Belfast Telegraph

Friday 11 July 2014

Remote islanders join Jubilee party

The tiny archipelago of Tristan da Cunha in the South Atlantic will be marking the Queen's Diamond Jubilee

As millions of people around the world prepare to celebrate the Queen's Diamond Jubilee, a community comprising just a few hundred revellers living in virtual isolation in the South Atlantic is keen to make sure it does not miss out on the party.

Residents on the tiny archipelago of Tristan da Cunha, a British territory, will mark the Jubilee by lighting a beacon made of invasive non-native plants which pose a significant threat to its precious wildlife unless treated.

The islands, the most remote on the planet at more than 1,500 miles (2,414km) from the nearest land mass of St Helena, are inhabited by 262 people, many of which farm the land. The other main source of income to the community is its lobster factory.

But islanders are keen to capitalise on an excuse to celebrate by burning the invasive plants which are posing a danger to existing native wildlife.

Chief islander Ian Laverollo said: "Invasive species are the greatest threat to wildlife on the island and the best way to get rid of the plants we clear is by burning them. When we realised the work would coincide with the Queen's Jubilee we thought we should use the opportunity to celebrate. There are already lots of festivities happening here to celebrate, but this is perhaps the most important.

"You don't get more patriotic than saving UK wildlife on the Queen's Jubilee, so we decided to make the occasion by lighting a beacon made from all the plants we remove. It will be another step towards restoring the natural habitat surrounding the 262 people who live on Tristan da Cunha, so that's another reason to celebrate."

A number of species including the New Zealand Christmas Tree, loganberry and other invasive plantlife have been cut down in anticipation of today's event, with islanders keen to burn the vegetation in order to wipe out the risk of it threatening sea bird nesting sites.

With funding from the Overseas Territories Environment Programme (OTEP), the RSPB is working with the Tristan Conservation Department to minimise the impacts of invasive plants, including trialling chemical control. More than 40% of Tristan da Cunha is conserved for rare birds, plants and other wildlife found exclusively on the islands.

Tim Stowe, the RSPB's director of international operations, said: "The overseas territories hold 85% of the UK's globally threatened species, an assortment of wildlife, from penguins to parrots and hummingbirds to seabirds and whales - and the UK Government has an obligation to protect it all.

"Lighting a beacon made of invasive species that threaten the rare and beautiful wildlife on Tristan, such as the endemic Tristan flightless moth, is a brilliant idea from the community."

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