Part of St Helena’s Norman Williams Nature Reserve could be leased to a private bidder, along with the ruined White’s Cottage.
St Helena Government said that granting a lease might lead to restoration of the house, and renewed work on endemic plants in the surrounding woodland.
Fears had arisen over a suspected “sell-off”, because the reserve had been set up with funding from the WWF (previously the World Wildlife Fund).
St Helena Online was sent copies of a number of emails, in an attempt to learn what was happening to the site.
Concern was expressed that land bought with charitable funds – and within a national park – might be sold to a private buyer before the public knew anything about it.
Further questions may be asked about how government property is offered for sale or lease, and whether it should be promoted on the open market.
It is understood that two people had expressed interested in taking on the shell of White’s Cottage, although one of those may now have withdrawn.
St Helena Government has sent the following response to questions about the discussions:
“The property comprises 17-plus acres and a request to lease is being considered for the cottage and approximately one acre of land, primarily to enable the building to be restored to its former glory – and likely provide additional support for managing the endemics.
“The property is owned and recorded in the island Land Registry as Crown.
“It was bought by St Helena Government in 1989 through funding from WWF, with the intention to create a nature reserve in the form of a recreational and educational facility, where soil conservation and habitat restoration techniques could be demonstrated – whilst at the same time catering for the increasing demand for rural based recreation activities (picnicking, walking, camping etc).
“The land is not held in trust – the purpose of acquiring the property was to plant endemic trees and to further the efforts to conserve St Helena’s unique flora and fauna.
“Whites Cottage, an early settlers’ cottage, was part of the envisaged reserve but never attracted funding for even its basic restoration, even though proposals were submitted.
“Indigenous and exotic vegetation was introduced to the site through a formal planting scheme and the boundary was demarcated through fencing. The site was then opened in 1990 and named after the forestry officer, Norman Williams, in honour of his 38 years of service to the then Agriculture & Forestry Department.
“Progress with establishing the planting scheme was steady and some of the species tried were able to become established.
“However, over the last 10 years little further work has been able to be undertaken through government conservation at this remote location, as species conservation and habitat restoration priorities and limited resources have moved to more strategically important sites on the island, such as Diana’s and High Peaks, and Blue Point.
“As a result, the reserve is in poor condition and over the years the building has turned into more or less ruin.
“Key parts of the reserve are expected to be retained by government, and a lease might be granted for the house and a small piece of adjoining land.
“Interest in the building in the short term could well serve to be a catalyst for renewed conservation efforts for the reserve through a combination of private investment in the building as well as a collaborative initiative by the community, young people’s organisations, St Helena National Conservation Group, and government.”