Falkland Islands

Map of the Falkland Islands

About the Territory

The Falkland Islands are an archipelago made up of two main islands, East and West Falkland and about 750 smaller offshore islands and islets. They are situated in the South Atlantic to the east of Argentina, between 51°S and 53°S latitudes and 57°30’W and 61°30’W longitudes and cover an area of 12,173 km2. The average annual rainfall in the capital of Stanley is low at 635 mm and the climate is cool temperate due to oceanic conditions with average monthly temperatures ranging from 2°C in July to 9°C in January.

The first recorded sighting of the Falkland Islands was by English Captain John Davis in 1592. In 1764 the French diplomat and explorer, Louis Antoin de Bougainville, established a settlement on East Falkland at Port Louis. The following year, unaware of the French Settlement, Commodore John Byron landed at Port Egmont on West Falkland and claimed the Islands for the British Crown. Subsequently, the Spanish Government forced both French and British interests off the islands and appointed a Governor at Port Louis. After the withdrawal of both British and Spanish forces, the Islands were claimed by the newly independent Buenos Aires Government who appointed Louis Vernet Commander of the Island in 1829. Vernet was evicted and the East Falkland settlement destroyed by the US Navy after he had seized three American sealing ships; most settlers were persuaded to leave and the Americans declared the Islands free of all Government. In 1833 the British Government formally re-occupied the Islands and established a capital at Stanley in 1845.

The ongoing dispute between Argentina and the UK over sovereignty of the Islands led to their invasion by Argentine forces in April 1982. After ten weeks of war the British forces retook the Islands and the Argentinian forces surrendered on 14 June 1982.

The 2016 census gives a resident population of 3,200, of whom about 77% live in Stanley. Historically the economy has been based on high quality wool production, but since the mid-1980s there has been a move into additional activities such as meat production, and the main source of income is now from offshore fisheries licences, supported by amounts from agriculture and tourism. Oil exploration has contributed significantly to the economy over the last 5 years and an oil industry is now under development.

Biodiversity

The Kew database states that 417 plant species have been found growing wild in the Falklands, of which 175 are native, including 14 endemic species. There are at least 168 species and subspecies of moss, of which 43 have not been recorded outside the Falklands, and 127 known Liverworts, including three endemic species. There are 46 species of spider of which 16 are thought to be endemic and eight introduced from Europe; 250 species of insect have been recorded including many introductions. There are only two species of native freshwater fish – the native Zebra Trout Aplochiton zebra and the Falkland Minnow Galaxius maculates.

The Falkland Islands are recognised as an endemic bird area with 61 resident species, including two endemics – the Falkland Flightless Steamer Duck Trachyeres brachydactyle and Cobb’s Wren Troglodytes cobbi. Five penguin species are found, and the island are also known for vast colonies of seabirds, including about two-thirds of the world’s population of the black-browed albatross, and 40% of the world’s southern giant petrels.

The only native land mammal, the Falkland Island Fox or Warrah Dusicyon australis was persecuted to extinction by early European settlers. 24 marine mammal species are recorded from Falkland waters.

Policy and legislation

The Government of the Falkland Islands has an Environment Charter signed jointly with the UK Government. Guiding Principle 7 is to safeguard and restore native species, habitats and landscape features, and control or eradicate invasive species. Under the associated commitment 2 the Government of the Falkland Islands will ensure the protection and restoration of key habitats, species and landscape features through legislation and appropriate management structures and mechanisms, including a protected area policy, and attempt the control and eradication of invasive species. Implementation progress was reviewed in 2007, 2010 and 2016, read the 2016 review report (external link).

The Falkland Islands Government is committed to protecting the unique biodiversity as underpinned in the Biodiversity Framework 2016-2030. The Biodiversity Framework is a threat-based document which outlines the priorities required with regards to the wider Falkland Islands environment. The document sets out the environmental vision for the Falklands; “We will conserve and enhance the natural diversity, ecological processes and heritage of the Falkland Islands, in harmony with sustainable economic development”.
The Biodiversity Framework makes room for Strategies and Action Plans to be implemented to meet the goals for biodiversity and the environment. Current strategies within the framework are:
  • Biosecurity & Invasives Strategy 2017-2020
  • Falkland Islands Ecoregions, Habitats, Species and Sites Strategy 2016-2020
A South Atlantic Invasive Species Strategy and Action Plan agreed by the Governments of Ascension Island, Saint Helena, Tristan da Cunha, the Falkland Islands and South Georgia and the Sandwich Islands was published in October 2010. This set out a number of strategic aims for the South Atlantic Overseas Territories in order to develop effective prevention and response measures for invasive species and thus reduce damage to their natural heritage, communities, livelihoods and options for future development. Key actions are grouped under five objectives: (A) Building awareness and support; (B) Co-ordination, co-operation and capacity-building; (C) Prevention; (D) Monitoring, early detection and rapid response; (E) Control, management and restoration.

An invasive plants strategy is being produced by botanists from Kew Gardens. A workshop was held in late 2012 to engage with those involved with invasive plants. The strategy has is due to be completed in mid-2013. Strategies for priority invasive plants are in place and are being implemented with varying success.
The first Biosecurity Policy is being developed in 2020, together with new biosecurity legislation, with provisions for pre-border, border and post-border regulation of invasive species.

Thin strip of image show tree trunk and bark