Nurseries for Nature restores indigenous habitats on Saint Helena

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In January 2019, Nurseries for Nature, a year-long initiative to propagate Saint Helena’s rare endemic plants, will come to an end. As a result of the project, three local nurseries can now produce local endemic vegetation on a large scale to restore indigenous habitats.

The aim of Nurseries for Nature is to increase the capability of Saint Helena’s endemic nurseries. This occurs by tripling the amount of plants propagated before the start of the project in January 2018, says Martina Peters, Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services in Territories of European Overseas (BEST) project manager for the Saint Helena National Trust.

Of Saint Helena’s 45 endemic plants that occur nowhere else in the world, the project focused on nine endangered species found in the volcanic island’s cloud forest and dryland vegetation regions. These are the tea plant (Frankenia portulacifolia), salad plant (Hypertelis acida), cliff hair grass (Eragrostis episcopulus), white wood (Petrobium arboretum), Diana’s peak grass (Carex dianae) and St Helena lobelia (Trimeris scaevolifolia). Propagation includes three fern species: tree fern (Dicksonia aborescens), brown scale fern (Pseudophegopteris dianae) and small kidney fern (Dryopteris napoleonis). Ferns are notoriously challenging to propagate.

Saint Helena, famous for Napoleon’s place of exile, is a remote British Overseas Territory in the South Atlantic Ocean. It was colonised in 1659 by the British and Dutch East India Company. The arrival of colonists placed further stress on the endemic plant life, which had already been “pushed to the fringes” by the goats, sheep and pigs released by Portuguese sailors in the 16th century, says Peters.

Nurseries for Nature employs six people divided between Millennium Forest Nursery and Peaks Nursery. In a nutshell, the team has the technical task of collecting seeds from wild plants or seed banks for germinating. Once the seedlings sprout they are transferred to potting bags and moved outdoors to harden off to be planted in the wild.

Previously, propagation of the plants only occurred on a small scale. Resources and funding for Nurseries for Nature was provided by BEST and was managed by the Saint Helena National Trust.

Written by Georgina Lockwood 

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