Now back in the UK after another three days on the Royal Mail Ship and then three days waiting for the connecting flight from Ascension to the UK, I have had time to reflect on the last few weeks.
Having the chance to visit St Helena has really made me understand the highs and lows of international conservation work and how our project complements work on the ground over there.
Without a doubt conservation work on St Helena is tough and it is difficult to appreciate this without seeing it first hand. There are so many priorities and not enough people-power or cash to tackle them all. Many species are on the verge of extinction making it difficult to prioritise action for one species or habitat above another. Turn your back for a moment to focus on one task and something else will go extinct! Habitat restoration work is challenging too, particularly when you have the added difficulty of working on a 45 degree slope as well as gale force winds and cliff edges to contend with!
Looking back to my time in St Helena I can honestly say that the Bugs on the Brink project is delivering some real conservation action and this is something that I am proud to be part of. The knowledge we have about the invertebrates on St Helena has leapt forward. The timing of the project has been perfect – we have been able to add an invertebrate dimension to the work that the St Helena National Trust, St Helena Government and others are carrying out. For example advising on the rare bugs to include new in Protected Species legislation and as management plans are drawn up for the island’s protected areas, we will be working with the Government to guarantee they meet the needs of the unique bugs.
Despite these early successes, over the next 18 months we have a lot of work to do. One of our project partners, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology is due out to St Helena in September to start looking at pollinators and their role in the natural environment of St Helena. Once complete this work will help to further refine the fantastic conservation work already being carried out. A priority for us is to produce an invertebrate guide; so that when the project has finished there will be a permanent resource to help people find out about St Helena’s crazy array of creepy crawlies. This will be available online and free for everyone.
We are also intending to Red List species which is a vital step in recognising the rare and endangered bugs of St Helena. This is an internationally recognised system to identify species at risk of extinction, guide future conservation work as well as making it easier for everyone to understand which species need the most urgent action. This is vital on St Helena.
Education work is also a hugely important part of the project. Liza Fowler, our Education Officer on St Helena is about to start developing a ‘loan pack’ so that schools can run their own environmental education lessons. Once this has been set up we will be training teachers to use the equipment so that they can continue to run classes once the project has finished. This is building on lasts years’ work with the primary schools on St Helena. Crucial work and you never know who we might inspire to be the next David Attenborough!
Regardless of the challenges on St Helena there is some really exciting conservation work going ahead and I have been lucky enough to experience this first hand. Realistically Bugs on the Brink is never going to fix all the conservation difficulties on St Helena but I am confident this is a big step forward and that we are meeting the aims of this project to pave the way for future work.