St Helena Online

Tag: invertebrates

Lost chance to save the giant earwig: they got there too soon

Labidura herculeana - picture courtesy of the Royal Museum of Central Africa in Belgium. Click to see a larger image
Labidura herculeana – picture courtesy of the Royal Museum of Central Africa in Belgium. Click to see a larger image

If only things had been different back in the 1960s, Dave Clarke of London Zoo might now know what it was like to have a three-inch-long earwig wriggling in his hands.

But they weren’t, and half a century on, the St Helena Giant Earwig looks set to be declared extinct. Not that Dave is giving up hope completely.

He led an expedition to the island in 1988, hoping to find live specimens for a captive breeding programme to save the species. It appears they got there too late.

Dave Clarke looked for giant earwigs in the 80s
Dave Clarke looked for giant earwigs in the 80s

The tragedy was that a team from Belgium found live specimens in the 1960s, but the idea of captive breeding just hadn’t taken hold yet. In effect, they had got there too early.

“It is a massive frustration,” admits Dave, team leader of the Bugs and Butterflies exhibits for the Zoological Society of London.

“The last time they had been properly seen was in the 1960s – the Belgian expeditions,” says Dave.

“They made an assessment of live specimens but they weren’t properly seen since, though there was a report of them being seen in 1967.

“Back in the 50s and 60s it wasn’t such a high consideration to be looking at conservation breeding. It is much more an initial consideration these days.”

To be fair, even London Zoo didn’t start doing it until the 1980s. Now it can have the main population of a threatened species in a single room. “You can do a lot in a small space,” says Dave. “It’s not quite as expensive as trying to save tigers.”

Earwig hunters travelled from the Royal Museum of Central Africa
Earwig hunters travelled from the Royal Museum of Central Africa

Even with invertebrates, though, funding is a problem – including on St Helena. And even if the Belgians had taken live specimens of Labidura herculeana back to the Royal Museum for Central Africa, they may not have survived.

It has since been tried with another of St Helena’s more “charismatic” invertebrates – unsuccessfully.

“There’s only a limited amount you can do with captive breeding, even with invertebrates,” says Dave. “Many species are reliant on habitats which are difficult to replicate in captivity.

“A current example is the St Helena Spiky Yellow Woodlouse, which is only found on The Peaks. That is probably a population of a hundred, but we wouldn’t want to take animals out of the wild for captive breeding because we simply don’t know the best way to keep them in captivity.

“We have tried once before, but none survived.”

Sadly, no members of the Belgian expeditions are thought to be alive either, so they cannot be asked about their adventure. The Africa museum kindly supplied pictures of the giant earwig in their collection, but could find none of the expedition itself.

Their findings were included in a 1980 book on the island’s natural riches.

Extract from a 1980 book describing the giant earwig, by Alan Brindle
Extract from a 1980 book describing the giant earwig, by Alan Brindle

When Dave Clarke led the Operation Hercules expedition to St Helena in 1988, the giant earwig was already listed as threatened and potentially extinct. But there were grounds for hope.

“We knew that the chances were slim,” says Dave.

“Knowing that specimens of the forceps were being found we thought there may be a chance, especially with the recent efforts to recreate some of the habitats with the planting of gumwoods on the side of Horse Point Plain.

“We thought, if there was a remnant population there was a chance they could improve and hang on and do better given the habitat protection that was going on.”

The Dodo of the Dermaptera, as it has been nicknamed, was always elusive. The Belgium team had described now the earwigs lived under rocks, and would quickly retreat into deep fissures in the soil.

“It was just physical searching and setting up pitfall traps, because we were also looking for the endemic ground beetle. Unfortunately we weren’t finding any of those either.

“We did come across some of the pincers of the earwig but we weren’t able to tell how recently they were alive. They did look quite fresh, although may have been decades old.”

At the time, there was little understanding of the global significance of St Helena’s invertebrates. In 2014 the island was declared to have more endemic species of them, per square mile of land, than the Galapagos Islands.

London Zoo saw its importance, sending a second expedition in 1993. “We did quite a lot of publicity, including going on the Wogan programme, which was one of the biggest TV slots in the UK.

“We ran a symposium in London – St Helena Natural Treasury. That did stimulate more interest.

“The giant earwig was very much a flagship for endemic invertebrates, and something that would capture the general public’s imagination, having an earwig over three inches long.”

Even the most glamorous of St Helena’s invertebrates are no match for the marine iguanas of the Galapagos in terms of public appeal, admits Dave. “But they can be flagships for protecting the habitat, which has a knock-on for other species.

“That is being done on The Peaks. But it’s a slow process.”

Dave supported the recent idea of choosing a new national flower in place of the arum lily – a beautiful but invasive alien species. It makes a poor symbol for St Helena’s efforts to protect the endemic plants that are unique to St Helena.

“St Helena has suffered more than most from introductions having a negative effect on the native flora and fauna,” he says. “So I would support it being an endemic.”

And what about a national invertebrate?

“I hadn’t thought about that. Certainly highest in our mind is the spiky yellow woodlouse, because it does still exist. We might have considered the giant earwig before but I think we are too late.

“It will be 50 years next year since the last definitive living specimens were collected. But we never know: it might still reappear.

“A species of snail from the Seychelles was declared extinct in 2007 but was found this year, alive.

“Maybe there are some earwigs clinging on there somewhere. But they will only survive if we reinstate those habitats.”

  • Dave had strong praise for his namesake Dave Pryce, who has been assessing the state of St Helena’s 400-or-so endemic invertebrates for the Bugs on the Brink project – and who warned that he expected to submit a formal proposal to declare the giant earwig extinct. But there were concerns about whether there would be enough funding for him to continue his work on the island, especially his efforts to conserve the spiky yellow woodlouse.

SEE ALSO: Rare island woodlouse ‘is just hanging on’

Oh no, earwig go…

Takeshi Yamada, a collector of strange creatures, is the proud owner of what appears to be a St Helena giant earwig – a specimen made more valuable by last week’s news that the species is likely to be officially declared extinct.

But it doesn’t deceive Dr Roger Key, who visited St Helena in 2013 as part of the Bugs on the Brink project.

He has posted a picture of the creature on the internet, with the following caption:

“Don’t be fooled! This a clever fake, produced by Takeshi Yamada. As far as I can gather it is the head of a longhorn beetle, various bits of probably two cockroaches (the thorax, abdomen and wings) and the ‘pincers’ are probably jaws from a large beetle or dobsonfly.”

Mr Takeshi is no fraud. He is an artist who creates fantastical creatures, including a vast sea monster, using his skills as a taxidermist.

Click here to see the picture.

SEE ALSO: Rare island woodlouse is ‘just hanging on’, says expert

Marine teacher Beverley brings an expert in her wake

Teacher Beverley Tyson will be bringing an added extra when she turns up on St Helena: a husband who’s got the bug for museums.

Beverly is arriving in August to start work as an education officer, setting up a marine science programme to help make the most of the island’s extraordinary environment.

And husband Paul comes with his expertise as curator of the aquarium and the bug house at Liverpool’s World Museum.

Their local paper, the Rhyl, Prestatyn and Abergele Observer, says Paul might help out with some of Beverley’s marine science modules.

But when word of his museum work gets out, he might well be asked to get involved with work to protect St Helena’s multitude of endemic invertebrates.

Its 400-or-so unique species make it richer than the Galapagos Islands when it comes to bug life.

The newspaper reports that the couple will arrive on the island with sons Oliver, six, and Charlie, three.

Beverley told the paper: “I’m thrilled, as well as slightly blown away that I’ve landed my absolute dream job.”

SEE ALSO:
Family’s adventure trip to remote island – Rhyl Observer
St Helena tops the league table for unique species

Lost leaf hopper pops up for the first time in 137 years

St Helena's endemic leaf hopper, pictured on a whitewood leaf by Lourens Malan
St Helena’s endemic leaf hopper, pictured on a whitewood leaf by Lourens Malan

Bug experts have been astonished by the rediscovery of one of St Helena’s smallest creatures. Conservation officer Lourens Malan was lucky to spot the missing leaf hopper on his day off: it’s only three millimetres long. 

by St Helena Government writer

St Helena is a small island, but it is still possible to lose things. Just occasionally, however, they turn up again.

The 3mm-long leaf hopper Chlorita edithae was described from eight specimens collected by Vernon Wollaston during his visit to the island in 1875 and it hasn’t been seen since – until now.

On the 1 April 2013 bank holiday, while exploring tiny fragments of remaining natural vegetation above Wranghams on the high central ridge of the island, Lourens Malan noticed a few brightly-coloured leaf hoppers.

Quickly grabbing his camera, he managed to get several photographs of them. He later showed these to David Pryce, invertebrate conservation co-ordinator at the St Helena National Trust, who nearly fell off his chair – it hadn’t been seen for 137 years.

This major discovery is all the more important as the hopper was found on the endangered endemic Whitewood Tree, of which there were only 80 surviving in 1995.

Active conservation work on the Island has helped safeguard this species for the immediate future.

Most of the new stock has been grown from seedlings collected from the wild, and then grown on in more accessible areas where they could be tended and monitored.

As the plants collected were small it is less likely that they will provide habitat for the creatures associated with them.

Many of these insects are very poor at dispersing, which also restricts their ability to form new colonies.

Discoveries like this mean that steps can be taken to conserve these species as well as their plant hosts.

The isolated island of three Whitewood Trees where the hopper was found is in a sea of invasive New Zealand Flax.

This shows how rare invertebrates can persist for long periods in very low populations.

It is hoped that future work by the National Trust and the government’s environment staff will uncover more of these isolated pockets.

The UK’s Buglife charity is supporting the work, through a three-year project funded by the British government’s Darwin Initiative.

Their health will be assessed by looking at the diversity of their invertebrate populations. Conservationists hope more discoveries – and rediscoveries – will be made.

Tara Pelembe, Head of the environment division, said: “We are very excited about this find.

“Our rarest plants and animals exist in tiny pockets of native habitats. These unique habitats need to be safeguarded.

We are very pleased to be working in partnership with the National Trust and Buglife on a much-needed Darwin invertebrate project, which will help us to better understand the invertebrate species and habitats that exist on this unique island.”

Lourens Malan is a terrestrial conservation officer in the Environment Management Division of St Helena Government.

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.

St Helena ‘will disappear’ as seas rise, warns Guardian reader

James Valley, as it might be if sea levels rose 300 metres
James Valley as it might look if sea levels rose. Picture: Johnny Clingham

Boots on, everyone: it’s approaching high tide in Half Tree Hollow. Or so one reader of The Guardian website thinks.

An article praising St Helena’s airport has triggered a bewildering online debate, with one troubled contributor claiming it could make the island sink beneath the waves.

The brief opinion piece on www.guardian.co.uk suggests that Napoleon could have done with an airport during his exile on the island.

It’s not clear what the Emperor of Longwood might have done with it, given that aeroplanes hadn’t been invented in 1815.

But several readers complain that air travel to St Helena will add to global pollution – with dire consequences for Jamestown. A reader called bytzer warns:

“With even more emissions of greenhouse gasses, islands like St Helena will disappear as the polar ice melts and sea levels rise.”

Another reader, PetetheTree – who’s actually been to St Helena – points out that this is unlikely to happen. Most of Europe would be swallowed up before the water lapped at the top step of Jacob’s Ladder.

Reader comment: If we have many more airports( Pay attention Boz) and a subsequent increase in air transport with even more emissions of greenhouse gasses, islands like St Helena will disappear as the polar ice melts and sea levels rise.

Response to bytzer, 17 August 2012 12:44PM Are the sea levels going to rise over 800m?The Guardian piece does acknowledge environment issues: “It must at least be possible,” it says, “to have modern communications without concreting over the flora and fauna whose diversity astonished Darwin.”

Millions of tonnes of concrete are to be poured all over the last known refuge of the St Helena earwig – which may or may not be extinct – but it isn’t the threat to a host of unique invertebrates that has got Guardian readers fired up.

Some worry about the US Air Force taking over the island. And Sludge asks, “Does this mean Argentina will claim it?”.

Others see the airport as a sop to Lord Ashcroft, who once flew over St Helena in his private jet and promised to support the case for air access. A writer calling himself theonionmurders says:

“Surely the Tories are building this simply to allow Ashcroft’s private jet to refuel on its way to the UK so he can vote in crucial Lords debates.

“Why no mention of this obvious bondoogle simply to satisfy the whims of a Tory grandee?”

A bondoogle is a card trick, but the writer may actually have meant to write “boondoggle”, which is “a scheme that wastes time and money”.

Note: The airport is costing around £250 million in its first ten years. Lord Ashcroft’s donation to the Conservative Party was £10 million.

Screen grab of reader comment that reads: The St Helena budget is heavily supported by the UK's Department for International Development. Every year they send someone there to check the books and that they are getting value for money. Staff compete to get the assignment as it takes so long to get there and equally long to get back but the actual task in hand is very straightforward and easy so it's just like a long holiday. It will all change when the airport opens. No-one will want the long flight in economy class.

Thumbjack asks:

“I wonder if this will spell doom for the weekly Cape-Town-St Helena-Ascension-Falmouth run of RMS St Helena, a relic of a once-healthy mail boat industry. But I’ve just checked and I see they no longer include Falmouth (when did that happen?).”

Er, never. Avonmouth, Cardiff or Portland, maybe – but even the legendary Falmouth Packet mail boats couldn’t have done the Cape-to-Cornwall run in a week.

One writer voices concern that aircraft could affect migrating birds on St Helena, possibly confusing it with another St Helena off Australia – or maybe muddling migratory birds with migratory workers.

Michael Moore, who once wrote a poem for the BBC about St Helena, called No Island Is An Island, doesn’t give a flying wotsit.

“Migrating birds? All they ever do is come over here, take the jobs of indigenous birds and live off state benefits.

“Besides, the only flying things of importance in a modern, thrusting, global economy are the ones whose fossil fuel consumption is helping destroy the planet.”

Another writer also criticises the Guardian for ignoring environmental concerns.

MiskatonicUniversity – for it is he – says it shows that “tackling global warming is as live an issue as witches blighting crops by stirring their tea backwards.”

Screen grab of reader comment: Mental image: the first flight touches down at St. Helena airport in 2016. It is a British Airways 747-800, the "Pride of the Skies". Local people are gathered around to witness their island's leap into modernity. The rear door opens. Who will be the first guest to tread on St Helena soil after arriving by air? The Queen? Prince William? A sporting personality? No its ... it's ... is that singing? Yes, folks, the entire plane of corpsy-grey Brits is conga-ing down the steps going "Let's all 'ave a disco, ra ra ra ra!"

  • An article on the BBC News website reports that Saints are divided over whether St Helena should have an airport. An unnamed islander doubts whether Saints will reap the rewards: “We will probably end up cleaning toilets.” Read it here.

SEE ALSO:
Touchdown on St Helena… hang on, who’s flying this plane?

LINKS:
In praise of… St Helena’s Airport – www.guardian.co.uk
Island ‘at risk’ without an airport – BBC News, by Simon Pipe

What the nurse said to the governor: Andrew Gurr looks back

When Andrew Gurr arrived on St Helena in 2007 as the first governor to be appointed through open competition, he found an island civil service that was financially adrift. It needed to undergo surgery – and so, later on, did Mr Gurr himself. In the fourth and final extract of an address to the Friends of St Helena, he reflects on changes made in his four years living in the governor’s mansion, and on some of the possibilities for the future – including a boarding school for rich South Africans, and even a space station. 

See also parts one, two and three.

On government accounting

During my time we made some important changes. The accounting system was really pretty awful: good, old-fashioned Victorian accounting. Cash accounting – penny in, penny out. No concept of time in the management of money throughout the whole civil service.

And over the last four years we put in accrual accounting.

[St Helena Online note: cash accounting records transactions only when money actually comes in or goes out. But many deals – including DfID funding – involve payments in the future. Accrual accounting includes these future payments (in and out) to give a better picture of finances. It is complex and costly to set up, but is used by nearly all but the smallest businesses].

The Foreign Office said it was not worth doing, but then, they said that in the Falklands but we did it in the Falklands and it undoubtedly was worth doing. It improves your management of funds and it means people begin to develop an awareness of the value of money over time, which is very very significant if you are going to manage it.

On media

We put in place a plan for re-aligning the media. That’s still going on, isn’t it?

The silly situation was we had two media organisations and the government was funding both, and it really wasn’t necessary.

Okay, we weren’t funding the Independent to the same extent we were funding the Herald, but councillors were getting increasingly restless, as indeed DfID was, about the fact that the two papers were so similar – and the two radio stations were so similar.

So that, I think, has been dealt with.

[St Helena Online note: Mike Olsson, who oversees both the St Helena Independent and Saint FM radio station, insists that the newspaper received no subsidy, though some content was directly funded. The St Helena Herald closed in March and was replaced in the same month by the government-funded Sentinel, which – unlike the Herald – was allowed to compete with the privately-owned Independent for advertising. Since Mr Gurr gave his talk, Mike Olsson has applied to run further radio stations in competition with three being set up by the St Helena Broadcasting Corporation, which publishes The Sentinel].

On advisers’ reports

Reports are difficult, because a consultant can come and make recommendations and then we will say to DfID, “Okay, let’s have the money to put this into practice.” “Oh, we haven’t got the money.”

About half of them, I would say, you cannot take forward because you haven’t got the resources to take forward what the consultant might be recommending, or you have to wait to do it.

And as I said when I talked about consultants, some are excellent, some aren’t. The ones who succeed are normally the ones you work with, so they leave behind people who have inculcated what they are saying and carry it forward. We don’t do enough about that: it’s a kind of, “the report is for DfID, not for St Helena” type of attitude.

It’s not a perfect situation, by any means.

On new economic opportunities

There are some very good ideas that have been around.

One, I think, is education: boarding schools for South African kids. A lot of people would like an English education for their children – people who live in South Africa. It would bring in staff, it would bring in activies, and that would be very good.

[There could be] all sorts of academic things – a marine laboratory, like what the Norwegians did with Spitzbergen, a coal mining island in the Arctic. It has become such a centre of excellence that it pays for itself.

On everyone knowing everyone… and what the nurse said to Mr Gurr

There are many things that St Helena is a good research environment for.

Not least is this non-anonymity thing. It astonishes me. People, when my grandfather was alive, if they had been to the next village they would stand in the village hall and tell everbody about it. It would be a big deal. It’s like that in St Helena still.

That lack of anonymity impacts on the police service, on the medical service. The nurse tending your bed when you’re sitting there in pain: you know her and you know her children and you know her way of life, and she knows you.

I went in for a rather nasty exploratory operation and the nurse said to me: “Don’t you worry, I see everything and I see nothing.” [laughter] I thought, that’s nice.

On Ascension as a space centre

An idea I touted round is Ascension as a space centre. If you are going to take off from a runway to get into space, which will happen, you have got to be near the equator because you have a better launch speed and it’s cheaper to get into orbit from the equator. And you have got to be somewhere that’s secure.

It seemed to me [Ascension is] the place where the West has the longest runway in the Southern Hemisphere, and it’s near the equator.

On exploiting isolation

St Helena has always paid its way when its isolation and position is worth something to somebody. Unless you major on that isolation as being the thing that is going to deliver, you are copying somewhere else that can do it cheaper. So you are looking for things that have that special characteristic.

On Plantation House

It’s iconic, isn’t it, Plantation?

I was looking at a country house and thought, “I wish I lived in a house like that – and I did! I had so much junk I could fill every room. I would say, “Do I mind living all by myself in a big house?” And I didn’t: it was really quite easy.

Having staff was a new experience for us. It’s not that easy. Suddenly the house isn’t just yours: there are people who think it’s theirs too. It’s their workplace and you have to take that into account every day.

The kitchen was a disgrace in my view – a health risk – and we had it refurbished into a modern kitchen.

On the late Bobby Robertson, councillor and fund-raiser

One of the great privileges of being governor is the entertaining. We had a dinner for Bobby Robertson and Dulcie on their 60th wedding anniversary and do you know, Bobby never said a word against me in council after that. It was one of the shrewdest dinners I ever gave.

On the late Sharon Wainwright
[Sharon was air access co-ordinator for St Helena; she died suddenly while in London, helping press the case for an airport, in August 2011]

She was a wonderful person to work with. I had a weekly chat with her: she was a great communicator and a very good man manager. She ran what she did well, she got things done – a priceless individual, sadly missed.

On the Friends of St Helena

Those people need the support here that you give them. They are very grateful for that. It’s very much in the interest of St Helena that this organisation, the Friends, exists.

On the future

We were trying, in our time, to move the island towards self-sufficiency and maintain the balance of interest. And it is about balance.

The situation is that the airport [contract] is signed, the ship’s capacity is being increased, there’s a sensible political structure, there’s better systems in the civil service. I think the private sector is getting increasingly engaged and people are getting excited about the airport.

Whether the future is bright or not I don’t know. I think it’s better, however you look at it, than the past; it’s better than it would have been but it’s still up to the Saints to grasp the opportunities that are there.

And they are there now, real opportunities, with – how many? – 170 people working on the airport or airport-related things. That will increase over the next few years.

Shelco are going to take a lot of people into that hotel and housing complex, so all that is going to be brighter, without any question.

On being remembered

Part of me says I would love people to say, “Well, he did a good job”, and part of me says, does it matter in the long run? I will just be a name on a wall or a fading photograph.

I enjoyed it. It was a tremendously enriching exerience and very colourful, and I will always have fond memories of it. But how people remember me depends on what people remember, and who’s telling them to remember it.

I loved the place, I love the people, but your time comes, you do your four years and you leave it. You have fond memories and life moves on.

(One or two of Andrew Gurr’s reflections from his talk to the Friends of St Helena in May 2012 have been kept back as stories in their own right, and will appear shortly. A gallery of his photographs may also appear soon).

SEE ALSO:

The inside story on St Helena, by former governor Andrew Gurr
Experts, expats and what England expects: a governor’s view, part 2
Civil service versus the can-do culture: a governor’s view

Media
Slavery
Foreign Secretary ‘wants hands-on help for islands’ – report

LINK:
Friends of St Helena

Experts, expats and what England expects: a governor’s view, part 2

Andrew Gurr, immediate past governor of St Helena, has been sharing his insights from his recent four-year stint behind the big desk in The Castle in Jamestown. See part one of his talk to the Friends of St Helena here. In part two, below, he talks about attitudes to expats, experts, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) and about his favourite adviser.

On Eddie Palmer of DFID

Probably the most valuable meeting of the week is the tele conference with London. That is a weekly hook-up for the governor and Eddie and Ernie. Ernie was the head of my governor’s office, a Foreign Office employee, and Eddie was the DFID representative on the island.

Eddie was my favourite adviser for all sorts of reasons (at this point, Mr Gurr broke off to general laughter and said to his wife in the audience: “Well, Jean, you are my favourite adviser, I hasten to add.”).

Eddie filled a big gap because DFID provided the money and Eddie understanding what was going on and influencing what was going on and being consulted on decisions was absolutely essential.

The need for a man in that role, or a woman, who is a shrewd political operator and understands the culture, is absolutely paramount. It will be a sad day for the island when Eddie finishes his long term, probably later this year.

So we had the three of us sitting round the phone on the island, and back in London you had both the Foreign Office and DFID people responsible, probably three or four of them.

When DfID was just across the park that was easy. they did it by week, one walked to one office and the other walked to the other one. Now the DFID overseas territory bit is right up in Scotland and they can’t do that and you have a very difficult three-way telephone link that doesn’t always work.

That was a vital weekly communication that I found extremely useful.

On FCO types

I was fortunate, I think, not to be an FCO person, for all sorts of reasons. I was recruited from outside. I was told no other governor had been recruited anywhere in that way. They had been appointed from outside but not through open competitive recruitment.

One finds with people who are in an organisation a long time, their loyalty is primarily to that organisation. I was able, I hope, to be loyal to the island every bit as much as I wouldbe loyal to my employer. Spanning that divide is quite important.

There is a conflict of interest, I think one has to admit it, between HMG [the UK government] and the island. The conflict is that HMG’s job is to fulfil international obligations at a minimal cost to the UK government, whereas the island wants to improve quality of life and maintain its culture, and those two things are not totally compatible. And all the time, the governor is spanning that conflict.

On FCO versus DFID

The other conflict is FCO and DFID. They are different types of people.

Generally speaking you join the Foreign Office because you want to see the world. If you speak to youngsters who are lining up in corridors for interview, that is generally what they want to do.

People join DFID because they want to help alleviate starvation in Africa. You get a different motivation in the staff. It’s a general rule and it doesn’t apply to everybody, but as a generality I think it’s a fair comment.

That translates itself into, let’s say, the talkers and the doers – you can see the difference – or the compromisers and the decision makers.

On bureaucracy

In my first year I was really taken aback by the fact that I was asked do my objectives. So I did my objectives and handed them in.

I think the Foreign Office were the first to send me a request for objectives. I sent the same set of objectives to DFID.

They said, ‘You can’t send us this, these are your Foreign Office objectives. I said ‘Yes, but I’m not going to change my objectives.’ And they said, ‘Never mind that, you have to do them in our format, in our way with our back-up papers.’

“This is ridiculous. Nobody should have two sets of objectives. That kind of thing does create a problem.”

On finance

There was quite a problem with the bank. Nobody owned the bank. When we came to look at the details of the bank and how we were going to run it, there were no shares that anybody owned. As a legal entity it has no ownership and the default is the government because the government would be lender of last resort.

We had to set up a structure whereby there was a proper form of ownership. It cleared up all sorts of problems which needn’t have existed.

On expats

Another problem is the Saints versus the expats. Or translated in the Falklands, the Falkland Islander against expats. The view of an expat from your average Saint of Falkland Islander is the three Ms: missionaries, mercenarys and misfits. I have to admit there’s something in that.

With all the conflicts you come across, this island against expert knowledge is always going to be there. Sometimes the islander is right and sometimes the expat is right, and it’s awfully difficult to make a judgment on that.

There is a wary envy of the expat. It’s entirely understandable.

On experts

Consultants and experts: you can get brilliant ones, and many of them are brilliant and  you can get one not so brilliant. It’s quite wrong of Saints to criticise all of them, which does happen, and it’s equally wrong to praise all of them. It has to be looked at against what they deliver.

There’s also a problem with the single consultant, because DFID has experts in each area – education, health, public works. One expert. So one expert comes to the island and writes a report that becomes DFID’s policy; that becomes absolutely the bible as far as DFID is concerned.

Imagine getting one economist to advise you on what’s happening to the Eurozone. Very often problems are like that. And that one expert can be wrong.

I would rather get people disagreeing in a room before one has to make a decision, rather than a single person giving a view. I think that is a big weakness of the present system.

On experts with doctorates

[Experts with doctorates – PhDs] are the most difficult people on Earth of work with.

We didn’t know what they didn’t know. They didn’t know what they did know, so they assumed other people knew what they knew and they couldn’t relate. Whereas the problem with islanders was that they didn’t know what they didn’t know, so they thought what they knew was what needed to be known, but there was other knowledge out there that didn’t need to be known. It was the reverse with the PhDs.

On the environment

Another area of tension is environment against development. How are you going to balance the genuine economic growth that is needed, against the wirebird, and against other invertebrates and goodness-knows-what that might be threatened?

I have been out there on Prosperous Bay Plain, in fact I was out there with the head of the Overseas Territories Department in the FCO when he visited, looking at the spiders in the dark and seeing this amazing display as their eyes light up as you shine a torch on them.

It’s fantastic and I wouldn’t want that to be damaged for anything, but compared with £20 million plus every year going out of the UK’s pocket to finance the island that’s got no chance of development without an airport, it’s got to be a no-contest.

This business of environment against development really does need a fair balance and a lot of work has been done by Shelco [the promoter of Wirebird Hills eco resort] on that.

On Shelco and the airport

During my time we made some important changes. The change process started. The fight for the airport; a very long, hard fight. Many of you [the Friends of St Helena] played a vital role in that here, and it was very important because the fight really was here for a long time.

Keeping Shelco interested: now they are interested, but there were several times when they nearly lost interest and one had to really cajole them to come back on board with their significant interest.

Part 3 of Andrew Gurrs thoughts on St Helena will appear on this website on Sunday 10 June 2012

SEE ALSO:
The inside story on St Helena, by former governor Andrew Gurr
Planning board backs eco resort – but Governor has final say

The inside story on St Helena, by former governor Andrew Gurr

While cabinet minister Andrew Mitchell was in Swindolena in May 2012, telling Saints about their island’s bright opportunities, Andrew Gurr was just 30 miles away in Oxford, sharing insights from his four years as governor (2007-2011). The two men were speaking at exactly the same time.

A recording of Mr Gurr’s talk has now been passed to St Helena Online, with some parts removed to avoid offending individuals. Here are some of the insights he offered, as he delivered them at the annual meeting of the Friends of St Helena. More will follow in coming days.

On the Foreign Office

It is a fascinating place to visit. I got a bit fed up with it but there’s some interesting rooms there. One of the most fascinating is a small oval room. During most of my time as governor it was the room in which the junior ministers with specific responsibility for British overseas territories had their office. In prior times the whole of India had been run from that room, so quite an amazing place.

On Mrs Gurr

It’s a great privilege being a governor. I must pay tribute to my wife right at the beginning. Being a governor’s wife is, believe me, quite difficult. A governor’s wife does all sorts of interesting things. She feeds another stream of information into one’s reserves of information about the government that you would not otherwise get, and I felt sorry for my predecessor, who wasn’t accompanied by his wife, for that reason. Being a governor’s wife is a full time job, absolutely unpaid.

On the islands

Being governor seems to me to be different, depending on the territory. The whole role changes. We were in the Falklands for five years, where I was chief executive. When the governor was away I acted as governor.  That added up to over 12 months, so I had a rough idea of what being a governor was about.

I believe when I went to St Helena the governor had considerably more power and influence than they had when I left the Falklands. There are a number of reasons for that. Having three islands made life more complicated: three very different islands economically. St Helena was broke financially and needed a lot of help.

Ascension kind of covered its own costs because it was a dignified and souped-up labour camp, because you can’t really live there unless you are working there.

And Tristan da Cunha is absolutely unique. My conclusion, having been there, is that it is probably one of the few truly communist societies in the world that actually works. They really do work for each other and it is part of their whole psyche, and that’s terribly interesting.

Saints dominate St Helena and Ascension too, and increasingly they have a big influence on things in the Falklands, but the Falklands economically dominate the other islands because of the conflict of ’82 and the military and the squid money that flows, up to £30 million a year. And they have just had a very good year in the Falklands.

So there is a lot of inter-relationship between four very different islands, and as governor of three of them one has quite a complicated time.

On power

By power I mean influence, really, and trying to make things happen and indeed having the levers to pull to do that.

My predecessor Mike Clancy had been a chief secretary in a previous existence and I think it led him quite naturally to cover both roles.

There was a kind of vacuum where there wasn’t the duality that you would get, say, in a corporate organisation with a chairman – the governor – and the chief executive as main  operating officer.  That really didn’t exist, so I went into a situation on St Helena where the governor actually just jumped into a power vacuum.

Isolation of course helped that – or didn’t help it, depending on your point of view – but when your boss is 4,000 miles away and can’t get at you for at least three weeks, however he does it, you are on to a winner.

On democracy

I have to say that democracy was less  developed that it had become on the Falklands. The councillors, although they had democratic power, were more reticent to wield it. They had no control of real happenings; not in total, anyway. There was big area of the civil service over which they had very little influence indeed.

On the law

There are quite a few laws that are wildly out of date, and some that are quite different to UK laws and tailored to the island.

The governor is in the unviable position of presiding over a legal system that does not have equality of arms in the court room, and there’s very little one can do about that because there is no private sector solicitor on the island, so who is going to defend those who are being prosecuted by the government?

The answer is the lay advocates, and the lay advocates are trained and managed by the public solicitor. The public solicitor is a government appointment; the public solicitor reports to the governor and so does the Attorney General.

So you have this rather unequal combat in a courtroom with lay people defending, professional QCs [barristers] prosecuting and the governor somehow in the middle if there is a problem with that; but not directly in the middle because a lot of the reporting from the legal side is done informallyand certainly very effectively.

I praise all the public solicitors I dealt with. Neil Davidson and the new one, Debbie, are both tremendous and do a great job with the lay advocates.

(Mr Gurr told St Helena Online: “I would be full of praise for those who acted as lay advocates, but the fact remains that you have a QC prosecuting and an amateur defending, and under anybody’s judgment that is not a fair position. I don’t know how you solve it: you can’t spend money.”

On recruitment

There’s a recruitment problem. The governor is responsible for individual appointments  and sackings – not many – on the civil service.

Imagine trying to recruit doctors and nurses from that distance. Believe me,  interviewing over a jumpy video link is really not a good thing. On meeting them on island, you don’t recognise them at all – they look nothing like they do on the screen.

On the missing population

One of the big problems, thinking about the people in the civil service and the private sector, is a lack of middle managemen;  indeed, the lack of middle, because demographically, half of the population who should be there between the ages of 20 and 40 are somewhere else – they are here [in the UK], on the Falklands, or on Ascension.

Tose are years when you generate wealth, when you breed children and they are mising and that core of the population of St Helena not being there puts it out of balance.

That’s one of the big things about the airport, sucking people back in, to get back to a demographically balanced picture on the island.

On advisory group

When I got [to St Helena] there had been a lot of criticism about a group called the management team, because it was accused of making decisions, which was unconstitutional, so we disbanded it.

A clamour of public opinion was reacted to and I formed what I called the governor’s advisory group, which was more flexible.

On women

One of the things that astonished me… I looked round my advisers and nearly all of them were female, and it really says a great deal about the island and the ability of the ladies to get through the work. They are very competent.

I have to say it, that the men aren’t as competent generally. I hate to say it. I wish they were. There was something of the same on the Falklands – not as much as on St Helena.

It’s partly to do with schooling and culture and all sorts of things but it’s an interesting observation.

(In a separate conversation, Mr Gurr said: “I think it makes a nonsense of the Commonwealth people coming and talking about how we have to help girls. They are in charge.”)

SEE ALSO:
What really swung the airport deal (it’s not what you think)
Facebook page calls for more open government
AUDIO: DfID Secretary on island’s “brilliant opportunity”

LINK:
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