The Millennium Forest is a project in the North-Eastern corner of St. Helena to recreate the Great Wood that existed before colonisation.
When the British colonised St Helena in 1659, they 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. Just 50 years later the island’s Governor complained:
“The Island in 20 years time will be utterly ruined for want of wood, for no man can say there is one tree in the Great Wood, or other wood less than 20 years old. Consequently it will die with age.”
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.
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. Virtually every resident paid for a tree and many of them planted their trees themselves. During this first phase about 3,000 trees were planted, a car park was laid out and a gatehouse built. The photograph (below) shows the Millennium Forest in 2005. By 2012, about 35 hectares have 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 now 250 hectares and the reforestation work now in hand is the toughest phase of the entire cycle of events.
The project currently supports just two 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. Currently there are 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.