The scheme for an 88-suite hotel with 165 tourist lodges and an “eco” golf course is the biggest to have been handled by island planning officials apart from the island’s airport – now under construction.
Shelco says its naturalistic golf course will make minimal demands on water resources in Broad Bottom and improve habitat for the island’s endemic wirebirds, which failed to raise any chicks at Broad Bottom in the last breeding season.
Matt Joshua of Enterprise St Helena has welcomed the provisonal approval, in a posting on Facebook. He writes:
“Planning permission for the “world’s greenest hotel” was passed today. What does this mean for St Helena? A major investment (possibly £70 million) by an internationally renowned hotel group (Oberoi) with outstanding green credentials. But also most importantly, opportunities for Saints to work directly for the hotel or in supporting services. Things are taking off on St Helena!”
Disputes have broken out among bird experts over plans to build “the world’s greenest hotel” on St Helena, including an eco-golf course.
A formal objection to the resort has been lodged by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) – even though the scheme seeks to end the failure of wirebird breeding at the Broad Bottom site.
No chicks were successfully raised there in the last breeding season, despite it being the third-largest nesting area on the island. Rats and poor habitat are blamed.
St Helena National Trust (SHNT) has also objected to the planning application for the Wirebird Hills resort at Broad Bottom, which includes an 88-suite hotel and 165 lodges built to high eco standards.
The RSPB said it was not convinced Shelco’s plans to create new habitat would work.
But Shelco consultant Dr Keith Duff said it was “worrying” that the objectors made no mention of the recent failure of any chicks to survive.
His report says Broad Bottom has not been managed in a way that protects the birds:
Grazing only by cattle means grass is too long for birds to nest in
Only 20 per cent of grazed land is suitable for nesting at any time
There are too many rats, which take eggs and kill chicks
Scrub that harbours rats has been allowed to spread
Both Dr Burns and Dr Fiona Burns of the RSPB said they did not blame the decline on St Helena Government, which is responsible for rodent control, or Solomons, which grazes cattle on the land.
The Shelco scheme involves fencing off a sanctuary on the existing Wirebird Ground area, and creating areas of “rough” alongside the golf fairways that it says would be suitable for nesting.
The RSPB said it did not believe the St Helena Plover, as the bird is also known, would nest close to playing areas.
Dr Fiona Burns, who works for the charity, said: “It’s really positive that a company is coming in and trying to make an environmentally-friendly development because we could be getting just anybody.
“It’s a good way to have tourism, but as it stands we don’t think it’s quite good enough, but we are keen to work with them to make it better.”
It has welcomed plans to clear flax, gorse and other scrub that has spread at Sebastop0l and Ding Dong Gut – potentially harbouring rats.
But Dr Burns – who gained her doctorate last year for her research on the island – said the RSPB was not convinced the land-clearance would create much extra habitat.
She said: “For a lot of the area where they were proposing to remove scrub, there is also a proposal to have woodland lodges, so the area remaining for wirebirds would be small.
“It could help wirebirds but it will not balance out the area that will be impacted by the golf fairways.
“And because it’s a phased development, it’s not certain they would build these lodges. It’s not guaranteed what area would be available for wirebirds.”
Shelco’s 82-page planning paper describes how a naturalistic golf course would improve breeding habitat for wirebirds.
It says avoiding heavy use of chemicals on the land would ensure a good supply of invertebrates for wirebirds to feed on.
The site would include fenced-off areas that would be grazed by sheep, to keep the grass short enough for nesting. It is thought wirebirds choose to nest where they can keep watch for predators, but grazing by cattle alone leaves grass too long.
But Dr Burns said evidence from Longwood golf course cast doubt on the idea that wirebirds would nest close to fairways.
“Although it is used for foraging, especially at night, it is not used as a breeding area,” she said.
“The thing we could do is to try to change a bit of the design to have a more substantial area of less disturbed ground. Or maybe we’d have to look at improving an area elsewhere to mitigate for the impact on the site itself.”
Shelco’s adviser, however, said the Broad Bottom course would be much larger, which much bigger areas of rough – “rougher and higher” – so there would be far more undisturbed ground.
And there was concern from the RSPB and the St Helena National Trust about whether all Shelco’s promises would be delivered.
“The final thing about [Shelco’s] environmental statement is that it hasn’t got a lot of guarantees about what will happen – we are keen to know what they will do for predator control, how long they will do it for, how wide an area.
“One of the things we would be looking for is some sort of monitoring – or if the plan didn’t work, what would be the repercussions?”
But Dr Duff told St Helena Online: “All of these areas of detail will be covered in the environmental management plan, which will be the subject of a planning condition if consent for the development is granted.”
Shelco’s planning consent would be invalid if it did not meet all the conditions imposed by the planning board – even once the resort was built.
“The plan would not be signed off by the planners until they were satisfied with it, and would be monitored to ensure it is being implemented.”
The “detailed” management plan would cover “predator control, scrub removal and a grazing regime aimed at significantly increasing the area of grassland in suitable condition for wirebird breeding.
“These actions would be funded by Shelco, so represent a major commitment of private sector resources to go into conservation work on the site.
“We have already made clear that we want to work with St Helena National Trust officers in developing the environmental management plan.”
Shelco’s proposals have been based on advice from the Trust.
Dr Duff – who worked with the RSPB to write a book on birds and golf courses – said he did not accept that wirebirds would not nest on parts of the Broad Bottom course.
“I would be surprised if wirebirds did not use the rough for nesting, as these areas will be open-range sheep-grazed, which will produce a shorter sward than exists on much of the site at any one time at present.
“The overall area which would be suitable for wirebird breeding under the grazing scheme proposed by Shelco is three times larger than the area currently in suitable condition at any one time.
“Shelco have chosen to rename their development ‘Wirebird Hills’, which seems to me to reflect their determination to make sure that the site remains an important wirebird site into the future.
“They would hardly want to use a name which could come back to haunt them.”
Some of St Helena’s unique plants could be grown for export to garden centres around the world, it’s been suggested.
The idea is put forward in the masterplan for the Wirebird Hills eco-resort at Broad Bottom, which also includes planting endemic species across the 160-hectare site.
Growing tree ferns could become a business opportunity for Saints, says the main 82-page planning report submitted by developer Shelco.
Tree ferns and native dogwoods could even be used to increase rainfall, reducing strain on water supplies. Both species were part of a cloud-forest that St Helena National Trust hopes to recreate across the highest parts of the island, from High Hill to the central peaks.
The Shelco report says investing money in reforestation would pay off in improved landscape, better habitat for wildlife and greater rainfall – and also as a business prospect for contract-growers on the island.
“There may also be opportunities for establishing an export market for the tree fern (Dicksonia arnorescens) and other rare plants to supply the international garden centre market,” it says.
But growing enough plants to realise Shelco’s ambitions is a challenge.
“The Agriculture and Nature Resources Department nursery presently appears to be the only one on the island which may be in a position to provide the volume of endemic and indigenous plants which are likely to be needed.
“However, some resident Saints have also expressed an interest in being able to provide suitable plant material at the earliest opportunity.”
Shelco has spent more than a decade researching and refining its proposals for Broad Bottom. Parts of its proposed site are used for beef grazing, but large areas are overgrown with invasive species such as flax or gorse.
The company consulted historical records and analysis to devise “appropriate” planting of native species.
“The landscape and planting character would echo the drop in elevation at the lower, northern edge of the site towards Lemon Valley.”
Three planting zones are proposed:
Tree fern zone: The surviving remnants of tree fern woodland on High Peak would be extended – with neighbouring landowners’ agreement – to form “a continuous blanket” of woodland, coming down to the edge of the proposed eco golf course. “In the long term the road to Head O’Wain could be flanked on either side by this distinctive characteristic ‘Cloud Forest’ vegetation.”
Gumwood habitat: The native gumwood – adopted as the national tree in 1977 – originally extended over roughly a third of the island, between 400 and 600 metres above sea level. Shelco hopes to imitate planting of the Millennium Gumwood Forest on desert ground beyond Longwood. “The tree has a dome-shaped canopy and gnarled and crooked multi stems, making it particularly attractive and picturesque.”
Ebony and waterside Habitat: Ebony and gumwood thickets historically stretched across land between 100 and 500 metres above sea level. Similar planting would be recreated on the sides of guts (steep, gouged valleys), stretching down into Lemon Valley. This would merge with “riparian vegetation” found close to water, along with exoting lakeside planting. A small lake was created on the site some years ago. “Ferns would also be extensively used as foliage ground cover planting in the lower areas within the guts.”
The Shelco plan says existing landscape features such as rows of thorn trees, water features and field boundaries would be preserved, with its golf course designed around them.
The landscaping strategy is based on mapping of pristine endemic vegetation (found nowhere else in the world) by Cambridge researcher Quentin Cronk.
He was with islander George Benjamin when he rediscovered the St Helena ebony, which had been thought to be extinct.
For the native plants and trees to be re-established, “aggressive” species such as flax – which also harbours rats – would have to be cleared.
For the first few years of the resort development, though, existing non-native woodland will be kept. Tall, mature trees will continue to provide nesting sites for fairy terns.
Exotic forestry areas could be thinned and underplanted with gumwood trees and endemic plants such as rosemary, bellflower and false gumwood.
St Helena’s humble wirebird may help developers create “the world’s greenest hotel” on the mellow slopes of Broad Bottom.
Plans for the so-called Wirebird Hills leisure resort – complete with eco-friendly golf course – are going on show on the island after more than a decade of refinement by the St Helena Leisure Corporation (Shelco).
Features such as grass roofs and water recycling are now being used widely in new buildings around the world. But the ideas for protecting the wirebird and re-establishing native trees and plants are what set the scheme apart.
They include trying to control rats, which steal wirebird eggs and prey on their chicks. Broad Bottom is one of the last strongholds of the unique St Helena Plover, as it is also known, but no chicks were successfully raised in the area in 2011, and predators are probably to blame.
Sheep would be used to graze the golf course and other land, to bring grass down to the length favoured by wirebirds.
An environmental impact assessment says there would be no “significant adverse impact” from any aspect of the scheme, even to the island’s landscape. Buildings would largely be confined to the edges of the site, where they can be screened with trees.
Plans submitted by the St Helena Leisure Corporation (Shelco) also include growing more fresh food for the whole island, as well as for the proposed 88-suite hotel and 165 holiday homes.
They also deal with historical aspects of the site, which was used as a camp for Boer War prisoners between 1899 and 1903. An interpretation centre and cafe is planned at the top of the site.
The former flax mill at Broad Bottom Farm has been earmarked as a maintenance building for the golf course. Machinery from the mill would be donated for a proposed “flax visitor centre” elsewhere on the island – though there is scepticism about whether this “private sector opportunity” will ever be realised.
The plans are to go on show at public meetings across the island from 14 May 2012:
Blue Hill Community Centre, Monday, 5.30 – 7.30pm
Half Tree Hollow Community Centre, Tuesday, 5 – 7pm
Longwood Community Centre, Wednesday, 5 – 7pm
Consulate Hotel, Jamestown, Thursday 5 – 7pm
An 82-page document sets out details of the proposed golf course, swimming pools, tennis courts, market garden, buggy paths, holiday villages, lemon groves and a “Garden of Eden”.
It follows the signing of a “memorandum of agreement” with St Helena Government, setting out a detailed brief for the standards that must be met on the site.
The plans do not say what would happen to people living in the two existing homes on the 163-hectare site, or how it will affect people who cross the land to reach their houses.
Nor do they say whether facilities would be open to islanders and other people not staying in the resort.
Shelco was set up to exploit the economic potential of the island, based on building an airport – a contract it failed to win. Its plans for one of two luxury resorts on the island are seen as vital to creating a vibrant tourist economy and ending decades of dependence on aid.
Its chairman is Sir Nigel Thompson, a senior figure in engineering firm Ove Arup but also a keen environmentalist who has served as chair of the Council for the Protection of Rural England.
He first fell in love with St Helena half a century ago when travelling on a liner that stopped in James Bay, according to an article in Property Week.
The main report from Shelco’s consultants says:
Wirebird Hills at Broad Bottom seeks to deliver a development of international best practice for environmental responsibility and sustainability.
The overall intent is to deliver the world’s greenest hotel, with environmentally responsible leisure-related residences around a world class eco golf course.
The Wirebird Hills at Broad Bottom… will be an exemplar project on the world stage.
It is hoped that further details of the scheme – including images of the proposed buildings – will appear on this website in coming days.
Looks like a lovely plan – I hope it is made. Hee Young Ra, via Facebook