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  • Writer's pictureHikers Tom and Sorrel

Tussac Planting on Middle Island

An Induction Into Falklands Habitat Restoration

With two weeks of quarantine completed we were both itching to get outside and do something. Luckily, in the Falklands there is always something to do and somewhere exciting to go.

Sorrel’s dad happened to be organising a tussac planting trip to a small island on East Falkland with two local conservation groups as part of his fishing company’s aims to offset the operational carbon footprint of their vessels. The project needed volunteers and we were both thrilled to join in.

Tussac planting volunteer group, day 1, featuring hikers Tom and Sorrel

This unique grass – local to the sub-Antarctic region – has long been a focus for conservation efforts as a sheltered home for a wide range of animals including sea lions and magellanic penguins, as well as the indigenous tussac birds and cobb’s wrens. There were several night herons (fairly shy birds), multitudes of rock cormorants, and even a short-eared owl.

Meanwhile, the grass is an expert at retaining moisture, necessary for the traditionally dry Falklands soil, and is instrumental in restoring and preserving peatlands. Peat – a large source of Falkland Islanders’ energy until about 40 years ago – is packed with carbon, making it one of the biggest sources of carbon sequestration in the world, and instrumental in helping remove carbon from the atmosphere. Planet Earth loves tussac too.

Sadly, however, only 1 percent of the Falklands’ 778 islands are considered to be intact tussac habitats. A dramatic 81% reduction has taken place over the years, with habitats having been taken over by invasive species, such as rodents, or over-grazed by farm animals. Consequently, recent ecological restoration efforts have been centred around tussac planting projects in a number of locations across the Falklands, to lay the foundations for the regeneration of prosperous ecosystems.

Middle Island was chosen as one such location for planting, having suffered years of soil erosion after a fire in the 1960’s which decimated the tussac population and prevented a quick recovery. It had previously seen some tussac planting by the BFSAI team in 2019, but this time around the aim was to cover a far greater area.

After making the hour-long journey to Mare Harbour we were shipped to Green Island (a 20-minute boat journey), where we spent two hours each day pulling tussac tillers out of the healthy bogs that were abound. Some of the larger plants (which grow well above head height and create a setting that is akin to the tall grasses in Jurassic Park) are over two-hundred years old; their roots grow deep and make for a difficult morning of work.

Green Island - Densely packed with tussac bogs.

We were then moved to Middle Island, where the less arduous yet more rewarding task of re-planting would commence after a short stop for lunch.

The results were impressive: after four days of work we had planted 5.4 hectares, amounting to 12,605 new bluegrass and tussac plants.

A portion of newly planted tussac tillers - with a bit of luck this land will develop into a cosy home for wildlife

As avid travellers and trekkers, we both naturally are enthusiastic about and strong advocates of environmental efforts, whether it be wildlife conservation, habitat restoration, combatting carbon emissions, or waste clean-up projects. For Sorrel, this was a chance to take part in something she’d done a lot of as a kid. But for Tom, this was an induction into Falklands lifestyle and wildlife, as well as an opportunity to put his conservational concerns into practice and impart a genuine positive difference on the environment.

It was incredibly rewarding to stand up at the end of a long day - back aching, muscles sore, skin burnt - and see a vast stretch of previously barren land harbouring thousands of young new plants. It was also wonderful to have several days out in the middle of nowhere enjoying the wonderful landscapes and wildlife that the Falklands has to offer, after having spent months cooped up in central London.


📚Learn more about: Conservation in the Falkland Islands 📚


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