Friday, 1 April 2016

Conserving the Falkland Islands' natural environment

Falklands Conservation is a non-governmental organisation working to protect the wildlife in the Falkland Islands for future generations. It undertakes practical conservation projects, surveys and scientific studies, conducts annual monitoring of seabird populations, rehabilitates oiled penguins, publishes guides and information on many aspects of the Falkland Islands environment, and involves islanders of all ages in its activities, including running a Watch Group for children. It relies on donations and public support to carry out its work.



The Annual Seabird Monitoring Programme 

The Falkland Islands support seabird populations that are of global importance both numerically, and in terms of conservation status. An estimated 72% of the global population of Black-browed Albatross breeds in the Islands which are also home to the majority of the world’s population of Southern Rockhopper Penguin, Gentoo Penguin and Southern Giant Petrel. The Southern Rockhopper Penguin is classified as 'Vulnerable' (IUCN Redlist), due to large decreases in its population over the last century. Whilst the Black-browed Albatross has recently made positive moves from 'Endangered' to 'Near Threatened', it shares this status with the Gentoo Penguin which moved from 'Least Concern' in the early 90s. The Southern Giant Petrel moved from 'Vulnerable' to 'Least Concern' in the early 2000s. 
Teaching a local volunteer how to ring young black-browed albatrosses on Steeple Jason in March 2015.
The changing fortunes of these important Falkland Islands species demonstrates how critical it is to monitor such populations, and, given the proportions of the global populations in the Islands, it is easy to understand how further changes in local populations could readily impact the global conservation status of these species, just as they have before. Falklands Conservation initiated the Falkland Islands Seabird Monitoring Programme (FISMP) in 1989/90. Since then, population monitoring has continued on an almost annual basis. 

Currently the FISMP monitors breeding population trends and breeding success in Gentoo Penguin, Southern Rockhopper Penguin, King Penguin, Black-browed Albatross, Southern Giant Petrel and Imperial Shag, visiting remote survey sites and islands by 4 x 4, plane and boat. Monitoring a range of species with differing ecologies has additional benefits as they also serve as indicators of potential change in other Falkland Islands seabird populations or oceanographic conditions.
Counting gentoo penguins for the Falkland Islands Seabird Monitoring Project.

Building Capacity for Habitat Restoration 

This Darwin Plus funded project trials the use of native plants for restoring eroded land on farms and nature reserves. Soil erosion from fire, climate change and grazing is a significant problem across the Falkland Islands and threatens important habitats including coastal tussac and its ecosystem with penguins and sea lions. There is currently no supply of native plant seed for landowners wishing to restore their land with native plants and this project aims to provide start up quantities of seed and growing information.
A variety of seeds collected.
To do this a Native Seed Growing Hub has been established, providing seeds for trials on a range of eroded soils across the Falklands. Fourteen native plant species have been tested and a number, including tussac grass and fuegian couch grass, have grown very successfully.
Assessing the habitat restoration plots.

Oiled Seabird Rehabilitation Facility 

The Oiled Seabird Rehabilitation Facility cares for oiled and injured seabirds, mostly penguins, which are brought in by the public to be cleaned of oil, and then rehabilitated until they are ready to be released.
First, vegetable oil is massaged into the feathers. This thins out the heavy crude oil. Then washing up liquid and water remove all trace of the oil.
This involves an intensive programme of washing, hand feeding and husbandry, conducted by staff and volunteers. This includes the generous donation of fish from local fishing companies. The facility was formally opened in March 2015, and is also providing capacity for the offshore oil industry’s Oil Spill Response Plans.
The penguins are given time to swim and preen, ensuring they are fully waterproof before they are released back into the wild.
The penguins are then taken to a remote beach to be released.

Watch Group 

Our efforts to build appreciation and understanding of wildlife and conservation continue through the Watch Group. The junior membership of Falklands Conservation has 55 members ranging in age from 8 years old to 15.
Looking at a sample aboard the expedition vessel Hans Hansson.
With the support of the Standard Chartered Bank, we are able to take children to many of the more remote parts of the Falklands, and to maintain a programme of activities throughout the year. These incorporate our main strategic focus; strengthening biosecurity and managing invasive species, terrestrial habitat restoration, and enhancing marine management.
Children explore rock pools during a camp to Elephant Beach Farm.
The children are educated and enthused about these topics through activities such as tussac planting, beach cleans, and exploring marine ecosystems through rock pooling and collaboration with the Shallow Marine Survey Group. Plans for the future are to incorporate an education centre into our new building.
A group takes a closer look at the pond life at Hawks Nest Pond, West Falkland.

Lower Plants Project 

The Lower Plants Project is a two year project surveying the bryophytes and lichens of the Falkland Islands undertaken and run by Falklands Conservation between 2014–2016. Funded by the UK Government through DEFRA (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) and the Darwin Initiative, this project was set to fill the ‘critical knowledge gap’ in bryophytes and lichens that was identified in the Falkland Islands Biodiversity Strategy 2008–2018, and to increase local awareness.
A workshop run to increase awareness of the different species.
The project is addressing this knowledge gap, and is providing data essential for effective conservation planning and enhancement of the ‘Important Plant Areas’ of the Islands. The main objective is to create an up to date species list for the three taxonomic groups we know as mosses, liverworts and lichens and to create a capacity and legacy for future research on this area of botany.
A selection of mosses, liverworts and lichens.
The legacy would be in the form of a laboratory, a herbarium, and an increased awareness among the public of the Falkland Islands regarding bryophytes and lichens. To date, the project has discovered 40 new moss records, 8 new liverwort records and 80 new lichen records for the Falklands, which include approximately 15 species new to science. 

If you would like to become a member of Falklands Conservation, adopt a penguin, or donate towards our Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre, the education centre for the Watch Group, or any other of our conservation activities, please visit www.falklandsconservation.com, our Just Giving Site at www.justgiving.com/falklandsconservation or follow us on Twitter @FI_Conservation or Facebook https://www.facebook.com/Falklands-Conservation.