The Blue Turtle arrives at St Helena

 

A forest restoration project on one of the most remote inhabited islands in the world has been presented with JNCC’s second Blue Turtle Award for nature conservation in the UK Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies.

 

From left: Marcus Yeo, Chief Executive, JNCC; Tara Pelembe, Overseas Territories Senior Adviser, JNCC; Raymond Williams, St Helena Government; Kedell Worboys MBE, St Helena Government UK representative; Robert Buckland MP for Swindon; Richard Benyon, Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Natural Environment and Fisheries and Alan Duncan, Minister of State for International Development © JNCC

In an event at Westminster hosted by the St. Helena Government, The Blue Turtle Award 2010 was presented to the St Helena Millennium Forest Project on behalf of JNCC by Richard Benyon, Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Natural Environment and Fisheries. Alan Duncan, the Minister of State for International Development also commended the initiative. The award received nominations from seven of the UK Crown Dependencies and Overseas Territories and was 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 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 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 all 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.

St Helena Millenium Forest Project launch © Gregory Cairns-Wicks

JNCC’s Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies Programme Manager Tony Weighell, one of the 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.”

 

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.”

 

Millennium Forest Project Fact File - 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.

 

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