The area now known as the “Coastal Zone” was until recently referred to as the Crown Wastelands. The environment close to the coast was the most fragile – salt laden winds precluded fast growing plants and there were hardly any trees in this area, just a few stunted examples cowering in any nook in the hillsides. A series of delicate ecosystems found their niches in different places, and I shall mention a few later.
When people came to St Helena, though, they started to exploit the resources and did not see the consequences. They wiped out the endemic plantations in the uplands but at least the new vegetation was healthy and productive. But letting goats loose on the lowlands meant that they devastated so much of this area. Rebecca had negotiated hard to establish a forest on some of this land where historically the gumwoods might have grown, but the goats had cleared all the other understory, causing devastating soil erosion in the east of the island in particular and the gumwoods must have declined as a result.
So thousands of seedlings carefully propagated over in the Scotland district had been brought over to the site in the east and planted out as naturally as possible. It was called the Millennium Forest and when I visited there was an area close to the car park that was already starting to mature. The trees were only shoulder height at best but they were healthy looking trees. Beyond this area there were smaller plants and there was a continuous programme to extend the trees further into the wastelands.
It was an ambitious plan and had caused some criticism that it was doomed to failure. But although embryonic, the evidence was there that a sustainable forest was being grown. In amongst the more mature trees that had been in place for ten years, little saplings were struggling to establish… self seeded.