The island of St Helena lies in the South Atlantic Ocean. This UK Overseas Territory is home to rare and special species, including 500 species found nowhere else on the planet! The St Helena Cloud Forest Project is a highly collaborative initiative working to restore cloud forest habitat within the Peaks National Park on St Helena. With such an important task, the project has been seeking to learn from other conservation initiatives and share experiences and knowledge.

Shayla Ellick, RSPB’s St Helena Cloud Forest Project Coordinator, explains how sharing knowledge and experiences in places as far away as the Cairngorms of Scotland and the Taita Hills of Kenya are helping the project to restore an ecosystem.

The St Helena Cloud Forest Project
St Helena’s Peaks National Park cloud forest is home to approximately a sixth of the UK’s unique biodiversity - and likely more still to be found. This special ecosystem is much valued by the local community and provides most of the island’s water supply, the majority of which is generated through mist capture.

Three images of three different invertebrates found in the cloud forest. The first is a Golden Sail Spider with a green/golden body and long golden legs. The middle image is a pale blue leafhopper, known as the Vulturine Leafhopper. The final image is of a grey and orange-spotted leafhopper known as a Coarse stained-glass leafhopper.

Just three of some of the amazing invertebrates that use the cloud forest on St Helena – (l-r) Golden Sail Spider, Vulturine Leafhopper and Coarse Stained-glass Leafhopper. © Liza Fowler.

Sadly, the cloud forest was decimated after the island was settled in 1659, from an estimated 600 to now just 16 hectares, and these habitat remnants continue to be threatened by fragmentation, invasive species, and climate change.

The St Helena Cloud Forest Project is working to restore and increase cloud forest habitat, boost the island’s water supply and security, and support sustainable tourism within the Peaks National Park and on St Helena.

A Spiky Yellow Woodlouse on green leaf.

The Spiky Yellow Woodlouse is just one of hundreds of species that are found on St Helena and nowhere else on the planet. © Ed Thorpe (

Exchanging skills, knowledge and experiences
Restoring the cloud forest is a huge undertaking and involves many people and many different skills. We want to make the most of our conservation contacts and over the past year, in addition to on-island training, teams from St Helena have visited the UK and Kenya to learn more from, and exchange knowledge with, a range of conservation projects.

Saving cloud forests thousands of kilometres apart
I recently visited a Darwin-funded cloud forest restoration project in Kenya’s Taita Hills, alongside my colleague Vanessa Thomas-Williams from the St Helena Government. The Taita Hills cloud forest is home to many unique species of plants, birds, insects and animals and provides water for the local community and surrounding lowland plains of Tsavo.

Six people pose for a photograph with trees and lush vegetation in the background.

St Helena Cloud Forest Project & Kenya’s Taita Hills team at a restoration site in cloud forest in Kenya © Shayla Ellick/RSPB.

Hosted by Nature Kenya, we visited some of their remaining cloud forest fragments to see restoration work in action. The Taita project’s tree nurseries support sustainable livelihoods as community groups propagate food crop species for sale, as well as endemic and native species for forest restoration.

It was amazing to see the many similarities between our projects and be able to share knowledge, experiences and even challenges while forging new networks. We were particularly impressed with how involved the community are with the Taita restoration work and the experience generated new ideas for both projects. We’re excited to trial some of these back on St Helena.

Indigenous and exotic forest vegetation on a steep slope, there is a rocky outcrop at the top of the slope and low cloud drifting over the vegetation.

A mixture of indigenous and exotic forest in Kenya’s Taita Hills. © Shayla Ellick/RSPB.

Supporting sustainable tourism
One of the aims of the St Helena Cloud Forest project is to help to increase visitors to the Peaks National Park but to do so in a sustainable manner. To support this work, Ross Frazer from the RSPB’s Reserves Development Team headed out to St Helena earlier this year. Ross completed a facilities assessment of the National Park, considering possibilities for future visitors and how these could link with other visitor offers on St Helena.

Three people having a conversation under a shelter surrounded by green vegetation.

Ross Frazer, from the RSPB meeting the St Helena Peaks restoration team © Shayla Ellick/RSPB.

Ross explains more about the trip: “My week involved spending time in the cloud forest, assessing current facilities, and speaking to the passionate teams who carry out restoration work. I also spoke with project partners and stakeholders. I facilitated a workshop where we explored what a visitor journey could look like within the National Park, and the risks, benefits and issues around these ideas. A particular highlight of some island sight-seeing included watching mating behaviour of two Wirebirds, St Helena’s endemic plover.

My own journey went from knowing little about St Helena to the island now holding a special place in my heart. I am keen to watch how its warm, welcoming people use my recommendations to find ways of introducing the outside world to the island’s amazing wildlife and the stunning cloud forest, whilst still protecting both.”

People sitting in groups at desks as part of a workshop.

Partnership workshop on St Helena, part of Ross’ visit to St Helena to discuss the future of sustainable tourism on the island. © Ross Frazer/RSPB.

Saving rare plants – seed banks and laboratories
As part of the Cloud Forest Project, we’re saving extremely rare plants and to support this work we’ve expanded our local seed-banking facilities and set up a world-class micropropagation lab on island. Over the summer of 2022, colleagues from the St Helena Government visited the UK to visit projects involved in plant conservation.

Vanessa Thomas Williams, who runs the St Helena Government endemic plant nurseries, explains more about a trip to the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew: “We got involved in collecting fern spores, making growing media (mixing agar for the spore to grow on) and sowing spores. All of this will help us to better understand the processes we need to follow on St Helena and allow us to share this learning with colleagues on island.”

Three people in lab coats observe a fourth person holding a specimen from a large storage unit in a micropropagation unit.

St Helena Government team at Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew micropropagation lab. © Marcella Corcoran.

Meetings at the Centre for Agriculture and Bioscience International, Natural History Museum, Millennium Seed Bank at Wakehurst and the Cairngorms Connect project provided opportunities to discuss plant pathogen research, view collections of bryophytes, plants and invertebrates, learn about seed storage and discover the synergies between the Cloud Forest Project and Cairngorms Connect project.

Three people observe a fourth person who is holding a seed tray and propagator lid. Next to them are seed trays laid out on pallets, the trays contain small plants.

St Helena Government’s nursery team at the Cairngorms Connect tree nursery at Abernethy National Nature Reserve. © Kirsten Ellis/RSPB.

Helping rare invertebrates – surveys and captive breeding
The St Helena Cloud Forest project is also working to save many rare and unique invertebrates, including the Spiky Yellow Woodlouse. In summer 2022 a team from the St Helena National Trust visited various UK organisations to support this work.

Martina Peters, Head of Conservation at the St Helena National Trust explains more about a visit to the Species Recovery Trust: “In York we learnt about efforts to provide habitat corridors for the Tansy Beetle to help expand the species’ range and population size. This was a fantastic experience and we found out more about survey methods for the Tansy Beetle. This knowledge will be used to support our ongoing invertebrate research back on the island.”

The team spent time with invertebrate experts around the UK, and also learnt about invertebrate captive-breeding programmes for rare species in Scotland – thanks to the Rare Invertebrates of the Cairngorms project and the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland.

Seven people smiling at the camera standing outside a large wooden building with a sign bearing the name RZSS Pine Hoverfly Facility.

Martina & Liza (front left, and front middle) from St Helena, visit the Royal Zoological Society of London’s captive-breeding facility at Highland Wildlife Park. © Kirsten Ellis/RSPB. 

A network of support
These exchange visits have shown that although we may be huge distances apart, many of the conservation principles and practices remain the same. As Liza Fowler, St Helena Cloud Forest Invertebrate Specialist puts it: “The UK habitats are very different to St Helena; however, the principles are very much the same, and a lot of what we have learnt can be either applied or explored for St Helena. Our network has grown and we now have many more experts who are willing to help wherever they can.”

The following YouTube video provides more information on the work of the St Helena Cloud Forest project and the fantastic collaborations that have been established to support it:

The participants would like to thank all those institutions and projects that allowed access to their projects during the exchange visits.
The St Helena Cloud Forest Project is funded by the UK Government’s Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) and led by the St Helena Government with on-island partners St Helena National Trust and Connect Saint Helena Ltd, Project management is provided by RSPB and the project is supported by international partners the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, Arctium, University of British Columbia, Royal Botanic Gardens Kew. Matched funding has been provided by the Darwin Initiative.

Continue reading
Saving species and habitats in the UK and further afield in 2022
International Women’s Day – celebrating women in conservation in the UK Overseas Territories
Fight to save the UK’s only naturally occurring cloud forest receives new funding

Want our Conservation Action blogs emailed to you automatically? Click the cog in the top right of this page and select 'turn blog notifications on' (if you have an RSPB blog account) or 'subscribe by email'.

Parents Comment Children