Blog written by Sacha Cleminson (RSPB's Senior Policy Officer (International)) All picture credits Sacha Cleminson
Gloom, gloom and doom. Threats. Decline. Inaction and mass extinction.
Urgh, sometimes being a nature lover can be a drag as you’re weighed down by one tale of species decline after another.
If you need brightening up, visit the intoxicatingly beautiful South Georgia, one of the British Overseas Territories. At the base of spikey mountains, calving glaciers and ice blue fjords (as if they weren’t enough) is a huge, noisy, smelly, riot of hundreds of thousands of creatures.
Landing on beaches in peak Fur Seal breeding season is a hazardous business
I took a short break from RSPB work to join a project to create a map of the terrestrial habitats of South Georgia*. We landed at many locations to record the different habitats. We found islets covered in hulking Tussac grass plants, some up to our necks, aromatic herbfields of sticky burr plants called Burnet and bright colourful landscapes of delicate mosses where a misplaced footprint can last decades.
But what I found most captivating of all was to find myself in a country whose wildlife is recovering. And in a spectacular way. South Georgia was looted for its whales, its seals and fur seals, its penguins and its fish. Rats, mice and reindeer arrived and have taken their toll on breeding seabirds and the vegetation.
Angry! Fur Seal pups seem to be born angry. Just a few days old, this little fella growled furiously
This King Penguin suffers from icy dingleberries
Now, whales are coming back. We found our boat surrounded by pods of curious Humpbacks. The beaches are being fought over by breeding Southern Elephant Seals and millions of aggressive short-tempered Antarctic Fur Seals which made landing in a small rubber boat somewhat sporting. King Penguins are raising families in almost uncountable numbers. Fisheries are now accredited with sustainability certification. Breathtakingly ambitious projects have be run to remove rats, mice and reindeer.
One of our ship's engineers enjoying a visit from a noisy Humpback
What is particularly appealing is that the wildlife is being allowed to recover because of an idea that it should be allowed to. And that inspirational idea is backed up by serious intent –political and financial– on behalf of the Government of South Georgia with support from the UK Government and a host of partners (including RSPB). That intent is not lightly given. It is written in bold in the blueprint strategy for the management of the country.
A whale jawbone at Right Whale Bay
South Georgia does have its conservation challenges of course. It faces an uncertain future with climate change and its breeding Albatross colonies are in decline. But there is serious-mindedness to tackle this too.
Okay, we’re not all jammy enough to be able to physically visit South Georgia being over 7,000 miles from the UK. But if you can’t visit do listen to recordings of more than 100,000 King Penguins at Salisbury Plain (sparing yourself the equally arresting aroma) or watch Wandering Albatrosses and Southern Elephant Seals on Blue Planet 2. That is the sound and look of intent.
Imagine the noise of all these King Penguins breeding at Salisbury Plain
* A joint project between the South Atlantic Environmental Research Institute, Governments of South Georgia & Falkland Islands, Shallow Marine Surveys Group, Joint Nature Conservation Committee, Oregon State University, with support from the UK Government’s taxpayer-funded Darwin Initiative.
A young male Southern Elephant Seal at rest
Always very jealous reading about this place.
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