St Helena through the eyes of… nature conservation
We are excited to introduce our second “Through the Eyes of …” blog post. This week we have interviewed Terrestrial Conservation Advisor, David Higgins on conservation of the island’s fascinating flora, fauna and wildlife.
How long have you lived on St Helena for?
I’m 6 months into a 2 year contract.
As Terrestrial Conservation Advisor and Head of Section, what is your role on the island?
My primary role is to prepare the management & development plans for the 14 National Conservation Areas, (NCAs). These include 3 National Parks, 5 Important Wirebird Sites, 5 Nature Reserves and 1 offshore Islands Nature Reserve. Spread around the island, the NCAs are home to the best of St Helena’s landscapes, heritage, plants animals and land forms. It is our job to ensure that the NCAs biological heritage is protected, while considering other key factors including farming, amenity and tourism
What are National Conservation Areas and why are they important?
St Helena is highly regarded as having a unique biological diversity. The NCAs are important as they are considered to be the areas of land on the island with the highest ecological and scenic significance. They are also home to some of the island’s endemic species including the likes of the mole spider and spikey yellows which are unique to St Helena and can’t be found anywhere else in the world. It’s my role to prevent these species and plants such as the bastard gumwood, whitewood and the she cabbage from becoming extinct. We are taking the necessary steps to promote these areas and the 27 September will see the launch of the Peaks National Park to coincide with World Tourism Day.
Where are St Helena’s Conservation Areas and why have they now been officially identified?
The NCAs were chosen to ensure the necessary regulations were put in place to protect these areas on the island, so that they can continue to be enjoyed by future generations. This is now more important than ever, with the impending rise in visitors as the airport moves towards completion.
What is it about the wildlife on St Helena which makes the island so important?
There are several reasons for this. When the island was first formed 14 million years ago, there was nothing there, primarily due to its sheer distance from any other land mass. This meant that when wildlife finally discovered St Helena, it was open to exploitation and offered niches which were unavailable elsewhere. It is believed that the seabirds were the first to arrive on the island with seeds and invertebrates trapped in their wings. Spores of fungi and ferns came on the prevailing wind. Rapid evolution took place because of these factors resulting in the high degree of endemism seen today. Unfortunately a number of species such as the St Helena dragon fly and the giant earwig have become extinct since then and it’s conservation’s job to put a stop to this going forward. This high level of critically endangered wildlife makes St Helena important in a truly international sense.
The island has a big future ahead of it; will National Conservation Areas risk stifling building developments?
I don’t think so. However it is important that these areas don’t become a development free for all as this would take away the uniqueness of St Helena’s ecosystems. The Land Development Control Plan has taken a considered approach to ensure that conservation and development can co-exist in harmony.
How can people get involved with National Conservation?
The Saint Helena National Trust (SHNT) and the St Helena Nature Conservation Group (SNCG) are actively looking for members and volunteers. We are happy to take on school students on placement and offer work experience to people with learning disabilities. We also welcome donations. Any help you can offer is much appreciated. For further details on our work visit our Facebook page