St Helena’s Millenium Forest

Why a Millennium Forest?

St Helena emerged from the ocean about 14 million years ago. The result of spectacular volcanic activity in the Flagstaff – Turks Cap area. Four million years later, the land area was increased further when a second burst of volcanic activity occurred in what is now Sandy Bay . Through the course of 10,000 millennium the island changed, very gradually, from volcanic desert to lush green vegetation covering the entire island.

Because of the island’s remote location the flora and fauna which managed to arrive and thrive on the island evolved separately and differently from the rest of the world’s birds, insects and vegetation. Now, we can only imagine how the island’s natural environment developed. Our limited knowledge is based on what we know about the surviving endemic species and from the fossils so far discovered.

If only Don Fernando Lopez had been a naturalist, geologist and historian. As the first known human settler on St Helena he was in the best position to record for posterity the vast array of wildlife which we imagine to have existed in his time.

Regrettably, Lopez was not the first curator of St Helena’s rich and now mostly extinct heritage but the herald of widespread and irrecoverable ecological damage. 10,000 millennium of natural evolution and diversity was significantly reversed in the first century or so of the half millennium of human habitation.

After several years of planning, St Helena’s Millennium Forest Project got underway in 2,000 AD. The purpose is to undo some of damage which human habitation has inflicted on the island’s delicately balanced environment and ecological systems.

Fours years of sometimes strenuous effort has produced results which are mostly successful. However, in those first four years there have been problems to overcome. Drought slowed down the planned progress and desease carried by invasive species diverted limited resources away from the main task of ensuring the existing plantations develop robustly and new plantations enlarge the forest area.

It could take the efforts of two generations of committed workers to ensure the ‘Great Wood’ of gumwoods is permanently re-established at Horse Point and then, hopefully, extended to Deadwood, Woody Ridge and other areas in between.

As the years go by and the gumwood saplings grow in height and strength the work will gradually become easier. When semi-mature, the trees will be more resistant to drought and desease. That is the future. For the present we need to guarantee the future of the forest by protecting the thousands of saplings already growing and planting more seedlings until the forest area is large enough to look after itself.

What has the Millennium Forest Project achieved so far?

The basic purpose of the Project is to re-establish at least some of the Great Wood which used to thrive on the eastern side of St Helena. In fact, in the early 1980s and again in the mid and late 1990s, Norman Williams and George Benjamin were responsible for successfully planting gumwoods at Horse Point – within the original area of the Great Wood. It was decided to build on these first successful attempts and develop a substantial plantation of gumwoods in an area where they used thrive not so long ago. To mark the beginning of the present millennium individuals and organisations were asked to make donations and plant a tree in their name. The response was very encouraging. Over four thousand trees were planted in 2000.

A further 1,000 trees have been planted since with the forest area covering 37 acres. In addition, the gatehouse was built. This makes an imposing entrance to the forest and holds the names of individuals and organisations who made donations in the inaugural millennium year.

A water supply has been installed to recycle filtered water from the stabilisation ponds. This supply is used to water the tender seedlings and saplings. A fresh water supply has been installed for the forest workers.

Beyond this, links have been made with similar and supporting organisations at home and abroad. This allows expertise, experience and problems to be shared. Applications for funding are a continuing necessity. Most funding awards are for a specific purpose or to provide assistance for a limited period. The policy is for funding applications to be made to overseas organisations. There are already more than enough good causes requiring money from St Helena’s own limited resources.

Seeds are now gathered from the first trees to be planted in the forest. The last remaining area of original gumwoods at Peak Dale provides a further source of seed. Germination is carried out by forest staff and by A&NR staff at Scotland.

Important tasks during 2003 included watering tender new growth during the prolonged dry spell, clearing away invasive species and erecting large windbreaks to protect new growth from the damaging south easterlies.

Even though the forest is still at the plantation stage, it provides the background for regular education visits by school children and other groups. There are regular visits from St Helenians returning from overseas, tourists and of course islanders. There are always several islanders who make the forest a calling point during the Sunday drive around parts of the island. Millennium Forest Project also want to ensure the last remaining original gumwoods at Peak Dale are cared for and preserved. This is an important task as the destructive jacarandah larvae thrived at Peak Dale during the dry weather in 2003.

What is planned for the forest over the next few years?

The main sign of success is, of course, that the forest becomes established with strong young trees and is regularly expanded by setting out new plantations. This is happening but it is a continuing programme of care for the young growth planted in the current and previous years together with ground preparation and planting in the new areas.

There is another important sign of success – the number of people visiting the forest.

Visitor numbers are already significant and rising. Several facilities need to be provided, not only to cater for increasing numbers but to make the visit as pleasant and informative as possible. These same facilities are also needed to protect the forest’s development from human activity. Young trees are also home to many birds and insects – some of them endemic species. Too much human activity in sensitive areas of the forest would stop development of this ecologically important aspect of the Millennium Forest Project.
As the forest expands and the visitors numbers increase, forest trails will need to be laid out to indicate routes through the various parts of the forest. Toilet facilities, picnic areas and information boards will become indispensable. Of equal importance is the establishment of a visitor centre where groups and individuals can learn about the forest in the context of the the island’s environmental, social and economic history. In terms of tourism it is anticipated the forest will be a major attraction – close to Longwood House in proximity, prominence and popularity.

It is hoped this booklet will serve two purposes. First, is the all important fund raising. The price paid for the booklet will be added to funds now being raised to support the Millennium Forest Project in the next few important years when forest development is at its most critical and vulnerable stage. Second, the photographs will help illustrate the progress made so far, the problems which exist now and the hopes for the future.

Your donation will help to achieve this very long lasting benefit to the Island, the islanders and visitors for many generations to come.