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Follow in the Footsteps of Halley with New Stargazing Tour

August 21, 2014 in News, Tourism

If you fancy a stargazing adventure then you should consider embarking to St Helena. Located 16 degrees south of the equator, virtually every constellation in the sky is visible at one time or another during the year.

Now you can easily travel to enjoy them, thanks to a new voyage pairing St Helena – one time home to the observatory of Edmond “comet” Halley – and a visit to South Africa’s national observatory. Combine this with a visit to the South African Astronomical Observatories (SAAO) telescopes outside Sutherland in the Western Cape for a truly spellbinding experience.

NIGHT SKY

The new 19-day tour departs from Cape Town in May 2015 on board the RMS St Helena, one of the last working royal mail ships in the world, in the company of professional stargazer, dark skies consultant, and author of the book “Stargazing for Dummies”, Steve Owens. For the ultimate optical package, guests can add on the five-day pre tour to the Western Cape, visiting Sutherland to see the Southern Africa Large Telescope along with ample opportunities to appreciate the Southern hemisphere’s stellar nightscape.

Next stop is our island, St Helena, steeped in astronomical history and one of the few places where both The Plough and the Southern Cross can be seen in the sky at the same time. Visitors can also marvel at the the Magellanic Clouds, and the galactic centre of the Milky Way. Time on St Helena will include guided tours of Jamestown’s historical sites and buildings, visits to local landmarks such as the Heart Shaped Waterfall and Diana’s Peak, a Napoleonic tour, coastal sightseeing including seeking out dolphins and nocturnal sky watching.

If you’re interested the tour, departing Cape Town on 4th May 2015, costs from £2,695 per person including accommodation in a shared two berth cabin on A deck with private facilities and full board while on board the RMS St Helena, in a twin/double room on St Helena on a bed and breakfast basis, all tours on St Helena with evening meals where mentioned.  The Western Cape pre-tour departs on 30th April and costs from £915 per person, based on sharing a twin room,  all accommodation and meals as mentioned in the itinerary, entry fees and guiding fees. International flights are extra.

For more information and to book, click here.

Don’t miss the boat! Last chance to enter the Governor’s Cup Yacht race before it changes forever

August 19, 2014 in Tourism

Entries are now open for the truly unique Governor’s Cup Yacht Race from False Bay Yacht Club near the historic Simon’s Town, South Africa to Jamestown, St Helena Island – one of the world’s best kept secrets. This exhilarating 1,700 nautical mile downwind race to one of the most extraordinary places on earth starts on 27th December 2014 and is the last time it will take place in its current format, making it a once in a lifetime race!

Ray of Light

Every two years since 1996, intrepid sailors looking for a one-of-a-kind racing experience, have taken part in the Governor’s Cup Yacht Race, which after an 8 – 14 day handicap chase across the South Atlantic, culminates in an activity-filled stay on St Helena – an island currently only accessible by private yacht or on one of the last operating Royal Mail Ships, the RMS St Helena. Following their stay on St Helena, supporters, family and crews enjoy a relaxing cruise back to Cape Town onboard the RMS St Helena offering an abundance of fun-filled activities and post race parties.

2014 sees the last time the race will take place in this format with the opening of a new airport on St Helena due in February 2016 and the subsequent decommission of the RMS St Helena – so don’t miss the boat and make sure you enter today. Entrants typically range from fast racing boats with experienced crews to cruising boats manned by small families, offering an experience for everyone.

To find out more and to download an entry form for the 2014 Governor’s Cup Yacht Race, visit the ‘Taking Part’ section of governorscup2014.com. To connect with previous race entrants and those already signed up for this year visit the Governor’s Cup Facebook page facebook.com/Governorscup2014 or @Governors_Cup. The closing date for entries to the race is 31st October 2014.

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I look at St Helena every day

August 18, 2014 in Tourism

This is a blog post written by Erik Brown who visited St Helena as a representative of Halcyon Collections, a bespoke travel company.

I look at St Helena every day. It’s the screensaver on my Apple Mac – a shot I took as we were sailing away from the island after a too short four-day visit. St Helena is hazy in the photograph, but I can still make out Lot’s Wife and Sandy Bay. The sky is cloudy, but there’s plenty of blue around the clouds and the ocean is a deep indigo.

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I don’t know about you, but it often takes me a while to work out what I think about a place. There are trips I’ve been on – and quite expensive trips, at that – that I still have no real opinion about: Thailand, for instance. We spent three weeks driving across the country from temple to temple until we were exhausted. But I still don’t really know whether it was a good holiday.

St Helena, on the other hand, left me wanting more. It’s getting on for a month since we left, and I’m still having flashbacks: of three of us sitting, drinking coffee, in a café by the moat watching a Fairy Tern preen itself in a tree; of me snaffling some of Marlene Yon’s superb cake left for us under a little cloche in Susan’s Town House; of four of us drinking Stephen Biggs’s excellent coffee on the veranda of Farm Lodge; and of all of us hanging on while Aaron Legg drove his Mitsubishi people carrier into places that even the most adventurous donkey might have shied away from.

There had been four of us in our party: me – representing Halcyon Collections; Clive Stacey, founder of Discover the World; Max Johnson, founder of The Great Canadian Travel Company; and Janet Shankland, who represents St Helena Tourism in the UK. I was incredibly lucky with my travelling companions. Within a few hours we chaps had become “Janet’s boys”, and the practical jokes had begun.

I’ve written elsewhere that travelling to St Helena was like going home. And I don’t just mean going home to my geographical birthplace in the North Riding of Yorkshire. I mean it was like going back to my childhood in the 1950s and 60s.

The comparison is entirely positive. I found the Saints friendly, warm and willing to stop and chat on the street, just as people had been in my home town all of those years ago. It’s something I miss in the driven chaos of London.

The journey on the RMS St Helena had a nostalgic feel too. The last time I played a game that involved racing plywood animals threaded with string across a floor was probably at Butlin’s in Filey on the North Yorkshire coast in the 1960s. And the RMS has rekindled a forgotten taste for beef tea, which I now have at least once a day – with a dash or two of Tabasco.

The RMS was a vital part of the journey. I’ve been to countries all over the world, and I’ve usually descended from the skies after an uncomfortable journey in the belly of a plane. The sense of arrival has always been enfeebled as a result.

Catching sight of St Helena as a smudge on the horizon after five days at sea was genuinely exciting. The sea journey made the arrival special in a way that arriving at an airport can never be. And even our passage through immigration was a pleasure, with smiling officials laughing and joking as they checked our documents.

I was mortified to hear that the plucky little RMS could be sold for scrap. (And if anybody wants to launch a Save the RMS campaign, consider me a signatory to the petition.)

And so to business. What do I make of St Helena as a tourist destination? Well, I think there are two answers to that question, and they are time tied.

Before the airport opens in 2016, I think the journey to this most remote of islands is one of the last Great Adventures in the world. And that is how we are marketing it at Halcyon.

Curiously, our group of travellers was bang on for the current target market. We chaps were aged between 58 and 63. All three of us had founded companies. Two of us had sold them. We were still fit – in an act of sheer chutzpah, Clive actually got to the top of Jacob’s Ladder – and we were curious enough to want to know about pansubtropical dolphins, Tungi and Napoleon’s bathtub.

After the airport opens, I guess there’ll be a steady increase in the flow of tourists from Europe, albeit from a low base. The age of the target market could drop significantly: big game fishing, scuba diving and hiking should exert a strong pull on a younger market. But whatever the age the ideal, I believe, would be a lower volume of higher-spending travellers.

Yesterday, somebody asked me what the highlight of the trip was, and for once I was completely lost for words. Then I realised, it was all highlight: I honestly loved every minute of it.

 

St Helena’s French Connection is Getting Stronger – About 40% Stronger

August 7, 2014 in News, Tourism

When taking the road from Jamestown to Napoleon’s Tomb and Longwood House the route immediately starts to climb up into the hills that surround the valley in which Jamestown lies. The air soon becomes refreshingly cooler; a welcome relief on a hot summer’s day. Just before reaching the ridge overlooking Seine Valley, where Napoleon was buried, there is a sign informing all passers-by that the Most Remote Distillery in the World is just a few steps away. Just off the main road, hidden among the trees, the St Helena Distillery is quietly and constantly producing a range of remarkable drinks for local consumption and for export.

The St Helena Distillery is now eight years old. Paul Hickling, the owner, has been improving, embellishing and expanding his range of drinks over those eight years. Next year he will have reached an important milestone. After starting with the distillation of the fruit from the local prickly pear, to produce ‘Tungi’, a drink which has been likened to the Italian ‘Grappa’, Paul went on to develop a coffee liqueur called ‘Midnight Mist’, a happy marriage between ‘Tungi’ and the world renowned St Helena Coffee. After that, White Lion Rum and Jamestown Gin were added to the range. In about twelve months time another auspicious drink will be added to the St Helena Distillery range.

To mark the bi-centenary of Napoleon’s exile to St Helena the St Helena Distillery is producing a limited edition commemorative brandy. For some time now the brandy has been quietly doing whatever it is brandy does when it is stored in French oak barrels; maturing nicely and getting itself ready for the enjoyment of connoisseurs. The French barrels are made by a family of cooper craftsmen from Cognac, the premier brandy producing region of France. The brandy will remain in the Cognac barrels for another year before being bottled and made ready for sale. The French barrels were specially chosen because of the way they help to improve the taste of the brandy stored inside them.

 

brandy keg, st helena distillery

St Helena Brandy maturing at the World’s Most Remote Distillery

There are just two barrels lying in storage at the world’s most remote distillery, among the trees in the Alarm Forest district of St Helena. The brandy will be ready for drinking in time for one of the most important anniversaries St Helena will have this century; the bi-centenary of Napoleon’s exile to St Helena in October 1815. There is enough brandy in the barrels to fill one thousand brandy bottles. Those one thousand bottles of brandy will be a special limited edition produced specially for the bi-centenary. Each bottle will be individually numbered and have a special commemorative label. The ‘cork’ for the bottle, which is likely to be a glass stopper, will have a gold 10 franc Napoleonic coin embedded in the top. This commemorative production will be something very much more than the usual commemorative editions so often produced when a golden jubilee or similar anniversary comes around.

Arrangements have already been made for many of the one thousand bottles to be sold in France and elsewhere in Europe. A big launch is being planned for 15th October 2015 most probably at a prominent location in Paris.

Just a few years ago the Fondation Napoleon launched Operation St Helena, an international appeal for funds to save Napoleon’s house in St Helena, Longwood House.  The fund is still open for acceptance of further contributions but sufficient money has already been raised to finance the complete renovation of the General’s Quarters at the rear of Longwood House. This work is also scheduled for completion in time to commemorate the bi-centenary of Napoleon’s exile.

Because the Fondation Napoleon appeal raised so much interest worldwide, but particularly among the French, it is entirely possible the launch of St Helena Distillery’s commemorative brandy will attract significant interest not just among connoisseurs of brandy but also among the admirers and devotees of one of France’s favourite national leaders.

In the meantime, the final details are being decided for the design of the commemorative bottle and the label for it. The public launch in Paris will be a big event and many details still have to be resolved and confirmed. There is an ever stronger feeling that the one thousand limited edition bottles of St Helena Distillery’s Napoleon brandy will not spend very long sitting on the shelves. If you want a bottle but find you are too late with your order, do not lose heart. Preparations are already in hand for a further limited edition commemorative brandy from the St Helena Distillery in 2021 – to mark the death of Napoleon. The St Helena Distillery can be contacted at;- tungiman@gmail.com.

paul hickling, st helena distillery

Paul Hickling, owner of the St Helena Distillery, checking the rum in a fermentation tank

Vote for the RMS St Helena in the Cruise International Awards 2014

July 31, 2014 in Tourism

Once again the RMS St Helena has been shortlisted in the UK’s Cruise International Awards, in their Adventure category! Please show your support by voting for us.

You can vote here.

RMS

Other nominees in this category include:

  • Azamara Club Cruise
  • Hurtigrute
  • Noble Caledonia
  • Silversea
  • Voyages to Antiquity

The RMS St Helena is part of the island’s fabric, offering a truly unique adventure and worthy of winning the Adventure category. On Board the RMS you are not just another number, but become part of a family.

Credit to Marc Lavaud (www.marclavaud.com).

Credit to Marc Lavaud (www.marclavaud.com).

 

Here is a selection of our favourite posts about the RMS St Helena:

o   Going remote on St Helena

o   Getting to St Helena on the RMS St Helena

o   Why the RMS’s Captain Greentree welcomes airport development

o   The daily astonishment of the Log of the Watch

 

Earth-shattering progress! St Helena’s airport continues to take shape

July 24, 2014 in News, Tourism

This is a guest post by Chairman of the Tourism Association, Vince Thompson. He provides us with the latest information on the construction of St Helena airport, accompanied by pictures from the site.

The airport is now really starting to take shape.  As the fill in Dry Gut rises ever closer to the finish level more work is being done on the airport itself. Basil Read’s Island Director gave The Independent/Saint FM a tour of the airport site this week.   The tour started at the car park where an area large enough to park 250 cars is being prepared for the concrete paver to lay the final surface.  At the south end of the runway there is a 400-metre section that is almost ready for the various sub-surface and surface layers required to provide a safe and solid runway for planes to land and take-off.

The Last Big Blasting Job – This rock outcrop, at the northern end of the runway, will not be  there by this time next month. It will probably take three blasting operations to reduce it to  the level of the ground around it. The blasted rock will probably be taken to the other end of  the runway to provide the last fill needed at Dry Gut.

The Last Big Blasting Job – This rock outcrop, at the northern end of the runway, will not be there by this time next month. It will probably take three blasting operations to reduce it to the level of the ground around it. The blasted rock will probably be taken to the other end of the runway to provide the last fill needed at Dry Gut.

Over one million cubic metres of stone aggregate is needed to provide the sub-bases for the runway, car park, apron and several other areas.  The ground at the north end of the runway is still having the high points levelled off and the low points filled in. The Dry Gut now has over seven million cubic metres of fill compacted into it! There are now just seven more metres to go before the finish level is reached.

South End of the Runway

The South End of the Runway – The poles show the centre line of the runway. The sub-base is stone aggregate with a mix of 3% concrete to keep the surface firm. Next to the runway a further flat and firm safety area runs along both sides.

At the other end of the runway 190,000 cubic metres of fill is required to bring an area of low ground to the runway level.  Overall, the runway is an average of 30 metres below the original ground level.  Reducing the level has so far taken over 300 blasting operations and used 4,000 tonnes of explosive.  There is just one remaining big blasting operation left; at the north end of the runway a large rock outcrop will be blasted away and the shattered rock used as fill in Dry Gut. All earthworks are due to be completed by the end of this year.

Levelling the Safety Area on the Eastern Side – Safety areas running the length of the runway, on both sides, are needed in case a plane leaves the centre line of the runway on landing or when taking off.  The safety areas, together with the taxi-way and apron, have been made wider to allow planes with wider wing spans, such as Boeing 757-200 and Lockheed L100 30 to use the runway.

Levelling the Safety Area on the Eastern Side – Safety areas running the length of the runway, on both sides, are needed in case a plane leaves the centre line of the runway on landing or when taking off. The safety areas, together with the taxi-way and apron, have been made wider to allow planes with wider wing spans, such as Boeing 757-200 and Lockheed L100 30 to use the runway.

In the New Year work at the airport will concentrate on finishing the airport buildings, finishing the installation of runway lighting and getting the technical equipment already installed in the Control Tower in full running order.  There will also be a lot of work in getting the surfacing of everything from the runway to the car park finished.  Running parallel to this work will be the various parts of the certification process, the Disaster Management Plan and the enactment of required but outstanding legislations.  The airport terminal should be completed by July next year.  In a few weeks we will be reporting on progress at Rupert’s Wharf.

Looking Down to Prosperous Bay From the Runway Threshold – the lighting system for the  runway approach will be installed high on the cliff face just below the foreground in the photo.   The lights will be directed towards the open sea just left of The Barn.

Looking Down to Prosperous Bay From the Runway Threshold – the lighting system for the runway approach will be installed high on the cliff face just below the foreground in the photo. The lights will be directed towards the open sea just left of The Barn.

Just Seven Metres Higher and Half a Million Cubic Metres To Go – The massive operation to fill Dry Gut with almost 8 million cubic metres of fill is nearly done.  The depth of fill shown in the photo is not as great as the amount of fill needed at the eastern edge of the fill area.  On the right is the overflow channel for any water which builds up on the western side of Dry Gut.

Just Seven Metres Higher and Half a Million Cubic Metres To Go – The massive operation to fill Dry Gut with almost 8 million cubic metres of fill is nearly done. The depth of fill shown in the photo is not as great as the amount of fill needed at the eastern edge of the fill area. On the right is the overflow channel for any water which builds up on the western side of Dry Gut.

Levelling the Car Park and Drop-Off Area – with more stone aggregate for the sub-base.

Levelling the Car Park and Drop-Off Area – with more stone aggregate for the sub-base.

Applying the Stone Facade to the Airport Buildings – there is a lot of exterior wall to be  covered with stone,  The stone used is small and thin, many thousands of pieces will be needed; making the job very long and surely a bit tedious.

Applying the Stone Facade to the Airport Buildings – there is a lot of exterior wall to be covered with stone, The stone used is small and thin, many thousands of pieces will be needed; making the job very long and surely a bit tedious.

Horse Point Landfill Improvements to Finish Soon – The roof will go on to this building at Horse Point in a few days.  It’s the last task in the improvements at Horse Point.  As a safety measure rubbish will be tipped into the bays constructed inside the building when planes are due to land or take off instead of directly into the new pits dug at locations further into the site.

Horse Point Landfill Improvements to Finish Soon – The roof will go on to this building at Horse Point in a few days. It’s the last task in the improvements at Horse Point. As a safety measure rubbish will be tipped into the bays constructed inside the building when planes are due to land or take off instead of directly into the new pits dug at locations further into the site.

A Fresh Look at Great Stone Top – This photo is taken from an access track halfway down the gigantic slope on the eastern or seaward side of Dry Gut Fill.

A Fresh Look at Great Stone Top – This photo is taken from an access track halfway down the gigantic slope on the eastern or seaward side of Dry Gut Fill.

St Helena in the Commonwealth Games 2014

July 17, 2014 in News

On Friday 11th July, 10 athletes embarked on an 8,000+ mile journey from St Helena, destined to represent the island at the Commonwealth Games (CWG) 2014 in Glasgow. Led by the organiser Chef de Mission, Pamela Young, a Saint.

© SAMS

© SAMS

This will be the sixth year that St Helena has participated in the CWG and hopes are high for the team. In total 71 countries are participating this year which means the Saints need your support!

St Helena is being represented by the athletes Patrick Young, Jordie Andrews, Madolyn Andrews, Chelsea Benjamin, Ben Dillon, Lee Yon, Simon Henry, Ryan Benjamin, Vernon Smeed & Duane March.

Their journey to Glasgow includes taking the RMS St Helena to Cape Town, then flying to Glasgow, with a stop-off in Amsterdam. It’s hoped that the weather stays bright so that the shooting team can find some practice time in Cape Town. The main sporting disciplines that Saints excel at are not only in shooting but also in cricket, football, netball and rounders. Medals are hoped for all around, especially in shooting.

This will be the last year that athletes will have to travel via the RMS St Helena to the games, following the opening of St Helena’s first airport in 2016. Once the airport is open, Saints will have an opportunity to easily participate in other international competitions. It will also provide the opportunity for other athletes from across the world to enjoy the range of activities the island has to offer; diving, fishing, coastal swimming, golf, etc. A 50m rifle range is currently being constructed on the island.

It’s Festival of Walking 2014

July 10, 2014 in News, Tourism

The biannual Festival of Walking started on St Helena this week, which is a fortnight’s programme of walks to suit every walker; whether a beginner or seasoned hiker.

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The week started with a launch evening at the Consulate Hotel, which allowed walkers to mingle with walk leaders, ask questions about routes and most importantly sign up to participate. There was a good turn out and attendees commented that they had an enjoyable time.

This year a programme has been put together to include a larger selection of walks, including some of the popular Post Box walks.  All routes are suitable for all abilities and have been spread over three weeks.

A walk to South West Point kicked the programme off, led by Valerie Joshua. Despite a wet and muddy start to the route, walkers had spells of sunshine along the journey and were able to capture dramatic views of Manati Bay over to Speery Island and the Black Rocks.

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For those who would rather not travel “off the beaten path”, town walks are also available. Last Tuesday afternoon thirteen walkers took part in a walk through Jamestown led by Basil George.

Two visitors to the island, Alan and Barbara Wood, said the Town Walk was “A very good introduction to the history of St Helena and Jamestown.   I would recommend all visitors take it. There is so much to see in a small area.  Basil George was an excellent guide and he even slid down part of Jacob’s Ladder for us!”

There will be more walks happening over the next two weeks.

For further information about the walks available click here.

History made on St Helena: Placing of the Commemorative Stone

July 3, 2014 in Island Life, News

This week’s guest post is from Tourism Projects Manager, Merrill Joshua. At the weekend he witnessed significant history being made on St Helena with the placing of the Commemorative Stone at the St Helena Airport site.

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To mark the construction of St Helena Airport’s terminal building, a special Commemorative Stone was placed at the site, a local basalt rock – a key marker in the development of St Helena Airport. Placed by His Excellency Governor Capes to an audience of over 100 invited guests, Lord Bishop Richard Fenwick blessed the site and Prince Andrew School students buried a Time Capsule.

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This milestone in St Helena’s history was a touching one. The speeches made were relevant, delivered with passion and sincerity. Bringing the reality of St Helena’s changing history closer to home. The day summarised the past, efforts from the present and what result we hope to achieve in the future.

The burial of the time capsule was heartwarming and the contents therein will surely create a feeling of nostalgia to future generations who will unearth it in 100 years’ time. It should give the residents of St Helena in 2114 a feel for what the island has achieved since the construction of the airport. Especially as traditional St Helena recipes are read, reminders of St Helena’s endemic wildlife are shared and details of St Helena’s economic position are detailed.

All enjoyed the day and recognition was given to Basil Read for delivering the project on time and on schedule, giving merit to the Saints and others who make the workforce.

The Arts and Crafts Association presented HE Governor Capes and a select few with a limited edition vial pendent that was accompanied by an authenticity certificate and contained soil samples from the terminal building. A limited number of these souvenirs were on sale at the site.

Although the event lasted for just over 2 hours, it will make an ever-lasting impact on the island’s history. The day ran smoothly, the weather was bright and was an opportunity for Saints to reflect on the impending future of the island.

 

Small island with a gigantic footprint in endemic species

June 26, 2014 in Island Life

The British territories feature some of the most iconic environments on the planet, representing unique wildlife and opportunities for further species to be identified. Of all these locations, St Helena must be the jewel in the Commonwealth’s crown. Some even say the “Galapagos of the South Atlantic” as the island is home to a total of 2,932 species as identified by the RSPB.

From sea to land, perfect evolutionary conditions. Credit to Marc Lavaud

From sea to land, perfect evolutionary conditions. Credit to Marc Lavaud

The variety of altitudes, terrain and climate has provided the perfect evolutionary conditions for a vast range of endemic species on St Helena; 502 to be precise, with another 19 potentially endemic, 26 of which are globally threatened. Therefore a huge conservation effort is required to maintain St Helena’s wildlife.

So far conservation on St Helena is largely a community effort. Last September the island saw Peaks National Park re-launch as part of the National Conservation Areas. In addition, Marine Awareness Week is a humble reminder of the importance of the island’s marine environment. This time last year the island was in celebration after a long leaf hopper which hadn’t been spotted on the island for 137 years was re-discovered!

Credit to Mark Lavaud

The Peaks. Credit to Mark Lavaud

Despite the valuable conservation work on the island, there are still significant areas that require improvement. The marine environment in particular is largely unmapped, leaving species undetected and not accessed. The saddest moment in recent years was the extinction of the St Helena olive tree in November 2003. Other species remain on the brink of extinction, sometimes only survived by a couple of old trees.

St Helena Olive Tree

St Helena Olive Tree

Protecting St Helena’s environment is of upmost importance and a huge task. Our thanks go to the sterling work of the Saint Helena National Trust and the St Helena Nature Conservation Group. They are always looking for volunteers and welcome donations. If you want to help, visit this Facebook page.

To read more about conservation of the UK’s overseas territories download the RSPB’s latest reports.