Saint Helena

Map of St Helena

About the territory

St Helena was first discovered by the Portuguese navigator, Joao da Nova in 1502. The Dutch formally claimed the Island in 1633 but there is no evidence that they ever occupied it and they had abandoned it by 1651. In 1659 a British fleet, commanded by Captain John Dutton, arrived with the first settlers and some slaves from the Cape Verde Islands. Despite an attempt by the Dutch to retake the island in 1673 it has remained British ever since. Until 1834 the colony was administered by the East India Company but subsequently came under direct British rule. It acted as a prison for Napoleon Bonaparte and, subsequently, for up to 6 000 Boer prisoners in 1900-02. In 1840 the Island was also host to a Vice Admiralty Court which tried the captains and crews of ships carrying slaves from Africa mainly to Brazil. During much of the twentieth century there was little work on St Helena, other than in a declining flax industry, and many of the males went to Ascension Island or the UK to obtain employment.

Although the islanders lost their status as UK citizens under the British Nationality Act of 1980 they regained it in 2002.
St Helena Island lies at 15o 56’ south and 5o 43’ west. It is 1950 km west of Angola and 2900 km east of Brazil and has an area of about 122 km2. The temperatures range between 15oC and 26oC in the winter and 20oC and 32oC in the summer with it normally being 5-6o lower in the central areas. Rainfall peaks in April and then again in August. Average Annual rainfall is 152mm on the coast but can be up to a metre in the central highlands.

In the 2016 census the population of St Helena was 4,354. The Island’s main economic activities are agriculture and fishing. The Island is principally financed by aid from the UK although there are a few hundred tourists each year.

Until 2017 the island was served by the last working mail ship, the RMS St Helena, and the only way on and off the island. In 2017 the mail ship was retired and islands’ isolation was broken by the opening of the first airport, with weekly flights to South Africa, and monthly flights to Ascension Island. A cargo ship arrives from South Africa on a monthly basis.


The Kew online herbarium states that there of 470 plant species on Saint Helena, the vast majority (c 85%) are introduced with only 45 being endemic and 15-20 native to the island. Eight endemic species are now thought to be extinct whilst the remainder are scarce and may be critically endangered. Of 23 moss species and 20 liverwort species 12 and 11 respectively are endemic . Sixteen of the 52 lichen species are endemic. Around 300 endemic invertebrate species have been described and over 150 of 256 beetle species are also endemic. Two echinoderms and three starfish are endemic with a few more species restricted to Saint Helena and Ascension Island. Out of 138 species of fish, ten are endemic and a further sixteen restricted to Saint Helena and Ascension Islands.

The Saint Helena Plover (Wirebird) (Charadrius sanctaehelenae) is the only endemic bird species although there are eight known species of breeding seabird and 10 other breeding landbird species, all but one of which has been introduced. There are no native reptile, amphibian or mammal species on the island other than Green Turtles, nesting of which has almost been extirpated. There is one introduced amphibian, Gray’s Stream Frog (Strongylopus grayii) and one introduced reptile, the Asian House Gecko (Hemidactylus frenatus).

Policy and legislation

St Helena 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 St Helena 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. Subsequently, a strategy for action to implement St Helena’s commitments under the Environment Charter was drawn up in 2005. Responsibility for overseeing the delivery of the action plan rests with the Environmental Management Division (EMD). Implementation progress was reviewed in 2007, 2010 and 2016, read the 2016 review report (external link).

A South Atlantic Invasive Species Strategy and Action Plan agreed by the Governments of Ascension Island, St 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.

The first Biosecurity Policy was endorsed in 2015.

In 2020 new biosecurity legislation is being developed for St Helena, with provisions for pre-border, border and post-border regulation of invasive species.

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