St Helena Online

Tag: Tristan albatross

£180,000 raised in battle to save rare species

An appeal for money to save threatened species in UK overseas territories – including St Helena’s spiky yellow woodlouse – has raised three quarters of its £240,000 target.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds urges would-be donors to support “a team effort” with conservationists, governments and local people.

When the appeal was launched, the organisation’s website said the St Helena Olive tree was the most recent species to be lost.

Since then, the island’s giant earwig has also been declared extinct.

The appeal page says:

St Helena’s precious cloud forest is home to the black cabbage tree, which grows in only one place – and only 250 square metres are left. This habitat is the only place where the spiky yellow woodlouse is found. There are fewer than 50 woodlice left, living on just 20 ferns. We’re creating an artificial forest canopy to keep the ferns the way the woodlice like them.

The Tristan albatross is only found in this territory, with all except two pairs nesting on Gough Island. It’s on the brink of extinction, and sadly introduced house mice eat albatross chicks alive and in total kill over half a million seabird chicks here every year. We’re working on ways of getting rid of the mice.

We’re also taking steps to save the severely endangered Wilkins’ bunting, which only lives on one tiny island in the entire world, Nightingale. There are only 80 pairs in existence, so we’re helping them by planting more of their favourite trees.

The RSPB says a £15 donation can fund a square metre of shade canopy in the St Helena cloud forest.

The website also has a 17-minute film, Invaders of the UK Overseas Territories, about the diversity of Britain’s far-off islands and the threat posed by alien species. St Helenian conservationist Stedson Stroud is shown, telling how seabirds have returned to Ascension after the eradication of feral cats.

Read about the UK overseas territories appeal
Watch the Invaders film

SEE ALSO:
Lost chance to save the giant earwig
Rare island woodlouse ‘is just hanging on’
Frigatebird chick is island’s first for a century (plus: St Helena’s booby boomers)

 

Wirebird remains on global danger list, thanks to airport

St Helena’s unique wirebird features on the latest “red list” of the world’s critically endangered species, thanks to threats from the airport and new tourist developments.

Its recovering population should have been enough for its threat status to be relaxed, but it was argued that it should remain on the danger list to give time for experts to see how it copes with the arrival of the airport.

Four other unique island species remain on the red list – but two are thought to be extinct.

The listing for the wirebird – also known as the St Helena Plover – says:

“This species is classified as critically endangered because until very recently its population was extremely small and declining owing to land-use change (particularly a decrease in grazing pressure) and predation by invasive predators.

“The population has recently shown some signs of recovery, however, and if it continues to remain above 250 mature individuals and/or continues to increase or stay stable for a five-year period, it is likely to be eligible for downlisting.

“Given uncertainty over the impacts of the impending construction of an airport (which may well be significant), and given that these impacts will become clearer during 2012-2013, the status of this species should continue to be monitored closely.”

The two species thought to be extinct are the insect St Helena darter and the St Helena earwig, says the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which compiles the red list.

The darter has not been seen since 1963, but a lack of surveys means its survival is not ruled out.

The St Helena earwig – the largest in the world – is widely believed to have been wiped out by predators, including mice and an introduced centipede.

Some people believe the earwig has survived on Properous Bay Plain but might now be destroyed by the island’s new airport. No specimens have been seen alive since 1967, despite expeditions to find them.

St Helena Rosemary – which gave its name to Rosemary Plain – is now reduced to about 100 plants in three small clusters, on cliffs at High Hill and Lot, and between Distant Cottage and the Asses Ears

About 20 plants are also growing at Scotland and in the Castle Gardens.

A recovery plan includes establishing new colonies at Plantation, Peak Dale and the Millennium Forest, and encouraging “guardians” for other plantations.

Stocks are also being kept in the UK at Kew Gardens and the Eden Project.

The St Helena Ebony is listed as critically endangered even though it is widespread in gardens across the island – and around the world.

It was thought to be extinct until two surviving plants were spotted at a distance by George Benjamin, who died earlier this year. His brother was lowered down a cliff to reach one of the plants.

Because all the specimens around the world have been bred from those two individuals, “in-breeding” weaknesses present a continuing threat.

A hybrid variant has developed and the IUCN says the true ebony has not been “properly secured” in any gene banks in isolation from the hybrid.

A recovery plan includes establishing a new field gene bank at the Millennium Forest.

The IUCN says it has too little information on another species, the St Helena dragonet, to be able to decide whether it is under threat.

It is the smallest fish of its kind in the world, reaching only two centimetres in length.

There is also a lack of information about the endemic St Helena Wrasse. “Little or nothing is known about its biology or the status of its population,” says the official lissting. “More research is needed to determine any major threats for this species, given its very restricted range.”

Other endemic species appear on the list as vulnerable, extinct or “least concern”.

Ascension Island has two critically endangered species, including the parsley fern, which was thought to be extinct until four plants were discovered by Stedson Stroud, Olivia Renshaw and Phil Lambdon in July 2009. About 40 more have since been found.

Ironically, Ascension spurge may be suffering as a result of a programme to eradicate feral cats. Without the cats, there may be more mice and rabbits grazing on the spurge.

Tristan da Cunha’s only critically endangered species is the Tristan albatross, which has suffered a plummeting population thanks to longline fishing and chicks being eaten alive by mice. Even though the chicks are much bigger than the mice, they cannot move quickly enough to fend off their attackers. Rescue packages are planned.

On the Falklands, no species are listed as critically endangered, though Falkland rock cress is “vulnerable” and its range is shrinking, thanks to grazing.

SEE ALSO:
Special ship researches island fisheries
RSPB objects to Shelco resort over wirebird doubts (note: the resort plan was approved)
Endemics for sale: St Helena’s new cash crop?

LINKS:
Red list counts ‘on the brink’ species – BBC
St Helena National Trust
The red list: critically endangered species (search for St Helena, Tristan, Ascension or Falkland)
St Helena earwig – Wikipedia
St Helena ebony – Kew

HMS Montrose continues islands tour

HMS Montrose is nearing the end of a six-month deployment to  all the British overseas territories in the South Atlantic, following a season of anti-piracy action in the Indian Ocean.

Navy News has an impressive picture of the type-23 frigate approaching Gough Island, photographed from the air. See it on the Navy News website.

HMS Dauntless is due to take over the routine South Atlantic tour – though Argentina has interpreted the deployment of the Type 45 destroyer as military aggression.

HMS Montrose has already visited Ascension, St Helena, the Falklands, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands.

Its mission statement says: ‘The Atlantic Patrol Task (South) ship provides reassurance to UK overseas territories, Commonwealth countries and other friendly nations in the South Atlantic, and acts as a deterrent to potential aggressors who may wish to threaten UK nations, territory or interests.

‘The ship is responsible for maintaining British sovereignty of the Falkland Islands, including South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands.’

A report from the ship for Navy News says HMS Montrose is thought to be the first Royal Navy vessel to visit Gough Island in the past decade.

The island, 230 miles from Tristan da Cunha, is a World Heritage Site, breeding ground for ‘almost the entire world population of Tristan albatross and Atlantic petrel – all of which were very much in evidence when Montrose launched her Lynx helicopter to conduct an airborne reconnaissance and fisheries patrol of the island’s waters.’

Gough – named after a Naval captain who visited in 1731 – is temporary home to six members of the South African Weather Service, and two staff of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.

Commander Jonathan Lett of HMS Montrose tells Navy News: ‘Just as with our visits to Ascension, St Helena, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands earlier in the deployment, it has been a real privilege to visit one of the most isolated British South Atlantic Overseas Territories as part of our mission in the region.’

On South Georgia, ship’s crew went ashore at Grytviken on December 16 and dealt with recent ordnance finds, including a two-inch mortar and two rifle grenades. See a spectacular picture here.

The ship sailed for the South Sandwich Islands the following day, patrolling down the remote island chain until prevented from going further south by ice.

HMS Montrose has a complement of 185 officers and ratings and is equipped with the latest weapons, sensors and communications systems, including the vertical-launch Sea Wolf missile system for close air defence, a 4.5-inch (114mm) gun, anti-submarine torpedoes, Harpoon anti-ship missiles and a Lynx helicopter.

READ MORE:

HMS Montrose

Ice and explosives: South Georgia and the South Sandwich islands

HMS Montrose intercepts pirates – 2010

Flying dentist joins crew in South Atlantic

HMS Dauntless deployed to Falklands – BBC

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