He didn’t quite get his hands dirty… but St Helena’s governor has been helping, in a small way, to create a “cloud forest” across the highest parts of the island.
Mark Capes and chief secretary Owen O’Sullivan planted a few endemics at High Peak, where St Helena National Trust has been clearing invasive species to help endangered plants survive.
But His Excellency wore rubber gloves for the job.
They were at High Peak – one of the last pockets of endemic cabbage tree woodland and tree fern thicket – during a tour of island conservation work. They also visited High Knoll Fort and the Heart Shape Waterfall.
The High Peak habitat work is being done under a £300,000 Darwin Project grant.
The moist, high-altitude habitat was once typical of St Helena’s high ground – which reaches close to 3,000 feet – but is under threat because of its isolation from other forest areas.
The National Trust is planting native plants and eradicating invasive species – including St Helena’s national flower, the arum lily – to give native plants and animals a better chance of survival.
The ultimate aim is to extend the native woodland to join up with the Peaks, to form a “cloud forest” of endemic plants – those found nowhere else in the world.
Marcia Benjamin, an apprentice on the project, wrote about it in the Trust’s December 2011 newsletter:
“We have so far partially cleared many invasive species from the site such as Arum Lily, wild bilberry, whiteweed, kikuyu grass, fuchsia, ginger, and furze. The removal of invasives will be a lengthy process.
“In one particularly important area we call the Dell we have been planting out with he cabbage, she cabbage, lobelia, redwood and dwarf jellico to re-establish lost canopy cover and prevent it from drying out.
“High Peak is an important site for endemic fauna such as the spiky yellow woodlouse and the blushing snail. Increasing native species will encourage the endemic fauna to flourish.
“I have always been at home in the outdoors. I believe we should do all we can to preserve our natural surroundings and protect our endemics. It is really sad that we have allowed so much of what makes St Helena unique to become extinct or to become under threat.”
The Darwin Project is a three-year programme, funded by the UK government and managed by the St Helena National Trust, which aims to build up a skilled team with the knowledge and expertise to help conserve St Helena’s threatened native biodiversity for years to come. The Trust works in partnership with Enterprise St Helena, the Adult Vocation and Education Service and the Directorate of Agriculture and Natural Resources (source: St Helena Government).
Susan Petal, wildlife blogger.