The cloud forest of the Peaks National Park is the only remaining densely vegetated habitat type on St Helena which can still be considered predominantly native. Approximately 20 hectares of this remarkable ecosystem remain, confined to the highest ridges generally above 750 metres in altitude. It is dominated by a rich community of tree-fern thicket, habitat for many of the island’s rarest endemic plants, many of which are listed as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List.
In recognition of its ecological importance, the peaks were designated as a national park in 1996. Despite its biodiversity, the park is an extremely fragile ecosystem, constantly under threat from invasive plants, species loss, habitat fragmentation, climate change, and tourism.
It is important that the unique environment of the Peaks National Park can be accessed in a way that minimises disturbance and protects the fragile environment from potential impacts those park users might cause. A network of trails exists along the steep ridges, and boardwalks, staircases and handrails are needed to make the trails safer and more accessible to people. This is particularly relevant in light of the expected increase in tourism as a result of the opening of the island’s first airport.
Description of the project
The project aimed to improve the trail facilities in the Peaks National Park by installing approximately 350 metres of stairs, boardwalks and handrails; new hiking shelter; and overgrown trails cleared of vegetation and reinstated into the trail network; update and replace park signage; and install interpretive signage panels throughout the park.
The project is the largest ecotourism development of its kind on St Helena. Construction used high-quality materials, and will be regularly maintained, so the facilities will be long-lasting and provide many decades of access for park visitors
The overall aim of the project was to raise the profile of conservation in the cloud forest by providing improved, safe access for park users, in a way that minimises disturbance to the sensitive environment. It will complement the on-going conservation work which has been carried out over the past 20 years.
Achievement of the project results and purpose:
4km of overgrown trails cleared and made accessible
Over 200 m of boardwalks, staircases and handrails installed
1 hiking shelter constructed
Display at a local community event
Positive comments in the self-registration trail book on Diana’s Peak summit show that the trail improvements in deed are well received. Early indications are that visitor numbers are up from previous years