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Bugs on the Brink

St Helena is one of the UK’s Overseas Territories. Sitting between Africa and South America in the South Atlantic Ocean, it is one of the most remote inhabited islands in the world and has a  unique biological heritage.

Often called the ‘Galapagos of the South Atlantic’ the island’s flora and fauna has evolved in extreme isolation, resulting in more than 400 invertebrate species that are not found anywhere else on Earth. That’s more endemic species than the UK and all its other Overseas Territories put together.

What’s been going wrong?

Following its discovery by sailors in 1502, St Helena suffered immense environmental destruction, caused mainly by introducing livestock and cutting down the forest.

Today, much of the island’s unique wildlife is threatened with extinction.

Spikey yellow woodlouse (Pseudolaureola atlantica) © Ed Thorpe

Spikey yellow woodlouse (Pseudolaureola atlantica) © Ed Thorpe

Iconic invertebrates such as the Giant earwig (Labidura herculeana), Giant ground beetle (Aplothorax burchelli) and St Helena darter (a dragonfly – Sympetrum dilatatum) have become extinct within the memory spans of people living on the island now.

The remnants of the native flora and fauna are struggling to survive in tiny fragments.  Native invertebrates face a wide range of pressures from non-native wildlife;  introduced plants threaten to overwhelm native habitat; introduced mammals like rats and mice and countless introduced invertebrates, such as centipedes and praying mantis either compete with or prey upon  native wildlife.

 

What have we done?

The UK Government’s Darwin Initiative awarded funding for a project called ‘Bugs on the Brink: Laying the Foundations for Invertebrate Conservation on St Helena’, which ran from 2013 to 2016.

Buglife, the St Helena National Trust, St Helena Government and the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (Edinburgh) worked in partnership for three years to conserve what is left of the unique and very threatened fauna of the island.

The 4 year project made significant progress in securing the long term survival of the 460 endemic invertebrates on St Helena. Including embedding invertebrates into the work of the government and NGOs on island with a five year invertebrate strategy, 285 invertebrates are now protected through new legislation and red listing started with 16 invertebrates. Ten weeks of training saw 41 training opportunities delivered for government and NGO staff. A massive dataset was also collated with 3,000 species baseline and 10,000 records; and an invertebrate guide and reference collection established.

There was also extensive engagement with Saints (local people from St Helena) with 77 education events with 1720 opportunities for children; and with 39 teachers trained on invertebrate education and 100% islanders exposed to the project through media and events.

For more information on the project’s achievements see the St Helena National Trust website

Many great discoveries have been made during the project on this amazing island. 

 

A taste of St Helena’s wonders

  • The summit ridge, known as the Central Peaks, is the highest part of St Helena. At around 700-800m, the ridge receives the highest rainfall. Usually enveloped in mist, it is covered with cloud forest, comprising cabbage tree woodland and tree-fern thicket. More than 200 endemic invertebrates occur in the Central Peaks, over half the endemic fauna. Approximately 125 species are confined here, unable to leave its fragmented refuge, including the iconic Spiky yellow woodlouse.

 

  • Prosperous Bay Plain is the flattest area on St Helena, it is hot and dry. A unique desert ecosystem has developed in the Central Basin, where up to 40 endemic invertebrates have evolved.  Many are specialists in burrowing, including some spectacular nocturnal wolf spiders, whose eyes blink back at you in the torchlight.

 

  • Peak Dale and the Millennium Forest are where one of the principal endemic trees of St Helena, the Gumwood, still grows. Peak Dale is a remnant habitat, still inhabited by many endemic moths and beetles. The Millennium Forest has been replanted with Gumwood in an effort to restore this habitat.

 

What is waiting to be discovered during the project on this amazing island?

Buglife would like to thank those who have helped fund and support the conservation of unique invertebrates in St Helena. The Darwin Initiative who have kindly funded this project and our partners St Helena National Trust, St Helena Government and Centre for Ecology & Hydrology.

 

 

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