands, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, the British Antarctic Territory, the British Indian Ocean Territory, Gibraltar, Anguilla, Bermuda, the Cayman Islands, Montserrat, Turks and Caicos, the British Virgin Islands, the Pitcairn Islands, and the Sovereign Base Areas of Akrotiri and Dhekelia in Cyprus.

Government must to more to protect biodiversity – UK Parliament website
Yorkshire ecologist now our man in St Helena – Yorkshire Post

St Helena gets top rating for environmental protection
Secrecy leaves islands at risk of corruption, warns RSPB
MP ‘shocked’ by tales of environmental failings

Island’s eco warriors need a new chief. Salary: £43k

The Peaks from Long Range 640A new person is being sought to lead the team protecting St Helena’s environment.

The post is being advertised with a £43,000 salary, plus allowances – but the job description makes it clear the role will be demanding.

It says: “St Helena’s natural environment is unique and very fragile; it is also our greatest asset. To ensure that we do not lose this, we need to develop sound environmental management.

“Highly organised with the ability to multi-task and prioritise a heavy workload, you will be an excellent communicator, able to work with people at all levels and abilities.”

The island’s Environmental Management Division has 24 staff. The advert says its focus is shifting from policy-making to work in the field: monitoring, evaluating and enforcing new rules to protect the island and its ecology.

Prospective leaders will be expected to bed-in new policy within government and across the island. They need a first degree or equivalent experience, and ability to work with a wide range of people, including private businesses and developers.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) is also advertising for a marine biologist on Tristan da Cunha, to help with sustainable management of the marine environment.

The advert says: “The postholder will gather information to improve understanding of the functioning of the shallow water marine ecosystems of the Tristan islands, leading to better-informed decisions on the use of marine natural resources and a better understanding of and preparedness for the likely impacts of climate change in the marine environment.”

The job will involve diving.

The job is described as “a unique chance to work on Tristan and explore its amazing marine environment.”

twitter environment 2013 06 18ADVERTS:

St Helena: Head of Environmental Management
Tristan da Cunha: Marine Biologist

Expert says St Helena has ‘enough water’ – in the wrong place

Rains have brought respite on St Helena. Picture: Neil George
Rains have brought respite on St Helena. Picture: Neil George

Drought-stricken St Helena is not short of water, the island government’s consultant has insisted – despite homes on the island being close to losing their supply.

UK expert Ed Connon said: “There is enough water on the island – but it’s not necessarily in the right places.”

A major operation to move water to the most populated part of the island has been under way in June 2013, with Saints urged to cut consumption drastically to avoid running out. 

Click the pic to see full drought coverage
Click the pic to see full drought coverage

The crisis has come only 11 months after St Helena Government declared that the island had “sufficient existing water sources to meet demand for the next ten years.”

Now Martin Squibbs, the man quoted in the government press release of 4 July 2012, has resorted to importing water from Ascension Island to avoid cutting off the supply to taps in Half Tree Hollow and nearby areas.

But water has been flowing freely through Jamestown and even overspilling from a reservoir at Levelwood – while reservoirs in Harper’s Valley have been emptied.

Click here to see a gallery of drought pictures

In the 2012 press statement – on efforts to drill new boreholes to meet post-airport demand – Martin said:

“A water consultant from Fairhurst was appointed in September 2010 and one of his first tasks was to carry out a water resources study and produce a water resources plan covering the next 20 years.

An improvised water carrier is put to work. Picture: Neil George
An improvised water carrier is put to work. Picture: Neil George

“The study concluded that there are sufficient existing water sources to meet demand for the next ten years or so, but there is a need to identify new sources to enhance the current sources supplying the Redhill and Hutts Gate water treatment works.”

But on Monday 3 June 2013, Martin said the island could never fully protect against an “Act of God” such as a severe drought. He compared the island’s crisis with major flooding in central Europe that authorities could not prevent.

Saint FM has reported that the island had seen two other droughts within 20 years, with water supplies to Longwood being cut off in 2006.

Mr Connon, the Fairhurst technical director behind the St Helena report, said: “I am quite happy with the statements we have made.

“As Martin has said, it’s about the amount of rainfall, or lack of it. It is an unusually low amount of rainfall that you have had.

Pumping water at Scott's Mill. Picture: Neil George
Pumping water at Scott’s Mill. Picture: Neil George

“We will be looking further into the recent drought in terms of looking at the rainfall figures and seeing how that affects the overall water resource position. You get a bit more data and it informs your position a bit better.

“There has been a lot of investigation and a lot of boreholes being drilled.”

He said a colleague from Fairhurst would be arriving on the island shortly to oversee an upgrade to all the water treatment works on the island.

The drought has highlighted the fact that ten per cent of homes on the island, in Blue Hill and Sandy Bay, still receive untreated water – with the risk of it becoming contaminated at any time.

In another statement issued in July 2012, the government said bringing all the island’s domestic water supply up to World Health Organisation standards – meaning it must be treated – was “a priority”.

Fire crews have helped carry water to Scott's Mill reservoir. Picture: Neil George
Fire crews have helped carry water to Scott’s Mill reservoir. Picture: Neil George

Mr Connon said: “One of the directions we were given was to deal with the untreated water supply.”

But he added: “Having spoken to some of the residents out there, they don’t want their water treated.”

Fairhurst says its water division “delivers reliable and cost-effective advice in specific areas such as… dams and reservoirs, water supply, sewerage, and waste water treatment.”

It was hired to advise on two projects. The first was a management shake-up that led to the newly created Connect St Helena taking over responsibility for the water supply, less than two months before the crisis broke.

“The second comprises a programme of water infrastructure improvements to meet the immediate needs of existing users and provide a sound basis for further upgrading works,”  says the company’s Capability Statement.

“Fairhurst was appointed to assist the St Helena Government in all aspects of the sustainable water management project,” it says. “Key tasks include the assessment of
natural water resources and their capacity to meet the longer term demands from population growth and tourism.

“We are also advising on the development of a 20‐year asset upgrade plan and will design a package of improvement works to provide a consistent and high quality drinking water supply throughout the island.”

The Fairhurst report has not been made public by St Helena Government.

  • Fairhurst was also paid £6 million to design and install the successful “hairnet” that stops rocks rolling down on to Jamestown’s wharf, with more than 100,000 square metres of steel netting. The company website reports that the project was named International Project of the Year at the Ground Engineering (GE) Awards 2010.

Drought – full coverage
Island can never fully protect against drought, says Peter

St Helena Government press release on water drilling, 4 July 2013
Fairhust Water Capability statement
St Helena rockfall protect – Fairhurst website

twitter drought

Bottoms up: Mike creates his own beer garden. With no beer…

In Mike Durnford's garden, the glass is always greener - it's recycled
In Mike Durnford’s garden, the glass is always greener – it’s recycled

A man walks into every bar in St Helena and says: “I’ll have 586 bottles of Windhoek Beer. No ice. And barman – serve them empty.”

That may not have been quite how the conversation went.

But the point is that Mike Durnford has used 24.5 crates’ worth of beer bottles in his garden, and he’s keen to make one thing clear: “I didn’t drink them all myself.”

Bottles protect my hic... hish... hibiscus
Bottles protect my hic… hish… hibiscus

As a result, he missed out on producing a large quantity of first-class compost activator.

The bottles are now buried neck first – or bottoms-up, if you prefer – in Mike’s garden.

They’re wonderful for stopping the grass from creeping into his hibiscus border, resulting in some fine lawn edging. 

“The glass is so strong that I can use a petrol strimmer along the edge of the bottles when trimming the lawn and they do not break,” boasts Mike, who is the island’s climate change and pollution officer.

He may not have consumed all the beer himself, but the pictures clearly show that when he marked out the edge of his lawn, he wasn’t walking in a straight line…

waste wheel 800Click the waste wheel to see what St Helena throws away

Mike, whose job involves peering into randomly selected bin liners every three months to analyse what people are throwing away at the dump on Horse Point, is keen to see glass recycling on an even larger scale on St Helena.

He wants to see bottles crushed to be used as a substitute for some of the aggregate – rubble – used in construction work.

It’s not as if there’s a shortage of glass. “The island imports approximately 134 tonnes of beer bottles every year, which equates to 123 cubic metres of crushed glass per year,” says Mike.

“This ‘free’ waste material could then be utilized in the many on-going construction projects across the island, including development of the airport, and would contribute towards the green status that St Helena is striving towards.”

Thirteen per cent of the material going into the landfill site is organic – and that’s simply a waste. It could be composted and then used to enrich the soil for growing fruit and vegetables.

Keeping food out of “the dump” would also make it less attractive to birds – especially pigeons. That in turn would reduce the risk of bird-strike for planes coming in and out of the airport, which is being built nearby.

The biggest contributors to the landfill site – at 21%- are steel cans and tins, according to the latest quarterly survey.

“Alternative uses for this waste stream is essential due to the high volume of imports of
tinned food and drinks,” says Mike.

“One option would be to restrict the import of beer in cans, only importing beer in glass bottles, knowing that these bottles could then be recycled.

“But other re-use ideas need to be sourced in order to significantly reduce the volume (uncrushed) being landfilled.”

Mike produces a “waste wheel” every three months showing what St Helena is throwing away. The next one is due in July 2013.

He says the data helps identify opportunities for recycling “which the island desperately needs more of, similar to the successful operation being undertaken by SHAPE [the disability charity] to recycle paper and cardboard.”

It’s all vital stuff. But what Mike doesn’t explain is how he got the labels off 586 beer bottles…

Click any thumbnail to see full-size images:


SEE ALSO: Message is in the bottles for reducing St Helena’s waste

Stop taking baths, says Castle, as water shortage goes on

Warnings of prosecutions for wasting water have been issued by St Helena Government as a severe drought continues in the most populated parts of the island.


Privately, government sources say some islanders do not appear to understand how serious the situation has become – or that individuals can make a difference by saving even small amounts of water.

A statement, issued on Thursday 23 May 2013, said:

Domestic water supplies on St Helena continue to be at very low levels and SHG and Connect Saint Helena Ltd appeal to all residents across the island to use water conservatively and to limit their consumption.

The current water shortage is centred on the Red Hill distribution area, which includes Half Tree Hollow, Cowpath, Ladder Hill, Red Hill, Sapper Way, New Ground, Clay Gut, Pounceys, Kunjie Field, Scotland, Plantation, Cleughs Plain, Rosemary Plain, Francis Plain, Crack Plain and Guinea Grass.

Therefore the hosepipe and sprinkler ban continues in the Red Hill distribution area and we remind residents in these areas that it is an offence to use hosepipes or sprinklers or otherwise waste water intended for domestic use until further notice.

It is vital that residents in the above areas show proper restraint in the use of water and limit this by, for example:

  • Not flushing the toilet on every occasion
  • Using washing up water on the garden or vegetable patch
  • Using the washing machine sparingly and only when full
  • Using the shower instead of taking a bath
  • Not using a dishwasher
  • Turning the tap off while brushing teeth

Efforts continue to try to source additional water in these areas and we will update residents as plans develop. In addition, leaks will be treated as a priority and any problems should be reported promptly to Connect Saint Helena Ltd.

SEE ALSO: Homes face cut-off as water boss warns: ‘We need rain NOW’

Frigatebird chick is island’s first for a century

With the feral cats away, the frigatebird chick can play on mainland Ascension. Picture: Kenickie Simon Andrews
With the feral cats away, this very special chick can play. Picture: Kenickie Simon Andrews

A frigatebird chick is being raised on Ascension Island for the first time in more than a century – and here it is, basking its downy feathers in the sun in this picture by Kenickie Simon Andrews.

Its arrival in the world came nine years after the island was declared free of feral cats, which had restricted most birds to breeding on tiny Boatswainbird Island.

A message on the Ascension Island Conservation page on Facebook says:

“At the end of last year, we observed the first two pairs of our endemic frigatebirds nesting on the mainland in over 100 years.

“Ascension was declared free from feral cats in 2004 and since then many of the masked and brown boobies have returned to the mainland to breed, but it was not until very recently that we observed the first of the returning frigatebirds.

“Unfortunately only one of the eggs hatched successfully, but as you can see the chick is doing very well.”

St Helena’s booby boomers

Masked boobies have created a seabird city around Lot's Wife. Picture: Environmental Management Directorate
Masked boobies have created a seabird city around Lot’s Wife. Picture: Environmental Management Directorate

A thriving colony of masked boobies has changed the landscape on southern St Helena – by turning the ridges white around Lot’s Wife rock.

Here's looking at you, booby... and your babies. Picture: Environmental Management Directorate
Here’s looking at you, booby… and your babies. Picture: Environmental Management Directorate

Annalea Beard, of the environment directorate, said: “Amazingly this species has re-established itself even though introduced predators such as feral cats and rats are also known to occupy the area.”

The colony was of global interest as a result, she said.

A few birds were observed nesting below Lot’s Wife, on the barren southern coast of the island, in 2009. A recent count showed 203 adults in the colony, which has turned the ridges white with guano.

“The reasons behind their re-colonisation and their ability to succeed remain
unclear,” said Annalea. “Monitoring is essential to make sure the colony continues to be successful.”

St Helena gets top rating for environmental protection

An investigation has highlighted “legal neglect” of biodiversity in the UK’s overseas territories – but not on St Helena.

The territory, which formally includes Ascension Island and Tristan da Cunha, is one of only three to have been singled out for praise in a report by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.

It says:

  • Gibraltar is the Overseas Territory that best demonstrates good practice across the board
  • The British Virgin Islands have notable good practice in its site protections
  • St Helena has notable good practice in its development control mechanisms

The RSPB also praised the island while giving evidence to the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee in London. It also acknowledged the careful stewardship of the marine environment and fisheries around Tristan da Cunha.

However, it also had criticism for the lack of government transparency in territories – a problem that has been highlighted in St Helena.

The Ascension Island Conservation organisation has been highly active in projects to monitor turtles and land crabs, and improve habitat for frigate birds by eradicating wild cats.

St Helena’s environment department has begun identifying marine life around the island, and is working on a new protection plan for The Peaks.

Read more here.

Secrecy leaves islands at risk of corruption, warns RSPB

Entrance to the Castle - home of St Helena Government. Picture: John Grimshaw
Entrance to the Castle – home of St Helena Government. Picture: John Grimshaw

A paragraph in this story has been toned down in response to a comment made privately to St Helena Online. The paragraph, about information being made available to legislative councillors, was capable of mis-interpretation. 

Secretive decision-making by governments in St Helena and other British overseas territories leaves them vulnerable to corruption, MPs in London have been warned.

The same lack of transparency had already brought down the government in the Turks and Caicos Islands, said Clare Stringer of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.

Her warning echoed strong concerns raised about the conduct of St Helena’s executive council, which meets almost entirely in secret and refuses public access to agendas, reports and minutes.

Clare Stringer delivered her warning in evidence to the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee on Wednesday, 17 April 2013. She referred to a recent RSPB review that found widespread lack of openness.

Speaking as head of the RSPB’s overseas territories unit, she said islands were vulnerable to unhealthy outside influence if they did not have “robust legislation and transparency systems.”

She went on: “Our recent review of environmental governance showed that in a lot of the territories those aren’t in place.

“Very few if any have transparency legislation, freedom of information doesn’t exist, decisions are made by a Foreign Office appointed governor or by elected council members – but often behind closed doors – and it’s very difficult to know why decisions are made in the way that they are. 

“And it does leave administrations open to corruption, and we have seen that in the Turks and Caicos Islands in recent years.

“The fact that these decisions aren’t made openly, it leaves an atmosphere where corruption can occur.”

An inquiry into the Turks and Caicos Islands corruption affair found that it resulted from circumstances very similar to those that are now emerging on St Helena, with the building of an airport attracting outside investors.

In fact, the RSPB’s review has singled St Helena out for praise for the strength of its developing environmental protections, which greatly restrict opportunities for developers to apply undue pressure to obtain Crown land. 

But Clare Stringer’s criticisms of secretive government exactly describe the clandestine decision-making that takes place in the shady confines of the Castle in Jamestown.

Even a member of St Helena’s legislative council, Christina Scipio O’Dean, has reported being repeatedly refused information about government funding for the South Atlantic Media Service. Other legislative councillors have complained at public meetings that they were not told about structural reforms in the government, despite their scrutiny role.

The refusal to meet openly and make vital documents available for scrutiny means that it is impossible to know how much influence is being applied by unelected officials.

In the past, a St Helena Government official has justified the lack of openness on the basis that it was the same in most other territories.

The RSPB’s concerns were echoed by Dr Mike Pienkowski, who was giving evidence to the MPs as chief executive of the UK Overseas Territories Conservation Forum. 

He said: “We are dealing with small communities whose legislative bodies are more on the scale of parish councils, in some cases.

“So it’s really very difficult for them to negotiate or avoid legal but excessive influence by international companies.

“And there are problems with openness and accountability in their systems.”

Dr Colin Copus, Professor of Local Politics at Leicester Business School, said in January that the limited information released about St Helena’s ExCo meetings “may fulfill some element of accountability, but it doesn’t go far.”

He said: “You can only be representative if people know what you are doing. It is just simple and healthy for people to know. It leads to a more informed and engaged citizenry and that is a good thing.”

MP ‘shocked’ by tales of environmental failings
Evidence to UK’s Environmental Audit Select Committee, 17 April 2013
Evidence to UK’s Environmental Audit Select Committee, 17 April 2013

Turks and Caicos Commission of Inquiry report released
An Assessment of Environmental Protection Frameworks in the UK Overseas Territories – RSPB report

New homes add to pollution, says water chief

House-building on high ground in St Helena has contributed to a bad smell in Jamestown, the island’s director of water has reported.

Martin Squibbs was responding to complaints about the condition of water in The Run, the historic water course that runs through Jamestown from Newbridge.

He said: “The water is greenish, which means there is pollution up in the hills. That is combination of low rainfall, dry weather but also growth in the green heartlands.

“People are building houses up there now, and they are putting in septic tanks and so on.

“That’s contributed to higher levels of organic pollution, which is fine – our treatment works can deal with that.

“I have noticed the flows are picking up. That means it is raining in the middle of the island which is really good.”

After the dry spell, paper warns of climate swings

Sharp changes in St Helena’s climate are having an increasing impact on food crops on the island.

The draft agriculture paper, Growing Forward, warns that swings in the weather could have several effects. They include:

  • lower soil fertility
  • more soil erosion
  • a rise in some pests and diseases
  • decline in wildlife habitat
  • poorer water quality

The threat comes from climate variability, meaning short-term changes in weather such as the recent severe dry spell, which led to a hosepipe ban.

The Growing Forward paper says its impact could be greater than climate change, which refers to changes that take place over decades and centuries.

It calls for research on climate swings and their impact, to allow farmers to adapt their systems for raising crops and livestock, as well as improving soil and conserving water.

But it also says they could allow farmers to try “new production and varieties”.

The paper also says farming on St Helena must have minimal negative impact on the local environment – including its human heritage.

It says that good pasture management has actually enhanced habitat for the island’s critically endangered wirebird, though a report for leisure developer Shelco found breeding ground had been lost through poor land control.

A firm policy to deal with invasive species is part of the environmental strategy put forward.

It also says people who lease Crown land must not let it be degraded and must keep invasive weeds at bay – with effective enforcement measures to make sure they do.

Biosecurity also needs to be stepped up to stop unwanted species and diseases coming to the island, backed up by new laws.

Other proposed measures including tighter controls on hazardous chemicals, maintaining field boundaries, improving the appearance of fields and farmyards, identifying wildlife habitats, protecting historic features in the landscape, and training people in eco-friendly farming practice – which could bring financial benefits to the island.