Famous for being Napoleon Bonaparte’s final place of exile, St Helena is also known as the ‘Galapagos of the South Atlantic’, due to its unique wildlife. As the wildlife there has developed in extreme isolation, St Helena hosts a staggering number of invertebrate species, over 400, which are not found anywhere else in the world. It actually has more endemic species than the UK and all its other Overseas Territories put together.
As Project Manager for the Bugs on the Brink Project, I am lucky enough to be visiting St Helena in June. It will be an opportunity for me to see how the project is working on the ground, understand the issues on the island and make sure that we are contributing to the long term conservation of its wildlife.
Not a well known place, St Helena is a UK Overseas Territory which lies in the South Atlantic Ocean, mid-way between Africa and South America. It is one of the most remote inhabited islands in the world and, for now, can only be reached by boat. My journey to this island will be a unique experience – after an overnight flight from RAF Brize Norton to Ascension Island, I will pick up the Royal Mail Ship for the final leg of my journey, which takes three days.
It is a really exciting time to be involved in conservation work on St Helena, there is a genuine chance to make a difference, in a place that is well and truly one of the jewels in the crown of UK biodiversity. Over the next four weeks I will blogging about my experiences to try and share this amazing place with you.
Despite its extreme isolation man has still managed to have a big impact. Many of St Helena’s unique invertebrates are on the brink of extinction, literally hanging on in fragments of native habitat. Some of its most iconic species, like the Giant earwig (Labidura herculeana), Giant ground beetle (Aplothorax burchelli) and the St Helena darter (a dragonfly – Sympetrum dilatatum) are feared lost within living memory.
Whilst we may not save the Giant earwig or the St Helena darter, we hope that we will be able to conserve what is left of the unique and very threatened wildlife of the island. So far there have been some early successes for the Bugs on the Brink project. David, our project officer on St Helena has spent the last 12 months comprehensively recording and locating the island’s endemic species. This information is underpinning the laws that the St Helena Government is drawing up to protect endangered species. A rare Leaf hopper, not seen since 1875, was recently recorded and Liza, our Education Officer has been busy helping children to learn about bugs.
The ‘Bugs on the Brink’ project has been made possible by funding from the Darwin Initiative and is a partnership project between Buglife, St Helena National Trust, St Helena Government and Centre for Ecology and Hydrology.