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The St Helena Conference – from Discovery to Discovery

The St Helena Conference
“From discovery to discovery” for one day only – 12 November 2020

A one-day conference ‘From Discovery to Discovery’ brings St Helena based organisations and researchers together to share and exchange knowledge and experience, show casing the diversity of research being conducted on land and sea.

This event which will be held on the 12th November 2020 at the St Helena Community College, Education Learning Centre, Jamestown, This event will mark the first year of operation of the St Helena Research Institute and seeks to celebrate the wide range of studies being undertaken and to highlight the benefits that research is bringing to society and our environment.

The speakers programme will include.

The behind the scenes look at historical research; an investigation into the genomes of Jonathan the Giant Tortoise, the oldest known living land animal, the Island’s honey bee, new discoveries of endemic invertebrates, bone sharks, tropic birds and in shore marine habitat mapping: trials and tribulations of agriculture on the Island, new studies developing control methods for alien invasive invertebrates and vertebrates, tourism marketing, health promotion and teenage well-being.

The event will conclude with an open discussion centred on the question “What is the role of Science, Research & Innovation?”

The conference is open to everyone on St Helena to attend in person.

Unlike other Island conference’s there will be no live coverage on Island or via the internet but presentations will be made available for the local radio and online.

Information about the conference programme and speakers are available on the St Helena Conference website: https://st-helena-conference.com/

Three sites to replace ‘unfit’ prison go before ExCo

Entrance to HMP Jamestown, stone building with blue-painted wooden balcony above barred door
HMP Jamestown dates back to the 1820s and cannot be brought up to modern standards. Picture: John Grimshaw

Three sites near Longwood are being considered for a new prison for St Helena, to replace the “totally unsatisfactory” one in Jamestown.

It comes after former governor Mark Capes was strongly condemned for trying to impose a new prison at Half Tree Hollow, disregarding protests about sex offenders being kept near young families.

The three sites are all at Bottom Woods and all within national conservation areas. The public will be consulted before any site is chosen.

One of the three, next to the meteorological station, is in part of the Millennium Forest where protected trees have been planted. A special licence would be needed to remove them.

Update: on 3 October 2017, executive councillors decided the Millennium Forest site was not suitable for the new prison because of its environmental importance. It agreed to put the two other proposed sites out to public consultation. 

Agricultural land further west of the met station offers more space for a level site, but water and sewage services would need improving. Part of the site is leased to a farmer.

The third site, at the goat pen area, is closer to homes but considered to be far enough away to be safe. Choosing this would mean building a road through precious farmland.

Legislative councillors visited the three sites in August and details were put before the prison project board and LegCo in mid-September.

Now the executive council is advised to approve all three for a public consultation at its meeting on Tuesday, 3 October. Both negative and positive views are expected, says the report to ExCo.

The new prison will need about three acres of land to meet international standards, including space for an outside recreation area. Other factors include security,  human rights, and providing for disable prisoners.

A prison farm could be established at a later stage.

All three sites are in the vicinity of the island’s new sport field, but “can be suitably far away.”

They are also all in the airport development area, but this should not be a problem if the building is no more than two storeys high.

The sites offer enough space to ensure Category B prisoners can be kept secure. A specialist from overseas would have to be brought in to install specialist security systems and doors.

They are close to wirebird and conservation sites, but this is not expected to present problems with planning approval.

The new prison would be close to the airport haul road, which would be used for the 35-minute drive from the police station and court house in Jamestown.

Three other possible prison sites have already been rejected, including one next to the batteries at Ladder Hill Fort, because there are still hopes of creating a five-star hotel there.

The island shooting range was dismissed because it is in a sensitive area for wirebirds, and another site at Bunker’s Hill, overlooking Rupert’s Valley, was ruled out because of cost.

The current building in Jamestown, dating from 1826, has repeatedly been declared unfit by visiting inspectors. Inmates’ human rights cannot be upheld in the cramped conditions.

Funding for a new prison at Sundale House, above Half Tree Hollow, was set aside in 2012. It was expected that inmates would move there by 2015.

When legislative councillors refused to endorse the plan in the face of vigorous public protests, Governor Capes disbanded the council and then waited the maximum three months to hold an election.

The reason for shutting down democracy was revealed in the 2015 Wass Report into governance on the island, which criticised him for disregarding concerns that convicted sex offenders would be allowed out of Sundale to exercise, close to homes.

But Mr Capes told Sasha Wass’s inquiry panel that he needed to address the human rights failings at HMP Jamestown.

He said councillors “had an attitude that prison is meant to be uncomfortable and unpleasant and there are other things to spend money on.”

In 2011, chief of police Peter Coll had repeated warnings about the “unsafe” pre-Victorian building. “Anyone who is under the impression that serving a prison sentence is a soft option is not aware of the conditions,” he said.

The prison had no fire exits, and arrested prisoners had to use toilets in full view of inmates and staff – male and female. Cells became very hot in summer, especially when there were three or four people in a cell – a regular problem.

The new proposals have been made public as part of St Helena Government’s new policy of openness. They are set out in the first set of Executive Council agenda reports ever to be made public, a major step in ending excessive secrecy.

However, the expected costs of the three sites have been blanked out. The report says the UK’s Department for Internation Development would be asked to pay for the new prison.

SEE ALSO: 
Democracy on St Helena: councillors opposed prison move – so ‘Enforcer’ Capes sacked them
Unfit prison ‘will move’ to Half Tree Hollow, says planning chief
‘Unfit’ prison to close by 2015 amid human rights failings

UK recycles £290,000 on South Atlantic rubbish

Britain’s environmental bosses have been rebuked in the past for failing to engage with the UK overseas territories; now they might be criticised for doing so.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has committed £190,000 to increase paper and cardboard recycling on St Helena.

Crudely, that’s a little over £40 per Saint.

It is also spending £99,000 to bring in a waste management strategy on Ascension Island, said minister Therese Coffey in answer to a parliamentary question.

Those who have seen the rubbish tipped over the cliff at Ladder Hill Fort might see this as a good use of funds, especially given the need to tidy up St Helena in readiness for the arrival of flying tourists.

Probably best not to tell the Daily Mail, though: it has a very different idea of “waste”.

(Source: theyworkforyou.com)

More action planned on illegal fishing – minister

The UK government is planning to step up efforts to investigate illegal fishing around St Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha, it has been revealed.

The House of Lords heard that short term patrols and satellite monitoring are already used to track fishing vessels around the islands.

But it appears the islands do not yet benefit from oversight by the UK’s National Maritime Information Centre – set up in 2011 to detect dangers such as sea-borne terrorist threats.

The centre does protect waters around two other overseas territories chosen as Marine Protected Zone – and a third such zone is planned for Ascension, suggesting it may get similar protection.

Lord West of Spithead
Lord West of Spithead

The information was disclosed by foreign minister Baroness Anelay in response to a question by Lord West of Spithead on 3 February 2016.

He asked whether the new agency “is providing comprehensive surface coverage of the exclusive economic zones of dependent territories to ensure wildlife and resource protection; and how those zones are policed, in particular around Tristan da Cunha, Ascension Island and St Helena.”

Baroness Anelay replied that the centre was helping to investigate illegal and unregulated fishing around the British Indian Ocean Territory – meaning the Chagos Islands – and Pitcairn, in the Pacific Ocean.

She said: “Overseas territories are policed in a variety of ways as marine management is a devolved responsibility.

“In St Helena, Ascension and Tristan de Cunha, a variety of surveillance and enforcement measures are deployed, including satellite monitoring, vessel tracking, short term patrols and observer coverage of fishing vessels.

“Potential enhancements to surveillance and enforcement requirements for the UK’s 14 overseas territories are being considered as part of the government’s commitment to create a Blue Belt around these territories.”

The planned Blue Belt of protected waters around all UK overseas territories was announced with great fanfare at a reception at the House of Commons in September 2015.

Conservative MP Zac Goldsmith declared it “the biggest conservation commitment by any government ever.”

 

It includes a plan to create a vast protected zone around Ascension, with only limited sustainable fishing allowed – similar to zones already established or announced round the Chagos and Pitcairn islands.

“Blue belt” marine conservation zones, with lesser protection, are promised for all other territories, including St Helena.

People at the launch event heard how satellite and radar data are being used to detect fishing vessels by tracking the pattern of their movements.

The technique is described in a news report on the website of the Blue and Green Tomorrow campaign group.

It says: “Analysts can track declared fishing vessels and monitor the behaviour of undeclared ones.

“Container ships and cruise liners tend to go in straight lines. Fishing vessels tend to hover where there are fish. If a ship exhibits suspicious behaviour the relevant authority can be notified.”

The site says: “Industrial fishing ships can stay at sea for months refuelling and offloading stock mid-ocean. A quarter of all fishing is illegal. But the world’s oceans are a notoriously difficult place to monitor and protect.”

Lord West is a former Royal Navy officer who rose to become First Sea Lord and later Chief of Defence Intelligence.

He is also chairman of Spearfish, a company the helps clients “manage physical security risks – both on land and at sea.”

His listed interests include defence and the environment, and overseas territories in the South Atlantic.

Read more:
Biggest ever conservation commitment: UK overseas territories’ Blue Belt

(Original image of Lord West from Wikimedia Commons)

Bride Wendy has her flower on her cake – and eats it

Campbell-Wendy by window wide 660
Kew for a wedding: Campbell and Wendy

The St Helena ebony, rescued from extinction by Charlie Benjamin, has found a place in UK national ceremonial – and on his daughter’s wedding cake. Simon Pipe of St Helena Online was honoured to give a speech telling Charlie’s story.

Wendy Benjamin would have liked to have living ebony flowers at her wedding to Campbell Duncan. But they’re classed as critically endangered, and it just wasn’t going to happen.

wendy cake 350
Mary Benjamin decorated the wedding cake with icing ebonies

No matter. She had them on their cake instead, crafted in icing by her aunt Mary – Charlie Benjamin’s sister.

It was given pride of place in the fine Cotswold barn where more than 150 people, mostly Saints, gathered to celebrate both the wedding, and Charlie’s unique role in St Helena’s natural history.

Most guests knew of George Benjamin BEM, the man who spotted two surviving ebony plants growing on a treacherous cliff.

Fewer knew how his brother Charlie risked his life to climb down and take cuttings from those surviving plants.

Campbell-Wendy wedding dance 300x250
Campbell and Wendy led the dancing

His brave act spurred a conservation effort that has brought St Helena international recognition.

Charlie did not live to give away his daughter. He died in 2007. It was Wendy’s son, Bronwyn Joshua, who took that role in the marriage at Kew Gardens, where ebonies grow today.

But through the telling of his story, Charlie could be part of the occasion.

Wedding guests were told of the ceremony that had taken place earlier in the day on St Helena, to name the site of Charlie’s brave act in his honour.

But his climb had left another legacy in UK ceremonial, they heard.

Wendy and good luck sign 300x200
Wendy’s wedding day was doubly special

“At about this time of year, you might also see the ebony on national television” they were told. “Because here’s a coincidence: Charlie’s climb was made on the 13th of November, 1980. But Georgie actually spotted the plant on the 11th of November – the anniversary of the ending of the First World War.

“On Remembrance Sunday, the nation’s leaders mark that event by laying wreaths of poppies at the Cenotaph in London. But the Foreign Secretary lays a wreath that’s crafted at Kew, made up of plants from the UK’s overseas territories, including – very often – the St Helena ebony.

“There can be no finer tribute for Charlie Benjamin than that.

“But he has one other legacy, in his children, and their children, and as of now, his new son-on-law. And if he were with us today, he might well say that was the legacy that gave him the most joy.”

SEE ALSO: 35 years on, ebony hero Charlie gets his name on the map

Elected members get tough on tossers (of litter…)

The Honourable NIGEL DOLLERY is no mere tosser of throw-away insults when it comes to litter. He used plain English to give his response after legislative councillors voted to review St Helena’s anti-littering laws, and enforce them. These were the actual words of his adjournment debate speech (slightly edited). 

I recently had an interesting experience. I was sat on a step, looking across the road. I saw about four or five pieces of litter – bottles and cans. They were about 15 foot from a rubbish bin. I then went into Grumpy Old Man mode.

The idle tossers could not be bothered to clean up behind themselves.

For those who might have doubts about the use of the word “tosser”, according to the Concise Oxford English Dictionary, it means a contemptible person. Contempt is feeling that someone is worthless or beneath consideration: a bit harsh, but I am happy with it.

Tosser seems a reasonable word for a person who tosses their litter in the expectation that another will clear up behind them. Why did they not put their litter in the bin?

I then went into adult mode. There is some litter: some drunk or thoughtless or uncaring person left it there but I could sort it out. I walked over, put it in the bin. I showed myself not to be a tosser so was content.

I do not need to boast further, but I will. I stopped between Model Cottage and the stables to pick up an abandoned pizza box.

So what? Well, I saw a comment in the paper about how councillors should take a lead on our very real littler problem. I then saw the light. All it takes is all of us who are not tossers and who care about our island to pick up any litter we see and put it in the nearest bin.

I believe the Honourable Speaker already does this, leading by example. This would be a real start in getting rid of the litter left by the tossers. It would make a difference. Not an enormous one but it would be a start.

Do not do what I did the first time round, which is to be grumpy and blame anyone I could.

Do not try and shift the responsibility on to any group: parents, teens, drunks, prisoners, the uncaring, St Helena Government and its officials, or our the councillors. I dealt with the bit I saw and will always try to adopt that approach.

What this approach means is that any real blighted areas will start to stand out. Then there is something to investigate and deal with, only using the law if necessary.

So do not be a tosser. Pick up rubbish when you see it. Thank you.

  • In his closing speech to the adjournment debate, chief secretary Roy Burke said that he personally was not a… what the councillor said. “I have great sympathy with the Honourable Nigel Dollery’s problem,” he said. “I live very close to him and quite often pick up litter myself, so I am not one of those people he referred to earlier… without using the word.”

More tea plants, anyone? ‘Lost’ endemics found near airport site

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA forgotten strand of St Helena’s unique tea plant has been rediscovered below Longwood, it has been reported.

The bushes found in Fisher’s Valley are much larger than any other known specimens on the island, some reaching 1.5 metres in height.

It is believed that their existence was known to George Benjamin, the man who discovered the “extinct” St Helena ebony. But no record of it was ever made.

Click the pic for a larger image
Tea plant flowers in Fisher’s Valley: click for a larger image

The plants were spotted by members of the Landscape and Ecology Mitigation Programme (LEMP), set up to address possible harm to the environment from the island’s airport construction work.

A government press release says: “This handsome tea plant population is not mentioned in any of the current literary sources or species records, and no seed is known to have been collected from it before now.

“For the wider conservation community this population has thus been effectively re-discovered.”

The St Helena tea plant (Frankenia portulacifolia) is a dry land endemic, with petite white flowers, tiny leaves and delicate branches. It is listed as vulnerable on the international Red List of threatened species, but its status is under review.

“The inclusion of this population in island records is extremely important,” says the release. 

Tea plant populations are known in the dry coastal areas in both south-west and north-east St Helena.

Ecologist Mikko Paajanen said: “The tea plant population at Prosperous Bay Plain has naturally been affected by airport construction activities so it is very positive to see this little known population in Fisher’s Valley doing so well.”

Seeds from six of the plants are already germinating in the project nursery at Half Tree Hollow. Plants grown from them will be used in restoration of the environment. 

SEE ALSO: 
St Helena tops the league table for unique species
St Helena: a ‘life raft’ for unique species
Flowers come out as ‘rarest tree’ beats extinction
Island’s large bellflower ‘could be lost’ to genetic mix-up
The Saint who risked all to rescue a plant
George Benjamin: the man who saved the St Helena ebony

Sea power brings hope of turtles hatching on St Helena

Turtle tracks were spotted in Sandy Bay by Larry Thomas
Turtle tracks were spotted in Sandy Bay by Larry Thomas – who took this picture

The waves that pound against Sandy Bay Beach may have made it possible for green turtle eggs to hatch naturally on St Helena for the first time in decades.

A nest has been discovered where the sea has washed away old fortifications that were causing erosion of the beach. The find was made by Larry “Nails” Thomas.

Nests were also found in 2006 and 2011, but only a single hatchling was raised – in an artificial nest.

A 2015 turtle's nest, Sandy Bay. Picture by Larry Thomas
A 2015 turtle’s nest, Sandy Bay. Picture by Larry Thomas

Marine conservationist Elizabeth Clingham said her team at the island’s environment department were “super excited” by the discovery of the new nest.

“The beach seems far better suited to nesting,” she said. “And the turtles have nested early enough in the year that the temperatures on the island will support successful nesting.”

She said the same turtles might have been responsible for the earlier nesting attempts.

“I think that that this is possibly a turtle or turtles that hatched here 30-plus years ago, as they do nest every two to five years,” she said.

“Larry Thomas (Nails) made the initial discovery and contacted the marine section.  We responded and confirmed nesting status.”

turtle hatchling 2011They found clear tracks and disturbance in the sand showing where eggs had been buried.

Elizabeth said: “Residents of Sandy Bay talk of turtles nesting at on the beach in the Seventies near the lime kiln.

“The last recorded green turtle nesting attempts on St Helena were in April 2006 and April 2011.

“In 2006, as far we know, two turtles came ashore on Sandy Bay beach and laid eggs. One clutch of eggs was completely exposed; the other clutch were retrieved and placed into an artificial nest on the beach.”

“In 2011 there was significant evidence of turtle nesting activity on Sandy Bay beach again.”

Several “false” nests were found in 2011, the result of “desperate” attempts to find somewhere to lay eggs. One turtle was even photographed on the beach. But she was unable to reach a suitable nesting spot above sea level because of boulders used as a sea defence.

Sandy Bay in 1959 - with cannon on the beach. The wall in the foreground was washed away, allow the beach to regenerate
Sandy Bay in 1959 – with cannon on the beach. The wall in the foreground was washed away, allowing the beach to regenerate. Click the pic for a larger image

Two nests were destroyed by heavy seas but the eggs from a third were taken to an incubator inland, where they were carefully monitored under the guidance of expert Sam Weber, of Exeter University in the UK.

A single hatchling, named Joe, was the only survivor. On the evening of 26 September 2011 he was returned to the spot where his mother had laid her eggs months before.

Marine section staff stood by as little Joe – only six centimetres long – was encouraged to “walk” the few metres to the water, before the remnants of a wave dragged him into the sea.

The onlookers knew the hatchling’s chances of survival were slim.

But Elizabeth said conditions on the beach had now greatly improved – thanks to the forces of nature.

“An old fortification wall had caused the beach to erode away,” she said. “Over time the sea has demolished this wall, and the beach has regenerated quite significantly since 2008, after a major flood washed debris to the beach area.

“I am still concerned that the beach is still not ideal; however, it is better than it has ever been before in recent history.”

Read more from 2011: 
Turtles ‘desperate to nest’ – May 2011
Artificial nests made – including picture of green turtle on Sandy Bay Beach
Eggs destroyed by sea
Turtles hatch – first picture
St Helena’s first artificially incubated turtle released at Sandy Bay (St Helena Herald)

Green turtles ‘attempting to nest on St Helena’

Green turtles have been attempting to nest on St Helena, the island’s marine conservation section has reported.

Part of Sandy Bay Beach is to be closed off while the conservation team finds out the state of the nests discovered.

A statement from St Helena Government did not say how or when the discovery was made, or by whom.

People are advised not to allow pets on to the beach or to use torches and flashlights at night to try to spot turtles, in case it deters any from nesting.

Visitors who see a turtle are asked to contact the marine conservation section by telephone (22270) or by emailing marine@enrd.gov.sh – but with no mobile phone coverage on the island, any call may come too late for an actual sighting to be confirmed.

Ascension is famed for its green turtle nesting season, but nests on St Helena – 700 miles away – would be a cause for great excitement. Turtles are seen in the waters close to the island.

Green turtles next on sandy marine beaches – though the “beach” at Sandy Bay is made up of very harsh sand. They lay an average of six clutches of 120 eggs within a nesting season, at intervals of three or four years.

Hatchlings emerge 45 – 60 days after nesting, normally at night, and disperse rapidly into the open ocean.

Any green turtles nesting at St Helena are likely to spend much of their year foraging along a 6,000 km stretch of coastline from northern Argentina to northern Brazil.

Green turtles are protected under island and international agreements.

They are listed on the Schedule of the Endangered Species Protection Ordinance, 1996, which forbids anyone from endangering their welfare, killing or capturing them, or taking their eggs.

Net saving? Ascension no-fishing zone could cost £3m – or not

Creating one of the world’s biggest marine protection zones around Ascension Island could cost the UK about £3 million a year – at a Conservative estimate.

The conservationist estimate, on the other hand, is only £400,000 a year.

12 The Great WetropolisClick the pic to see a gallery of Ascension marine life

Celebrities and academics have joined with conservation groups in calling on the British government to create three massive maritime “parks” in the Atlantic and South Pacific, with a complete ban on commercial fishing.

The Tory Foreign Minister Hugo Swire has said the likely cost of full enforcement could be judged from the £2.75m spent each year patrolling a reserve in the Indian Ocean.

Policing the seas was even more expensive around South Georgia, “where a patrol vessel alone costs approximately £3.2m per year,” he said in a Commons Written Answer on 9 February 2015.

But the environment writer Charles Clover has put the cost at a mere £400,000 a year, according to The Guardian website.

Thanks to satellite technology, it would not be necessary to have a patrol boat out searching vast areas of ocean for pirate fishing vessels, he told the site.

The Guardian also reported that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office had begun discussions with people on Ascension about creating a reserve.

It understood that “indigenous” fishing would be allowed up to 18 miles offshore. That may not reassure keen sport fishermen on Ascension, which officially has no permanent or “indigenous” population.

The Blue Marine Foundation has spear-headed a campaign to have three marine reserves created around Ascension, the Southern Atlantic territory of South Georgia and the South Sandwich islands, and the Pitcairn Islands in the South Pacific.

It says they would protect 1.75 million square kilometres of ocean – expanding the total area of ocean reserves by 50 per cent.

The foundation describes Ascension’s warm waters as “a green turtle Mecca and one of the last remaining hotspots for Atlantic megafauna such as tuna, marlin and shark.”

A campaign letter has been signed by 42 conservation bodies, including Birdlife International, the RSPB, Greenpeace UK, the Zoological Society of London, and the less-well-known Fin Fighters UK and Fish Fight.

The actresses Greta Scacchi, Dame Helena Bonham Cater, Julie Christie and Zoe Wanamaker have added their names to those of leading scientists and environmental figures in the letter to the UK government.

The foundation said in a statement: “More than 94 per cent of the UK’s biodiversity is found in its overseas territories.

“Rare whales, turtles, fish, penguins, corals and albatrosses are among the wildlife that would benefit if the reserves were to be set up.”

SEE ALSO:
Ascension’s underwater wonders revealed
UK ‘doesn’t even know’ about eco threats, say MPs
St Helena tops the league table for unique species
Blue Marine Foundation – press release
Conservationists call for UK to create world’s largest marine reserve – The Guardian
Cost of patrolling Ascension reserve – Commons Written Answer

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