Peaceful Doves Geopelia striata
One of several introduced species on St Helena
St Helena has suffered badly from the effects of human colonisation. The loss of almost all the island’s original woodland cover has led to soil erosion on an enormous scale in many areas. Invasion by alien domestic and commensal species, particularly cats, dogs and rats, has led to the extinction of several endemic bird species and has had a devastating effect on the island’s seabird population with a number of previously breeding species having been entirely lost to St Helena and those that remain being largely confined to inaccessible cliffs and offshore stacks. There is currently an island-wide rat control programme while trapping of feral cats is carried out around the major settlements. The latter appears to have had some effect in reducing cat numbers in recent years. Feral dogs, formerly a significant problem, have almost disappeared.
The few significant remnants of St Helena’s native vegetation all have protected status. The most important of these sites are the cabbage tree / tree-fern woodlands of the Diana’s Peak National Park and High Peak and the Gumwood forest at Peak Dale. Unfortunately, with the extinction of most indigenous species, these areas today hold relatively few birds. The replanting of endemic tree species is being carried out in a number of areas by the Environmental Conservation Section of the Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources and the Millennium Forest project. The latter has established a substantial area of native Gumwoods Commidendrum robustum at Horse Point Plain by public subscription.
The St Helena Plover Charadrius sanctaehelenae underwent a decline in numbers during the early 1990s with the population falling from around 450 to just over 300 individuals. Since then, a partial recovery has occurred with the population apparently stabilising at around 370 adults. A species management plan has been drafted following a three-year research project by the University of Reading, funded by the UK Government’s Darwin Initiative, and it is hoped that this will be enacted in the near future. All wild birds on the island are protected by law. This is largely observed but some small-scale poaching of seabirds and their eggs still continues.
St Helena is currently (2005) the subject of a highly controversial plan to build a British-funded international airport to open in 2010 when the RMS St Helena is due to be taken out of service. The airport will occupy a 2 mile stretch of the 10 mile long island on what is called Prosperous Bay Plain. This boasts the richest area of endemic plant and invertebrate species on the island. See further details of Prosperous Bay Plain in both the IBA and Hotspots section.
Source: The Independent Thursday 20th October 2005.
More help for the Wirebird
The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds in the UK is supporting the St Helena National Trust to implement a project to help effective and efficient control of invasive species.
Source: RSPB BIrds Magazine (2008) 22(2) p87.