As I said in my previous post, we have been doing a lot of contingency planning in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. This is to make sure that as much of the RSPB's work keeps going as possible. That is the aim, but we also must be practical and ensure staff safety and project feasibility. It will sometimes involve making some tough decisions.
One area of work where we have had to make an incredibly difficult but essential decision is with our Gough Island Restoration Programme. Given the rapidly evolving COVID-19 pandemic and the increasing travel restrictions, it has clearly become impossible to complete the operation this season.
The decision to postpone was not easy but it is the right one. The amazing team behind the work are understandably hugely disappointed after the massive effort and hard work that has got us to this point. However, given the circumstances it has become logistically impossible, and contrary to government guidance, for our specialist team to travel to South Africa and onto Gough during the pandemic. We know that after all the years of planning that the project could save two million seabirds each year and prevent the extinction of a number of species. But we only have one shot, and to get it right in such a remote place and at such a scale, all the stars must be aligned. And for this year they are not.
We are committed in our mission to restore Gough to the seabird paradise it once was. A great many people and organisations have joined and helped us on this project and we owe it to them as well as to our ourselves to make sure that we give ourselves the best chance of success. We also owe it to our funders and all the people who have generously donated to the project to do the same.
The team on the island have already made great inroads on the initial project set up. This progress will stand us in good stead for next year. We now need to concentrate on getting our people back home safely and planning for the return visit.
Everyone we have spoken to has expressed sympathy and support for the decision, including our key partners: Tristan da Cunha, the UK Government, South African Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries, BirdLife South Africa, Island Conservation, BirdLife International and the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland.
We were pleased that Defra Minister for Biosecurity Lord Gardiner said today:
“This ambitious RSPB project plays a big role in saving the critically endangered Tristan albatross and Gough bunting on the island. The government will continue to invest and work with partners to support local communities and defend the unique biodiversity of the Overseas Territories. We look forward to the valuable work of this programme resuming as soon as it is safe to do so.”
Thanks also to all of you for your continued support. Be assured that all the donations already received (and more) will be needed by the project in preparing for our return.
This is a partnership endeavour and it will be through the strength of the partnership that we shall find the collective resolve to see the job through for the precious wildlife of Gough Island.
Tristan albatross chick in nest, Gough Island World Heritage Site courtesy of Kate Lawrence (rspb-images.com)
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