The Saint Helena gumwood, Commidendrum robustum, is endemic to the island and is listed as critically endangered on IUCN’s Red List. Situated towards the isolated Western end of Island, Peak Dale contains the last remnant of Saint Helena’s ancient gumwood forest. The forest shows signs of historical neglect due to a lack of resources for its management and restoration and currently there is almost no successful natural regeneration. Many of the surviving individuals are threatened by habitat transformation and damage caused by invasive non-native species (e.g. ring barking by rats and rabbits, trampling of seedlings and soil erosion by feral livestock, smothering by invasive non-native tree species). The gumwood forest is a key habitat and sole refuge for numerous species of flora and fauna, some of which are found nowhere else in the world.
Conserving and increasing the biodiversity of this unique ecosystem was a major output for the project. Forests are critical in slowing and/or stopping climate change through absorbing and storing carbon dioxide. By improving the quality and quantity of Peak Dale forest it will not only contribute to influencing climate change but improve other key ecological services such as water quality, regulation of groundwater levels, decrease soil erosion and stabilise the natural landscape so they can be enjoyed for future generations to come. The project fostered responsible use of the forest through educating key stakeholders and members of the public about its fragility and used cost effective restoration techniques so that the forest ecosystem is sustainable in the long term.
Description of the project
The project halted the decline of the last remnant of gumwood forest on Saint Helena by undertaking restoration work at Peak Dale. It informed a best practice technique for gumwood forest restoration that can be applicable to other gumwood species and forest habitats on the island.
Baseline surveys and distribution mapping were used to establish native and endemic planting areas within the restoration area. The causes of seedling/sapling loss were identified and measures to mitigate losses were implemented.
Over 1000 Gumwood trees were planted as part of the restoration plan
Increasing local capacity to restore gumwood forest and engaging local stakeholders was an integral part of the project; local volunteers contributed to the clearance and control of invasive species (baiting of rats; clearing of invasive trees; erecting stock-proof and rabbit-proof fencing to protect priority areas within the restoration site) and the restoration planting and surveys of gumwood trees. A management plan for Peak Dale has been developed in collaboration with stakeholders.
A public information and awareness campaign ensured that the island’s population is informed of the project activities. Fostering community involvement has contributed to the long-term sustainable management of the forest.
This project successfully halted the decline of the gumwood forest at Peak Dale through development of best practice restoration techniques.
Local stakeholders now have the skills, knowledge and equipment necessary to continue restoration which helps to ensure that the forest is more sustainable in the longer term
The project has seen a dramatic increase in natural regeneration through increased seedling germination and survival
The vegetation cover has changed significantly through the forest. When the stock and rabbit proof fencing was installed initially it created a negative flurry of growth from invasive plant species as they were no longer being trampled and eaten by feral livestock and predators, however the project staff and volunteers have worked hard to combat this and regain control for a positive outcome
The Peak Dale Management Plan, survey protocols, baseline surveys and distribution of endemic flora were completed.
Communication and project visibility
A Peak Dale leaflet was produced and printed locally detailing the plight of the forest, the threats it faces, what the project is doing to combat the threats, how people can help get involved.
Five Newspaper articles on invasive species in the forest and how the project is dealing with them were printed in both local newspapers. These are aimed at increasing local awareness of the forest, invasive that occur and how to tackle them.
Two local radio interviews have been completed by the project manager on the project.
Eleven newspaper articles on invasive species were prepared and published in the two local newspapers through the project.
Regular project updates have been uploaded online to the designated project Facebook page (@SNCGPeakDale)
Gumwood Guardians otherwise known as GG’s volunteer group has been running advertised monthly activities in the forest to encourage public participation in forest restoration and knowledge transfer. – During the course of the project 14 GG’s events ran as well as an additional 9 events with key stakeholders totalling 346 hours of restoration.
A restoration workshop was held on 15th September 2017 with key stakeholders to develop the Peak Dale Management Plan and share restoration experience.
The project and its results was presented on the 1st St Helena International Environmental Conference, February 2018.