Ascension Island provided an excellent venue for conservationists from the South Atlantic UK Overseas Territories (UKOTs) to meet for the first time to examine the status of their Protected Areas and to review techniques for monitoring their plants and animals.
The world’s biodiversity is under threat and so conserving plants and animals has become a race against time. Although we are still discovering new species, we are losing biodiversity at an alarming rate. One of the most effective means of conserving biodiversity is by protecting habitats, and thereby the collections of species these habitats support. Consequently much of our effort is devoted to trying to identify the most important sites for biodiversity worldwide. One exciting project based in the Falkland Islands is trying to identify how the idea of a Protected Areas Network might best be applied in the Falklands context.
Managed by Clare Cockwell from Falklands Conservation, this ambitious three year project is funded by the UK Government under its Overseas Territories Environment Programme (OTEP). In order to share experiences across the South Atlantic Region, Clare organised a regional workshop on Ascension in June 2013 and invited Kew and the RSPB to help her facilitate it.
Workshop delegates assemble outside the Red Lion Conference Centre
Delegates from the South Atlantic UKOTs
The workshop brought together a wide range of people working with, and interested in, Protected Areas. These included: landowners/farmers from the Falkland Islands who have been working with the OTEP project since its inception; conservation practitioners from Environment Departments in Ascension, Falklands and St Helena ; and conservation staff from the St Helena National Trust and Falklands Conservation. We were joined by several other Ascension Government delegates and had 30 people participating in a lively series of overview talks, discussion groups, field trips and role play activities.
Small group discussions in full flow in the Red Lion
The workshop was held in the newly renovated Red Lion conference centre which lies within Green Mountain National Park, Ascension’s only current National Park. This was the first international workshop to be held at the Red Lion, which also houses the office of the National Park Warden, Stedson Stroud. The facilities were excellent and we are happy to promote this as a great international venue.
The renovated Red Lion building provided the workshop venue
In the field
As a result of recent restoration efforts by the Ascension Island Government Conservation team, the paths around Green Mountain have been cleared and are now easily passable. These provided great access to the mountain’s biodiversity hotspots which were ideal teaching venues. We were able to get out and discuss issues associated with biodiversity conservation, establishing protected areas, monitoring different taxa, and how these issues apply to other Territories across the Region.
Working out the best way to monitor epiphytic plants
Developing monitoring activities
One of the workshop’s objectives was to explore a cross-territory strategy for monitoring protected areas and there was lots of support for the general principle and for the value of maintaining the links developed during this workshop. We were able to get a perspective on each Territory's current monitoring activities although, unfortunately, no delegates from Tristan da Cunha were able to attend the workshop.
We heard about the system of Protected Areas being proposed for Ascension and the legislation being drawn up to enable this, all under the auspices of the current Darwin Initiative funded project ‘Implementing a Darwin Initiative Biodiversity Action Plan for Ascension Island ’ in which Kew and the RSPB are also partners. We heard about the recently designated Nature Conservation Areas in St Helena and the management plans being written for them. We also heard about the way the Falklands are approaching protected areas with a stakeholder-driven approach. This is a critical time for this region, for its biodiversity and the challenge of providing sufficient resources to a dedicated set of people who are committed to conserving it!
And of course Ascension shared some of its unique biodiversity with us: nesting and hatching green turtles; recently discovered endemic bryophytes; and spawning land crabs. Among the stories of hope were the Ascension Island parsley fern (Anogramma ascensionis), an endemic vascular plant on the edge of extinction in the wild, but secure in cultivation, and Ascension frigate birds finally returning to nest and fledge a chick on the mainland 7 years after the successful feral cat eradication programme.
So much on one small island worth protecting, and so many of these jewels of the South Atlantic in need of protection – we must continue to work closely together to identify the key biodiversity sites and ensure the resources needed are made available to stop the loss of UKOT biodiversity.
Green Mountain National Park
A support network
After the completion of this enormously successful workshop, delegates returned home fired with enthusiasm and with a new set of friends who are facing similar challenges and who are now friendly faces at the end of an email ready to share an idea or offer a thought. Hopefully they feel a little less alone in their conservation battles.
Thanks to Clare for excellent organisation and Ben for keeping everyone fed so well; to OTEP for funding the bulk of the workshop (other funding support from Ascension Island Government (AIG), Falkland Islands Government, St Helena Government, Falklands Conservation, RSPB and Kew); to AIG Administrator, Colin Wells for continued support; to our Ascension hosts for great facilities and wildlife experiences; and to the participants and my fellow facilitators for providing such a stimulating environment and a sense of camaraderie and hope for the future.
- Colin -
Find out more about some of Kew's activities in the South Atlantic UKOTs
- Falkland Islands native plants project
- Impacts of climate change on terrestrial ecosystems of the Falkland Islands
UKOTs bloggers (left to right): Sara Bárrios, Pat Griggs, Colin Clubbe, Marcella Corcoran, Tom Heller, Martin Hamilton.
Using modern plant specimens collected in the field and historic specimens held in Kew’s Herbarium, together with detailed habitat descriptions and other field information, we are documenting the plant diversity of the UKOTs. We are making this information accessible via the UKOTs Online Herbarium. This resource, together with the field research, enables us to undertake conservation assessments, produce Red Lists of threatened species, and rank potentially invasive species – all of which underpin the development of management plans to protect the UKOTs’ plant heritage.
The UKOTs bloggers are:
- Colin Clubbe (Head of UKOTs and Conservation Training)
- Martin Hamilton (UKOTs Programme Co-ordinator)
- Marcella Corcoran (UKOTs Programme Officer – Horticultural Liaison)
- Sara Bárrios (UKOTs Programme Officer – GSPC Targets 1&2 OTEP Project)
- Pat Griggs (UKOTs Public Engagement Officer)
- Tom Heller (UKOTs Millennium Seed Bank Officer)
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