Saturday, 31 March 2012

One month left...

Sorry for the hiatus.  I don’t have long left on Tristan. So I’ve been concentrating on completing the survey.  I’m due to leave on the 2nd of May on the MV Edinburgh to Cape Town - weather and sea conditions permitting.   You can never rely on departing and arriving on time, so I’ve re-arranged my return flight to allow for up to nine days over-run.  I just hope that is enough.  It has been known to  take two weeks longer than scheduled.  
Brilliant news - Simon is now flying to Cape Town and is due arrive at the same time as me - so if all goes to schedule we’ll have a week’s holiday in Cape Town before returning to the UK.  We plan to chill out in Cape Town and visit my cousins Sandy & Ali nearby.  BTW we are returning to an excellent B&B we stayed at on the way out called Black Heath Lodge.  If you are ever looking for accommodation in CT I can’t recommend it highly enough!  See
I’m feeling a bit homesick today.  My sister, Catherine, and her family travelled over from the USA last weekend to help my brother, Peter, with the lambing on the family farm in Perthshire. They’ve been there all week – in glorious spring weather I hear.  Tonight there is a big family meal at Mum’s before they jet off tomorrow morning and I wish I could be there too!
I’ve had a busy morning in the kitchen – baking bread rolls & tea cake and making mince and Cape gooseberry jam. This afternoon I’ve been out visiting islanders.  And tonight I’m going to Steve’s 21st birthday party at the village hall.
I’m not long back from a camping trip to Stony Hill in the south of the island where I surveyed 15 coastal 1km squares.  After that we have 28 squares left to do – out of a total of 118. Some have been partially surveyed but need another visit.  Many are coastal and are relatively easy to pick off.  We are planning a trip round to Sandy Point at the eastern extremity of the island next week.  There are 12 squares to do there.  A few of the remaining squares are on the Base near the ponds.  But many are on the peak, where there isn’t much vegetation to survey, the ground is easy and you can do a lot in a day.  Good weather is vital for that – but becoming increasingly rare. 
To date we’ve made some 5000 individual plant species records across Tristan of approximately 132 non-native and 76 native species.  I say approximately because we are not entirely sure about the identity of several plant collections we’ve made and I’ll take those to experts at Kew or elsewher for examination.
Dmap 1km UTM square distribution of Yorkshire Fog, or Farm Grass on Tristan (to date).
The size of the dot is proportional to estimated abundance.

Recently I’ve installed Dmap and got it set up to display their distributions against a map of Tristan (thanks Alan).  It is fascinating to see the data mapped.  It’s amazing how widespread some of the non-natives are.  The most widespread is Holcus lanatus, Yorkshire Fog (known as Farm grass locally) which is found in 89 squares.  The most widespread natives are Empetrum rubrum (Island or Peak Berry), Blechnum penna –marina (a Fern) and the endemic Isolepis bicolor (Little Bog-grass).  All three are found in 91 squares from sea level to near the summit of the Peak.  So far the rarest native is Cardamine glacialis (known locally as Scurvy grass): just three widely separated populations with only a few plants in each.  It is fascinating to see how some plants prefer low ground, while others like high ground; some only occur on the Base and others prefer the coastal plains.  Dmap is giving us a new way to look at our data.  It is also proving invaluable in spotting errors and omissions.
Distribution of Island or Peak Berry on Tristan (so far).

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Life on Tristan

Social Life

Tristanian society is very sociable, caring and close-knit. Families are extended and friends will have known each other all their lives. Everyone knows everyone. (What you'd expect in an isolated population of just 280!)  Old folk are looked after by their families. And children have a very special place on Tristan. Everyone watches out for them.

Friends and family help each other whenever there is major work to do. Like working in the patches (allotments), sheep shearing or something more major like house renovation or building. People are always dropping in for a chat – often with a couple beers for the hosts.  Such is Tristan generosity that when I go visiting I seldom leave empty handed. I've very kindly been given all sorts of things - cakes, eggs, fish, vegetables - even entire meals!

The Albatross is the focus for much socializing. The outside tables are popular on sunny Sunday afternoons or warm evenings - especially with the young crowd.  Inside men stand chatting at the bar whilst women prefer the comfortable chairs. A TV goes unwatched in the corner.

The Saturday night dances in the village hall next door are always fun. They are very lively and a bit like dances at weddings back home - with a weird selection of music and folk of all ages. Kids dance with parents and grandparents and children tear around playing with each other.

There is a Café beside the swimming pool which opens late afternoons.  But it’s not the sort of café that sells tea or coffee (well unless there are tourists on the island). Tristanians don’t go out for tea and coffee. Rather it sells beers and spirits and soft drinks for the kids.

TV & Radio

I mentioned TV. Reception is pretty ropey but on a good day there are two channels: BFBS (British Forces Broadcasting Service) 1 & 2. Which are selections from the five main UK channels designed for 18-30 year old squaddies. Lots of sport, reality TV programs, soaps, quizzes and films. A weekly diet of Eastenders, Top Gear and Tool Academy! Weekends are particularly dire when there are often two channels of sport and virtually no news. On weekdays I watch BBC1 Six o'clock news and have enjoyed Frozen Planet and Downtown Abbey - some of the better offerings. Strangely we get the local news, travel and weather for London.  Seems odd to hear about traffic jams on the M25 on Tristan, a place where the phrase is seldom heard!

There is a radio station on VHF FM. BFBS Radio - except for two hours on a Sunday morning when it becomes Atlantic Radio with local programming and news. BFBS Radio itself is a lot like Radio 1 but even more puerile.  For intelligent radio I occasionally listen to the news or ‘From our own correspondent’ on BBC World Service on a small Sony radio attached to long-wire aerial over the garden. There is usually a good signal from the BBC transmitters on Ascension.

The Rectory

The Rectory, with the 700m high escarpment beyond.
Several people have asked where I’m staying on the island. Well I’ve got a three bedroom self-catering detached house.  The third bedroom has been converted to an office – and we use that as the project office and we use the second bedroom as a camping equipment and food store. The house is one of the closest to the sea.  It’s between The Residency, the Administrator’s house, and the ‘main street’ with the Island Store and government offices and workshops. It would normally be occupied by the Anglican priest but the position has been vacant for almost two years now. Apparently it is hard to recruit clergy to tend such lonely flocks.

View from the front door
The Sun

Frequent stormy weather can make it easy to forget that Tristan is near the equator. A similar latitude in the northern hemisphere would be North Africa. So the sun and its UV are intense.  Almost every day I wear a sunhat and sun cream. I carry lip sun block at all times and re-apply it regularly – but even then it is easy to get burnt – especially when it’s too windy to wear hats.  As an extra precaution I’ve only cut my hair once in 6 months.

The Sky at Night

On a clear night the southern sky is fascinating – quite different from our northern hemisphere night sky.  And there can be few places with less atmospheric pollution than Tristan for a pristine view.  Sadly the settlement has streetlights. These go off at midnight - except for a particularly bright one at the end of my garden!  Occasionally when camping on the base I have seen and been awestruck by the stunning clarity of the sky at night: the Milky Way with more stars than I've ever seen before!

PS I'd have taken a photo of the Milky Way if I could but here are a couple more photos of the house instead: