4 December 2023
In response to the increasing concerns of the presence of plant pathogens affecting endemic trees within the Peaks National Park and the potential for these to spread, since April 2023 access to some areas of the Peaks National Park has been prohibited. This prohibition was initially put in place until the end of December 2023, to allow time to assess the impact of the pathogens on the park and for a review on the basis of relevant information and evidence to take place.
Since the discovery of the pathogens over a year ago, the Environment, Natural Resources and Planning (ENRP) Portfolio has been working with the St Helena Research Institute, Centre for Centre for Agriculture and Biosciences International (CABI) and the Birmingham Institute for Forest Research (BIFor). This work has primarily taken place under the Darwin Plus ‘Managing the pathogens affecting St Helena’s biodiversity and food security’ project. It has sought to identify the pathogens present, confirm that these pathogens are causing the tree deaths within the Peaks National Park and monitor their spread. All of this information is necessary to help make an informed decision on access arrangements within the Peaks National Park.
Whilst much work has been underway since the start of the year, scientific sampling and analysis is time consuming. Inoculation experiments and genetic analysis on our endemics to assess resistance to the pathogens is still to be completed.
This means we are still a few months off from having sufficient information to make an informed decision on future access arrangements. From discussions ENRP held with the CABI team that were here last month, it is now expected that key information following the will be available for consideration by March 2024.
In light of this pending information and the potential level of threat posed by the pathogens, we consider that we must continue to apply a precautionary principle in our approach. Therefore the decision has now been made to keep the current prohibitions on access in place. This means that all sites currently closed will remain so, including the Scotland Nursery site which was closed last month. The only exceptions to this will be some minor adjustments to the Wrangham’s and Halley’s Mount sites, for which a boundary review is being undertaken so that the areas closed will align with the boundary of the Peaks National Park. Once the boundary review is completed, new Environmental Protection Notices (EPNs) will be issued and the public will be informed when this happens.
The process currently in place for limited authorised access will remain in place. This allows those persons who need to access closed sites for essential work to apply to the Chief Environmental Officer for permissions to do so.
A further evidence-based review of access arrangements will be undertaken in March 2024 which will inform the need, or not, for tailored access arrangements beyond that date.
Chief Environmental Officer, Isabel Peters said:
“We appreciate that many members of the public are patiently awaiting the re-opening of the Peaks National Park and we extend our thanks to everyone who has observed the EPN’s and respected the closures up to now. Your support has been very much appreciated and is vital to protecting the park. The decision to keep the areas closed for a further three months was carefully considered, and was taken for the long term health of our precious biodiversity. We look forward to your continued support in helping us to safeguard our endemic plants, animals and their habitats.”
Note to Editor
The Chief Environmental Officer Isabel Peters, will be off island until 19 December. In her absence, Environmental Risk Manager Mike Durnford will be the point of contact in the interim and can be contacted by telephone on 24724 or via email through firstname.lastname@example.org.
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