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The Millennium Forest

Haven’t you grown…

The world was not left to us by our parents, it was lent to us by our children.{h}

St Helena aims to recreate the ‘Great Wood’ - a natural forest destroyed in the 17th Century‍‍

SEE ALSO: The Great Wood Wall ⋅ Longwood

Millennium Forest logo

Approximate extent of the Great Wood
Approximate extent of the Great Wood

The Millennium Forest is a project in the North-Eastern corner of St Helena to recreate the Great Wood that existed before colonisation. In 2016 it was estimated to contain more than 10,000 trees.

In the beginning…

St Helena was born around fourteen million years ago, as a result of volcanic activity. Thereafter, for 99.997% of its life, the island was left to its own devices. Plants, wind blown from Africa, colonised the island, and bred and changed, giving the island a rich and varied flora, much of it endemic. The Great Wood was the largest expanse of forest on St Helena and, as such, was home to an unknown number of plants, insects and birds. Its total extent seems to be lost to history but it is likely it covered an area of at around 21Km². It was located in the north-east of the island, in the area now occupied by Deadwood and Longwood, stretching perhaps as far east as Prosperous Bay Plain (the Airport site).


Mankind did not even know of St Helena’s existence until the Portuguese discovered it in 1502. They did not establish any permanent settlements but they did release pigs, goats (and, unintentionally but inevitably, rats) onto the island, thus disrupting an ecology that had developed over millions of years. The British colonised it in 1659, immediately creating a permanent settlement. In the process of colonisation the Great Wood was entirely destroyed as settlers cut down the trees for firewood, used the bark for tanning thereby unnecessarily killing the trees, and allowed goats and other introduced animals to graze on the saplings.

Governor John Roberts complained:

In 1716 a ground plan of the wood was inserted in the Records, and it is reported:

In the early 1700s attempts were made to enclose the remainder of the forest - the ‘Great Wood Wall’ - but this did not stop the destruction. The site of the Great Wood became semi-desert. In the summer months particularly, the hot south westerly winds sucked all the moisture from the ground, turning the soil to sand. Soil erosion was (and still is) a big problem on this windward side of the island, with some ecologists estimating that 90% of the fertile soil that was once present has been lost due to erosion.


Millennium Forest sign

Welcome to (the) Millennium Forest sign

In the late 1990s it was decided that the island would embark upon an historic reforestation project at the site of the Great Wood. This would need to continue for decades if most of the area previously occupied by the Great Wood was again to become an established forest. The area designated for reforestation was named The Millennium Forest. The project was launched in 2000 with tremendous commitment from the Island community. The first official Gumwood Tree was planted on 4th August 2000 by Governor Hollamby dedicated to HRH Elizabeth, the Queen Mother (the date being her 100th birthday). Official public planting began on 6th August and virtually every resident paid for a tree and many of them planted their trees themselves. By the beginning of December 2000 about 3,000 trees were planted, rising to nearly 4,000 by the end of the month. A car park was laid out and a gatehouse built. The photograph (below) shows the Millennium Forest in 2005. By 2012, about 35 hectares had been planted with 10,000 trees. The total land area designated for reforestation has been extended in the course of the last thirteen years and is currently 250 hectares and the reforestation work now in hand is the toughest phase of the entire cycle of events.

The project currently supports some forestry workers who are constantly involved with watering and feeding trees as well as planting new areas. They have to combat problems caused by infestation and invasive growth of alien species which can overrun saplings. The failure rate in newly planted areas can be high and re-planting is another sizeable aspect of the workload. There are now in excess of 6,000 Gumwood Trees growing in the Millennium Forest. An estimated 55,000 further plantings are required to cover the entire area designated for forest.

Here are some photographs to illustrate the growth of the Forest:

You can experience (sort-of) a stroll through the Millennium Forest here:


Below: 15 Years, 201520 Years, 2020

15 Years, 2015

Millennium Forest 15th cake

Millennium Forest Birthday Party Celebration

It is fifteen years since the Millennium Forest was planted and 35 years since the first Ebony was re-discovered on the 11th November. Therefore it was thought fitting to hold a Millennium Forest Birthday Party on the nearest weekend to the latter which falls on Sunday 15th November 2015. Refreshments and a Birthday Cake were provided along with activities to say thank you to an array of people that have helped contribute to the success of the Community Forest Project and also to encourage people to visit if they have not done so already.

Activities included a Treasure Hunt, Guided Tours, Flax Weaving and Tree Planting. Eighty three plants including Gumwood were planted on the day helping to extend the forest. A Birthday Cake wish box was sent around with a slice of cake so participants could write a wish for the forest and what they would like to see in the next fifteen years. The event was well attended and it was good to see everyone enjoying themselves.{i}

People were asked to submit a wish for the forest, for the next 15 years. Here are some of the contributions:

20 Years, 2020

20 years badge

The first even took place on Saturday 25th Jaunary at the forest - a scavenger hunt.

Watch this space for details of other planned events as they emerge or see the Millennium Forest Facebook™ page.

Activity Reports

Below: Opening, August 2000Saint Helena Child Plants the FutureHarford walk through the Millennium Forest

Opening, August 2000

Millennium Forest opening, August 2000 icon

After months of preparation the Millennium Forest is ready for planting. The Millennium Forest Steering Committee is hosting two events to kick-start the planting. Everyone is welcome to come along and join in the planting celebrations and plant a tree.

On Friday the 4th August at 9:30am H.E. the Governor will be planting a tree in honour of HRH the Queen Mother on the occasion of her 100th Birthday. This will be followed by tree planting by Jamestown First School and other organisations. And, Come along to Horse Point on Sunday 6th August between 10am and 4pm. You will have the chance to plant your tree in the forest and have lots of fun for besides with: Marquee and Stalls; Drinks; Music; Games; Refreshments; Competitions.

Everyone is welcome. Groups or individuals who have already submitted names to plant a tree can choose to come along on either Friday or Sunday or liaise with Rebecca Cairns-Wicks to come on another day during the following weeks.

If you want more information or have any queries about planting in the Millennium Forest please contact Rebecca Cairns-Wicks or Isabel Peters.


Saint Helena Child Plants the Future

Joel Peters watering in his dedication plant
Joel Peters

As part of Bicentenary Week, St Helena National Trust prepared for two hundred gumwoods to be available for planting in Area D of the Millennium Forest. The target was to get them all planted within the week but on Thursday 15th October 2015 this target was blown out of the water with the help of the Navy, the French Delegation, tourists and last but not least Saints. Two hundred and one gumwoods were planted in two hours. A total of £141.00 was also kindly donated to dedicate trees and receive certificates of planting. A special thank you to all those that participated and supported this venture and made it an astounding success. We would like to make a special mention to Bronwyn and David Street who arrived early and excavated a number of holes in readiness for the plant off. They belong to a conservation group who remove invasive species and plant endemics in their homeland of Australia.

Dedicated staff and volunteers in the SHNT harvest seed, plant and bring on a number of endemics for planting all year around in an effort to turn the tide against invasive species. This has been kindly funded by the Darwin Initiative as part of the Community Forest Project. Our work is supported by the Darwin Initiative as part of the Community Forest Project. It’s never too late to plant a tree. The Millennium Forest Nursery produces a number of different endemic plants that members of the public can dedicate to a loved one. For example this could be in memory of a relative/friend that has passed on or the birth of a child. For further information call Jessi.


Harford walk through the Millennium Forest

Harford School Millennium Forst walk

Harford School Millennium Forst walk

On Friday 15th May 2013 children from Harford Primary School took part in a sponsored outdoor adventure at the Millennium Forest. The St Helena National Trust’s Forest School Officer Martina Peters and Invertebrate Education Officer Liza Fowler organised the occasion in collaboration with the school to create an event that would generate funds and also provide curriculum-based environmental education for the pupils.

With interactive activities it was more than just a walk, for at numerous stages along the trail were stations that included a sundial, pitfall traps, a memory game, touchy feely boxes and the potting-up of endemic plants.

Learning about invertebrates was a key theme among the activities says Liza, the children got to see how we catch bugs and saw what is living within the Forest. Martina added through these activities the forest is brought even more to life and they get to see what lives here and interacts with the Gumwoods. Although a relatively short trail it was an ideal location for the event as the ground is pretty level, the Gumwoods are tall and the developing canopy enables them to experience what it is like to walk through endemic woodland, hopefully inspiring them for the future.

Head Teacher Carlene Young said The children thoroughly enjoyed themselves while learning more about our local environment and the endemics on island… from outside the classroom. Activities like this are among the many different approaches that the St Helena National Trust’s Darwin Initiative funded ‘Bugs on the Brink’ project is aiming to implement as part of its educational outreach. Events like this often work in collaboration with the St Helena National Trust’s Forest Schools Project which works to encourage community involvement with nature conservation on the island.


Your contribution?

Anyone can plant a tree in the Millennium Forest. You don’t even need to visit{3}! For more details contact the St Helena National Trust.

The Millennium Forest relies heavily on voluntary tree sponsorship and donations. Most sponsored trees are to the memory of loved ones; mark an anniversary or special event. Personalised plaques and benches can be arranged by the St Helena National Trust on request. Through making a sponsorship or donation you will be helping the environment and save a threatened endemic species from becoming extinct, including having a lasting reminder of that special memory{e}.

Read More

Below: Other SourcesArticle: Meet the Millennium Forest: A unique tropical island reforestation projectArticle: St Helena reforestation wins conservation award

Other Sources

Millennium Forests on Facebook™

The St Helena National Trust has set up a Facebook™ Page for the Millennium Forest at www.facebook.com/‌pg/‌communityforests.

The Wikipedia

You can learn more on the Wikipedia about the flora of St Helena.

Article: Meet the Millennium Forest: A unique tropical island reforestation project

By Jeremy Hance, published on news.mongabay.com, 2nd November 2022{4}

Birds were probably the first colonizers to arrive. Some likely carried seeds, perhaps stuck to their feathers. Most of those seeds didn’t survive. Some did. Insects followed. And for 14 million years or so, the tiny island of St Helena in the South Atlantic Ocean, located midway between Africa and South America, was left to the whims of nature. Hundreds of species evolved here, suited solely to the little island’s surprising number of habitats.

There was vegetation to the waters’ edge, teeming with invertebrate, bird and marine life. Taller and bushier vegetation in central peaks, and then shrubbier, low-growing vegetation in drier areas, says Martina Peters, the head of terrestrial conservation at the Saint Helena National Trust, describing the island as it looked when humans first arrived.

Covering just 122 square kilometres, an area smaller than the New York borough of Brooklyn, the island once supported at least five distinct ecosystems and more than 79 plant species found nowhere else, along with 420 invertebrates. Its remoteness - 1,950 kilometres west of Africa’s southwestern coast, and 4,000 kilometres east of Rio de Janeiro - protected its native flora and fauna.

In 1502, everything changed. Humans discovered the little island and introduced goats, rats, cats, rabbits and other invasive species; prior to this, the island had no mammals, reptiles or amphibians. Some 150 years later, the

British set up the first permanent colony, and cut down every tree they could reach. Denuded, the island began suffering from erosion, while the plants that did thrive were often non-native. Less than 1% of St Helena’s original ecosystems survived the centuries-long onslaught.

Enter Rebecca Cairns-Wicks in 1999: The island [population] was invited to submit ideas for how to celebrate the millennium on the island, so that was the impetus for its first major restoration.

Cairns-Wicks, who was then the environmental coordinator for the St Helena government, proposed an idea both ambitious and community-oriented: What if the Saints (as the island’s 4,500 inhabitants call themselves) came together to reforest a portion of the island once known as the Great Wood with native species? That project was one of just two selected for the island’s millennium celebration.

Today, the Great Wood is slowly returning, notes Cairns-Wicks, now coordinator at the St Helena Research Institute, as formerly bare and eroding soils are cloaked by a thriving forest that boasts numerous native species. Although small in size (about 16 hectares), and with the slow-growing trees reaching only 1-2 meters after 20 years, today’s Millennium Forest punches above its weight as one of the world’s most unique reforestation projects due to its rare native species found nowhere else on Earth.

The forest’s uniqueness arises partly from its island locale. Forest restorations on remote islands often pose problems not encountered in mainland projects, with the ocean isolation of plants over many centuries often resulting in the evolution of species found nowhere else. So, when endemic island plants are cleared by human colonizers and invasive species brought in, native species can vanish fast, with remnant specimens and replacement seeds hard to find. In St Helena’s case, one formerly dominant tree was thought to be extinct until 1980, when two shrubby individuals were found clinging to a remote cliff. A volunteer lowered by rope collected their seeds, saving the species from oblivion. This tree, the St Helena dwarf ebony (Trochetiopsis ebenus), grows in the Millennium Forest today.

A forest by and for the community

The tropical island of St Helena marks the craggy summit of an inactive shield volcano sitting atop the mostly submerged Mid-Atlantic Ridge. Colonized by Britain in the mid-17th century, this remote igneous rock claimed its 15 minutes of world fame when deposed French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte was exiled here until his death under the watchful eye of the British after his 1815 defeat at Waterloo.

John Turner, the editor of an island information site, says living on St Helena today is very much like living in a U.K. village, except that the next village is 700 miles [1,130 km] away, and the nearest big town is 1,500 miles [2,400 km] away.

The Millennium Forest as originally envisioned was first and foremost a natural oasis intended to benefit this little community, according to Cairns-Wicks, becoming a place where locals could hike, walk their dogs, or simply enjoy the views. Although biodiversity and carbon sequestration were always goals, the people of St Helena came first.

St Helena, once colonized, never had any forests that were just public spaces for pleasure, for conservation, beyond the traditional conservation areas, Cairns-Wicks explains, noting that conservation areas existing in 1999 were not accessible to the populace, given the island’s extreme topography. St Helena is characterized by deeply etched valleys, where most people live, and highlands, rising steeply to 820m above sea level.

The Millennium Project would be different - with road access and easy mobility.

It’s about doing something that the public could participate in, and take ownership of, and create a space … to enjoy and basically be part of creating, Cairns-Wicks says, adding, A legacy.

The site was chosen for a number of good reasons: First, it was part of what had been historically known as the Great Woods until settlers cut it down for timber and firewood. It was also close to a couple of populated areas, had freshwater access, and was relatively flat on an island of extreme slopes.

It’s one of the few fairly level expanses, so it means that it’s accessible for all, Cairns-Wicks says.

At the start, the project focused solely on planting St Helena gumwood (Commidendrum robustum), a tree once common to the island, including at the Millennium Forest site. Found nowhere else on Earth, this gumwood, categorized as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List, is descended from the sunflower family and became rare after colonization. The choice of gumwood was also practical, as it was one of the species that we could [successfully] grow [at the time], Cairns-Wicks says.


Locals initiated the planting of 3,000 trees, with nearly everyone on the island at the time participating. But planting wasn’t easy.

Cairns-Wicks notes that the site was incredibly eroded.

In fact, there wasn’t soil. [In] most places it was really quite rocky, and we actually used [mechanical diggers] to dig some of the holes. It was a very, very neglected area next to the island’s waste-disposal site.

Once launched, the project made the St Helena gumwood locally and globally famous (at least among botanists). Today, the species thrives not only on the island, but is prized in botanical gardens in France, the U.K. and the U.S.

It brought the gumwood into people’s hearts and minds, because actually, it was a species that most people didn’t know and didn’t recognize, Cairns-Wicks says, noting that surviving St Helena gumwoods at the time only stood on remote cliffs or peaks.

In 2002, the management of the Millennium Forest project was given over to the St Helena National Trust, the island’s biggest conservation group.

Funding and expansion

After an exciting start, the initiative has since matured in fits and starts.

It’s not like other projects where you can grow [plants] really, really quickly, Cairns-Wicks says, noting that the gumwood is an extremely slow-growing tree. And you can’t cover large swaths and talk about millions of trees planted, because it’s a much more organic process of growth without big funding.

Still, over the past 22 years, the project has added more native species, including a number of endemic shrubs: the already mentioned St Helena dwarf ebony (Trochetiopsis ebenus), as well as St Helena rosemary (Phylica polifolia), St Helena tea plant (Frankenia portulacifolia) and the boxwood (Mellissia begoniifolia), which was thought extinct until a surviving plant was discovered in 1999. The first three species are all listed as critically endangered. There are also several endemic and threatened tussocks, succulents and flowers found in the resurrected forest.

All this was made possible due to the island’s creation of seed banks and gene banks for threatened flora over the past couple of decades through the government’s Terrestrial Conservation Section and supporting groups.

We have the ability now to propagate a much greater range of species, Cairns-Wicks says.

The forest itself is attracting and adding more than plants. The habitat has become important for the St Helena plover or wirebird (Charadrius sanctaehelenae), a small wading bird only found on the island and IUCN listed as vulnerable. The growing forest has also become home to the gumwood leafhopper (Sanctahelenia decellei), an endemic insect now living there in large numbers.

The biggest, most pressing issue facing the forest’s future is a lack of consistent funding, says Martina Peters, with the St Helena National Trust.

There has been a number of projects delivered [here]. However, once they end, then so does the funding, which means a loss of staff (capacity and skills) and a lack of maintenance. She adds that most funders don’t want to support long-term funding, which is what successful forest restoration projects require.

Peters says funding currently comes partly from the St Helena National Trust’s core budget, the John Hellerman Foundation, and the local government. The latter has provided funds as mitigation for the recently built airport, the first on the island.

Plantings have continued sporadically over the years: visiting tourists can pay to plant a tree, while Cairns-Wicks says most St Helena children also visit at some point during their schooling and plant a tree. There have been a few large plantings since 2000, including some that may have added up to 600 trees in one day. The forest is growing - just not as quickly as many hoped.

It’s been a very slow progression, Cairns-Wicks says.

Maintaining the forest requires support and vigilance. Given the dry conditions at the site, each plant is drip-irrigated for its first three years. This water supply is gradually reduced so that eventually the plants will fend for themselves, Peters says.

As with island restoration projects the world over, invasive species are probably the most difficult, continuous and costly problem. Rabbit-proof fencing and traps installed are expensive, time-consuming and require ongoing maintenance, but these help to reduce losses, Peters explains, adding that workers also regularly need to clear invasive plants.

Cairns-Wicks describes the Millennium Forest as a generational project. The gumtrees could eventually rise as high as 8m, but the canopy isn’t near that goal yet.

It does look more like a shrubbery than a forest, but it’s getting there. So, you can stand in places in the forest now and you can only see [just] trees … It’s starting to take on a forest persona of its own, she says, adding, My hope was at the beginning, that one day, it’s big enough that people could get lost in it just like they used to get lost in the Great Wood.

‘An island in recovery’

The whole island of St Helena is undergoing a process of vast change. For centuries, free-ranging goats ruled the island - first left there by sailors to provide meat on sailing vessel stopovers - destroying vegetation everywhere they could reach. The last free-range goats were removed from most of the island by the 1980s, leading to explosive vegetative growth.

Basically, it’s an island in recovery, says Cairns-Wicks.

But it’s not turning back into what it was pre-discovery; instead, it’s becoming something new.

[We’re] seeing massive recovery - rewooding and rewilding - but not with native species, [but] with a lot of the introduced species. So that we’ve got an incredibly dynamic ecology going, says Cairns-Wicks, adding that with the goats gone, introduced rabbits are now the main deterrent to plant survival.

What’s very, very obvious is how quickly the island is greening, and so I think it’s very easy to imagine a rich and lush landscape with rich and fertile soils and forests, given that it had millennia to develop and we are just witnessing what’s happening in a few decades.

Of course, most of this greening will look very unlike pre-discovery St Helena. But the Millennium Forest isn’t the only project that’s working to preserve a portion of the island’s original native flora. There’s also the recently started multimillion-dollar St Helena Cloud Forest Project, seeking to preserve and expand the island’s cloud forest, an ecosystem that contains 250 species found nowhere else on Earth. This cloud forest, located on the island’s peaks, is also essential to the island’s freshwater sources.

Escalating climate change poses a major threat to the world’s island ecosystems, and St Helena isn’t immune. As temperatures rise and precipitation patterns change, forest species isolated by oceans - on flat Pacific atolls, for example - may not be able to move to safer climes. But with its near-adjacent lowlands and highlands, drylands and cloud forest extremes, St Helena could be blessed, allowing climate-stressed plant species to reseed and move about the island in tune with a fast-changing and warming world.

I’d like to think that one day the island can change the scale at which it works to restore lost dryland habitats, like the Millennium Forest … rewilding the island with more of its native and endemic species, Cairns-Wicks says. There’s growing interest and capability. The seeds of a vision and interest are there and when the time is right it will happen.

The Millennium Forest is a model that larger restorations on islands could emulate. The most exciting thing here, says Cairns-Wicks, is the people’s sense of ownership of the forest - a community-based pride that could be transplanted to other places and projects.

They’ve been able to see what their contributions have done, she says, noting their wide breadth of ownership over the Millennium Forest.

Parents and grandparents can take their children there and say, ‘I planted this tree.’ … It’s a legacy of who was here, and the commitment that they’ve made. They’ve had the vision to contribute their effort to … a forest [that] they’ll never see the full advantage of, Cairns-Wicks says.

But future generations really will. And for me, that’s the exciting thing … Future generations will realize the benefits that this generation has created.

Article: St Helena reforestation wins conservation award

From www.petside.com/‌wildlife-extra, April 2011{4}

WILD BEAUTY: St Helena. Picture: Tara Pelembe
WILD BEAUTY: St Helena. Picture: Tara Pelembe

Winner of Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies Nature Conservation Award is announced.

A forest restoration project on one of the most remote inhabited islands in the world has just won a major UK conservation award. But this is no ordinary forest and no ordinary island - for the trees are endangered and are found nowhere else in the world and the island is St Helena, a British Overseas Territory.

Flying the flag for the International Year of Forests, the St Helena Millennium Forest Project will be presented with the Joint Nature Conservation Committee’s Blue Turtle Award{5} for nature conservation in the UK Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies.

The eastern half of St Helena was once covered with a huge swathe of native forest known as the Great Wood. During the 1700s most of the native trees had succumbed to the combined effects of felling for timber by settlers, browsing by goats and rooting by pigs; and by the 20th century only a few of the native gumwood trees survived. Gumwoods are found nowhere else in the world, and like other trees endemic to St Helena, are all threatened with extinction. At the initiative of the local community, the St Helena Millennium Forest project was launched with the goal of reinstating native forest on degraded wasteland. More than 250 hectares of land has been set aside for restoration and, since 2002, over 10,000 gumwood trees have been planted.

JNCC’s Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies Programme Manager Tony Weighell, one of the award’s judges, said: I want to congratulate all involved in the St Helena Millennium Forest Project. This is exactly the sort of innovative, community-based initiative that should be encouraged. St Helena provides important lessons for our management of forests globally - it’s better to protect and conserve our forests now than to attempt to restore them later.

UNIQUE BIODIVERSITY: The newly planted millennium wood on St Helena.
UNIQUE BIODIVERSITY: The newly planted millennium wood on St Helena

Defra is playing an increasingly important role in supporting biodiversity in the UK Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies. Presenting the award on behalf of JNCC, Environment Minister Richard Benyon said: Our Overseas Territories are a precious repository of unique biodiversity and often serve as home to some of the world’s most vulnerable species. Recent events in the South Atlantic have shown the fragility of such habitats and our duty to protect them has never been clearer. The St Helena Millennium Forest Project is an excellent example of how a community can come together for the sake of a better environment and a greener future. I’m delighted to see the excellent efforts getting well-deserved credit.

Rebecca Cairns-Wicks, president of the St Helena National Trust said: The Millennium Forest is a genuine community initiative, with hundreds of our islanders already planting endemic trees. Visitors and overseas supporters are also able to donate a tree, leaving a personal legacy to this story of ecological recovery. The St Helena National Trust has a long-term vision and commitment to the project which will expand and improve the ecological diversification of the forest and develop the site as a leading environmental tourism attraction.


{a} Sainte Hélène Voyage{b} Jack & Carolyn Long{c} Île de Sainte-Hélène - Atlantique Sud{d} mongabay.com{e} St Helena National Trust{f} Earth Observatory, taken from the ISS{g} Andrew / Peter Neaum{h} African proverb{i} St Helena National Trust, Published in the St Helena newspapers November 2015{4}{j} St Helena News, 21st July 2000{4}{k} The Independent, 23rd October 2015{4}{l} The Independent, 22nd May 2015{4}


{1} Please first read this warning.{2} We want to know exactly what this contributor was smoking when they came up with that one!{3} Though we recommend you do!{4} @@RepDis@@{5} The Blue Turtle Award is given annually by The JNCC, a ;statutory adviser to UK Government and devolved administrations.