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Working together to cultivate and protect Ascension's unique plants

Marcella Corcoran
8 March 2013
Blog team: 
Ascension Island, in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, is home to seven surviving unique plants, many of them threatened with extinction in the wild. Marcella Corcoran reports on a horticultural training workshop for conservationists on the island.

Workshop day 3

We’ve now completed two days of the workshop and it feels like we are building good teamwork and making progress in developing the plant collections. Everyone attending the workshop is involved with Ascension Island Government (AIG) Conservation work of some kind (not all are 'plant people’, but all are willing to learn and help).

Although I’ve given presentations on germination and cultivation protocols, seed collecting and composting, most of our time has been spent on practical activities in the nursery on Green Mountain. We’ve managed to repair the shade houses, started composting areas, and collected plant specimens to press as herbarium vouchers and as samples for DNA extraction. We've also made some seed collections which will be used for germination trials tomorrow. Cynthia Williams from the Falkland Islands and Vanessa Thomas from St Helena have been great, contributing their wealth of experience of native plant propagation.

Transferring fern plantlets to compost

Working in the nursery on Green Mountain

While I’ve been here, it’s been nice and warm and I am not missing the UK weather at all!!! Green turtles are nesting too which is very exciting! Over 100 turtles make their way onto the beach to lay eggs every night. If I am lucky some of the early eggs will hatch and young turtles will emerge before I leave!

Workshop day 5

Yesterday was the last day of the formal workshop. It all went well; everyone reported back that it was good and mentioned the parts that were the most useful and relevant to them. The Ascension Conservation team have set their priorities and there were many good outcomes which they have decided to implement, including data collection in the field, labelling and accessioning systems for cultivated plants, and several display gardens of endemics and native species for tourists and other visitors.

Workshop participants included staff from the Ascension Island Government conservation team and representatives from various conservation projects

They’ve also decided to create two areas for composting and to use this compost in the nursery, reducing their reliance on imported materials. The herbarium specimens we made will become part of a reference library at the conservation office (once a cabinet with suitable conditions is available).

Cynthia has just flown out this morning to go back to the Falkland Islands. She was of great value to the team sharing her experience. I know that she will be keeping in touch exchanging ideas and knowledge. Cynthia felt she benefited a lot from the sessions on fern propagation techniques, as she has a couple of ferns in the Falklands nursery which she has not been able to grow from spores yet.

I’ll be spending the rest of my time here assisting the team in implementing the workshop outcomes. Vanessa will also be working with the team; she has lots of experience in running the endemic plant nursery on St Helena. On my last day, Stedson Stroud (the AIG Conservation Officer), Jolene Sim and I are planning to collect living plant specimens for me to take back to Kew for further cultivation trials.

On Saturday afternoon, we’ll be encouraging the public to get involved with gardening and find out about Kew and the conservation projects. There will be seed-sowing activities for children while adults can build compost bins and learn how to grow healthy plants.

I’m also hoping to spend some more time at night watching the turtles coming onto the beach to lay eggs. I’ve never seen this before and it's a truly amazing experience!

Green turtle returning to the sea after nesting

 - Marcella -


Related links

Conservation of Ascension Island’s endemic plants

Developing Ex Situ Conservation Collections of UK Overseas Territories Plant Species In-Territory and at Kew

Invasive Species in the UK Overseas Territories

Seed Conservation in the UK Overseas Territories

Ascension Island Government Conservation


13 March 2013
It’s certainly an amazing place. We use John Packer’s survey as the basic reference for much of our vegetation survey work on the island and are building on his information as plant species are rediscovered.
12 March 2013
lived on Ascension in the mid eighties on a RAF posting. Loved every moment. Do you have a copy of John Packers survey of the island's flora and fauna? Very comprehensive.
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