The Blue Turtle arrives at St Helena

Winner of JNCC’s Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies Nature Conservation Councillor Raymond Williams recieves the Blue Turtle Award, on behalf of St Helena's Millennium Forest Project, from Defra Minister Richard Benyon @ David WardAward is announced


29 March 2011 


A forest restoration project on one of the most remote inhabited islands in the world will today be presented with a major UK conservation award. But this is no ordinary forest and no ordinary island – for the trees are endangered and are found nowhere else in the world and the island is St Helena, an Overseas Territory of the UK.


Flying the flag for the International Year of Forests – the St Helena Millennium Forest Project will be presented with the Joint Nature Conservation Committee’s Blue Turtle Award for nature conservation in the UK Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies.   


The eastern half of St Helena was once covered with a huge swathe of native forest known as the Great Wood. During the 1700s most of the native trees had succumbed to the combined effects of felling for timber by settlers, browsing by goats and rooting by pigs; and by the twentieth century only a few of the native Gumwood trees survived. These Gumwood trees are found nowhere else in the world, and like other trees endemic to St Helena, are all threatened with extinction. At the initiative of the local community, the St Helena Millennium Forest project was launched with the goal of reinstating native forest on degraded wasteland. Over 250 hectares of land has been set aside for restoration and since 2002 over 10,000 Gumwood trees have been planted.


JNCC’s Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies Programme Manager Tony Weighell, one of Award’s judges, said: “I want to congratulate all involved in the St Helena Millennium Forest Project. There are many examples of communities working to conserve and manage biodiversity in the Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies and this is exactly the sort of innovative, community-based initiative that should be encouraged. For 2010, it was the unanimous choice of the judging panel. But St Helena provides important lessons for our management of forests globally – it’s better to protect and conserve our forests now than to attempt to restore them later.”      


Defra is playing an increasingly important role in supporting biodiversity in the UK Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies. Presenting the award on behalf of JNCC, Environment Minister Richard Benyon said:


“Our Overseas Territories are a precious repository of unique biodiversity and often serve as home to some of the world’s most vulnerable species. Recent events in the South Atlantic have shown the fragility of such habitats and our duty to protect them has never been clearer.


“The St Helena Millennium Forest Project is an excellent example of how a community can come together for the sake of a better environment and a greener future. I’m delighted to see the excellent efforts of conservationists working in our Overseas Territories getting well- deserved credit.”


Rebecca Cairns-Wicks, President of the St Helena National Trust said: “The Millennium Forest is a genuine community initiative, with hundreds of our islanders already planting endemic trees. Visitors and overseas supporters are also able to donate a tree, leaving a personal legacy to this story of ecological recovery. The St Helena National Trust has a long-term vision and commitment to the project which will expand and improve the ecological diversification of the forest and develop the site as a leading environmental tourism attraction.”


Notes to editors:


  • The Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) is the statutory adviser to Government on UK and international nature conservation, on behalf of the Council for Nature Conservation and the Countryside, the Countryside Council for Wales, Natural England and Scottish Natural Heritage. Its work contributes to maintaining and enriching biological diversity, conserving geological features and sustaining natural systems. Its work includes a specific programme aimed at providing support to nature conservation in the UK Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies.


  • The Blue Turtle Award 2010 will be presented to Councillor Raymond Williams, Chair of the St Helena Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, at the CPA Rooms, Westminster Hall, Houses of Parliament, London, on 29 March 2011 at 18:00. Richard Benyon MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Natural Environment and Fisheries will present the award on behalf of JNCC.


  • The 2010 Blue Turtle Award received nominations from seven of the UK crown Dependencies and Overseas Territories. The award was presented based on the following criteria: nature conservation benefit/added value; innovation; community involvement; and links to a specific project, or demonstrating long-term commitment and dedication. The work or project must also have been in place for over a year.   


  • The UK Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies have an amazing wealth of biodiversity. Of globally threatened species identified in the 2004 IUCN Red List, 74 critically endangered species occur in the UK Overseas Territories (compared to 10 in mainland UK) along with 49 endangered species (12 in mainland UK) and 117 vulnerable species (37 in the mainland UK).  Many of these species are endemic and so are found nowhere else in the world


  • The Overseas Territories also hold regionally or globally important concentrations or assemblages of species.  For example, Ascension Island supports the second largest green turtle rookery in the Atlantic; Gough Island (Tristan da Cunha) has been described as, arguably, the most important seabird island in the world; and the reefs of the Chagos Archipelago (British Indian Ocean Territory) are some of the most pristine and best protected in the Indian Ocean (and account for some 1.3% of the world resource). One of JNCC’s priorities is to provide advice on the conservation of biodiversity in the UK’s Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies.


  • The Gumwood tree Commidendrum robustum is St Helena’s national tree and is included as endangered in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. It is one of several endemic trees found on St Helena (and thus nowhere else in the world). All these endemic tree species are threatened with extinction and one, The St Helena olive Nesiota elliptica became extinct in 2003 when the last plant in cultivation died (the last wild plant died in 1997). Others are reduced to just a handful of individuals surviving in the wild and/or cultivation. The Millennium Forest Project, by increasing the number of Gumwood plants in the wild, helps to reduce their risk of extinction and enables the plants to function again as part of a native forest habitat.     



  • To organise interviews with representatives from the St Helena Millennium Forest Project, contact the JNCC Press Office:

          Tel: +44 (0) 1733 866839 or



Councillor Raymond Williams recieves the Blue Turtle Award, on behalf of St Helena's Millennium Forest Project, from Defra Minister Richard Benyon @ David Ward