Improving trails and visitor experiences in the Peaks National Park, St Helena Island

Mike Jervois
Published: 26 May 2020
Last edited: 26 May 2020
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Summary

The Peaks National Park is home to the last remaining fragments of endemic cloud forest habitat on St Helena Island. It is a premier hiking destination for locals and tourists, but as tourism numbers increased so did the impacts on the national park. Foot traffic was eroding the trails, the trails were becoming unsafe, and it was beginning to affect the surrounding habitat. Wooden boardwalks, staircases, handrails and a hiking shelter were constructed to improve access, safety and reduce visitor impacts. The trails are now safe and accessible, the profile of conservation in the cloud forest has been improved, and the National Park is now an eco-tourism icon for St Helena. 

Classifications

Region
West and Central Africa
Scale of implementation
National
Ecosystem
Forest ecosystems
Tropical evergreen forest
Theme
Access and benefit sharing
Erosion prevention
Forest Management
Habitat fragmentation and degradation
Health and human wellbeing
Islands
Tourism
Challenges
Erosion
Sustainable development goals
SDG 3 – Good health and well-being
SDG 8 – Decent work and economic growth
SDG 9 – Industry, innovation and infrastructure
SDG 15 – Life on land
Aichi targets
Target 1: Awareness of biodiversity increased
Target 2: Biodiversity values integrated
Target 5: Habitat loss halved or reduced
Target 11: Protected areas
Target 15: Ecosystem restoration and resilience

Location

Saint Helena

Challenges

We wanted to encourage more visitors to walk the trails and see the cloud forest in the Peaks National Park. We wanted to create a premier eco-tourism destination. The challenge was how to do that without increasing the impacts from visitors on the environment. Installig raised wooden boardwalks and staircases has allowed access for greater numbers of people.  

 

A small conservation team are based in the Peaks National Park, they are responsible for restoring cloud forest habitat as well as maintaining trails. Their challenge was the more time they spent maintaining trails the less time they had for conservation. The new boardwalks and staircases has reduced the amount of trail maintenance, allowing them to focus on conservation efforts elesewhere.

Beneficiaries

Residents of St Helena, visitors, the managing authority of the Peaks National Park, the St Helena Tourism office, conservationists, and the species that make up the endemic cloud forest habitat have all benefited from this solution.

How do the building blocks interact?

Improving walking trails in the Peaks National Park has supported an ecosystem approach and ecotourism as a conservation tool. An ecosystem approach allows better connectivity of cloud forest habitat. The new facilities have created a premier eco-tourism destination.

Impacts

Over 250 metres of boardwalks, staircases and handrails were installed, a new hiking shelter was built, and over 4 miles of trails were cleared of overgrown vegetation. The new trails provide better recreation opportunities and have raised the profile of conservation on St Helena.

Visitors can now access the Peaks National Park safely, with a more immersive experience that minimises disturbance to the sensitive environment. Raised boardwalks allow for rare habitat to grow underneath, creating better connectivity of habitat unencumbered by foot traffic.

It has been the largest eco-tourism development on St Helena and early indications are that visitor numbers are up from previous years. The importance of well-managed nature experiences to a small-island economy that is heavily reliant on income from tourism cannot be underestimated.

Story

Mike Jervois

The Peaks Team are a group of local 'Saints' who work day-in day-out protecting the cloud forest in the Peaks National Park. Employed by the St Helena Government, it's their job to restore the habitat and protect it from harm. Experts in local ecology, they collect seeds and seedlings of the rarest endemic plants and raise them in their nursery. When big and healthy, these plants are used to revegetate areas which have been cleared of invasive species. Slowly but surely, they are rebuilding the cloud forest and saving species from extinction.

 

The cloud forest of the Peaks National Park is the only remaining densely vegetated habitat type on St Helena which can still be considered predominantly native. Only 20 hectares of this remarkable ecosystem remain, confined to the highest ridges generally above 750 metres in altitude. It is dominated by a rich community of tree-fern thicket, habitat for many of the island’s rarest endemic plants, many of which are listed as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List. In recognition of its ecological importance, the peaks were designated as a national park in 1996.

 

The Peaks Team know first hand how fragile the ecosystem is. It's an environment constantly under threat from invasive species, habitat fragmentation, species loss, climate change and tourism. They are passionate about conservation like to show off their good work to everyone who visits the park. They want people to experience the unique environment of the Peaks National Park in a way that minimises disturbance.

 

The new boardwalks and staircases have helped do just that. The new facilities ensure the trails are more accessible for people to come visit and see their achievments. It means that they can spend less time fixing the eroded trails and instead focus their energy on conservation. 

 

 

 

Contributed by

Mike Jervois South Atlantic Environmental Research Institute, BEST 2.0 Programme

Other contributors