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Celebrating Christmas on one of the world’s most remote islands

Secret Santa, tinned vegetables and pecan pie

Kim, Vonica and Roelf getting in the festive spirit on Gough Island!

Gough Island might be a tiny speck in the Atlantic Ocean, but that doesn’t mean it’s beyond the reach of some festive cheer. Here we take a look at how the RSPB team - Kim, Von, Roelf - and South African National Antarctic Programme staff stationed on one of the world’s most remote islands will be celebrating Christmas.

Be prepared The key to life on Gough is to be prepared – and Christmas is no exception. With the nearest open shops and supermarkets thousands of miles away in Cape Town (and with no boat to get to them in any case!), frantic panic-buying on Christmas Eve just isn’t an option. People stationed on the island have to plan ahead and bring everything with them that they might need for their 13-month stay, including presents from loved ones back home.

Secret Santa with a twist Although Gough is about as far removed from your average office as it’s possible to get, some workplace Christmas traditions are just too good to miss: secret Santa anyone? Rather than handing out the usual plastic tat, Gough’s Christmas elves head for the island’s (sorry, Santa’s) workshop to craft handmade presents. Making and exchanging handcrafted gifts is a real highlight of Christmas on the island and a lot of thought and imagination goes in to reusing and recycling things – even leftover wood from bio-secured packaging. This year, Roelf will be knitting his lucky recipient a Christmas surprise, with ‘surprise’ being the operative word as last we heard he’s part way through and still hasn’t decided what it’s going to be yet!


Festive feasting Because of the danger of bringing new plants, animals or diseases onto the island, no-one is allowed to bring fresh food with them when they arrive. This means that Christmas dinner (as well as every other meal) has to be made entirely out of dried, tinned or frozen ingredients. It might sound like a tough ask, but with a bit of imagination and creativity – as well as a handy cookbook created by a past overwintering team - the team can rustle up some delicious dishes, from (seedless) tomato soup and freshly baked bread rolls to Thai green curry. For Christmas this year, a roast leg of lamb, roast pork and potato salad made from the frozen potato wedges is on the menu. For dessert, Kim had hoped to channel her inner Delia Smith and bake a date pudding, but, after raiding the island’s stores, realised a key ingredient was missing – the dates! So, in true Gough style, she came up with an alternative plan to use up some of their stockpile of nuts and create a pecan pie instead. 2020 is certainly the year of resourcefulness!


The Gough team might not be enjoying date pudding this Christmas, but that doesn’t mean you can’t. Why not try the Gough team’s recipe for yourself? Sticky date pudding ingredients 500g of chopped pitted dates 2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

150g butter 1¾ cup of sugar 2 tbsp of golden syrup 5 eggs (on Gough these are irradiated to prevent spreading diseases to wildlife) 2½ cups self-raising flour

Sauce ingredients 1½ cup sugar 225g butter 1¼ cup milk ½ cup powdered milk

Method

1. Roughly chop up the dates. Combine the chopped dates and 3 cups of water in a saucepan and cook at medium to high heat until the mixture comes to the boil. Take off the heat, add the bicarb and let the mixture sit for 5–7 minutes. 

2. Cream the butter and sugar together, followed by the golden syrup, until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time and beat well. Fold in the flour and the date mixture. 

3. Pour into a cake pan lined with baking paper. Make sure your pan is big enough or use two pans if necessary, otherwise you’ll be waiting all night for it to cook through. Also, this pudding has been known to rise like Mt. Vesuvius. Bake at 160˚C for 55 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean.


4. To make the sauce, heat the ingredients in a small saucepan on low. Stir constantly until the butter is melted, then increase the heat and simmer for 5 minutes or until the sauce thickens slightly.


5. Cut the warm cake and serve with the caramel sauce poured on top.

Recipe taken from The Gough Kitchen: Remote Island Recipes Dished Up By Gough 63 2017–18, with thanks to RSPB Field Assistant Jaimie Cleeland for being the date pudding mastermind! An ambitious plan Despite the camaraderie of the team working on Gough, spending months at a time away from loved ones on one of the most isolated islands on the planet isn’t always easy. While our team are soaking up the experience of being on such an amazing wildlife island during one of its most critical seasons to date, celebrating Christmas away from home can be difficult – and perhaps more so than ever this year. So why has the RSPB team chosen to brave the week-long boat journey to be stationed on this wild and windswept island in the first place? The answer lies in its unique wildlife.

Gough Island is one of the most important seabird islands in the world, but many of the 8 million birds that nest here are under threat. Back in the 19th century mice were accidentally introduced to the island, most probably by seal hunters, and since then they have learned that seabird eggs and chicks make for a tasty meal.


Since Gough’s birds evolved without the threat of land predators, they are completely defenceless – video evidence shows mice eating chicks and even adult seabirds alive. It’s thought that more than two million eggs and chicks are lost every year, which is having a devastating impact on the populations of threatened species, such as the Critically Endangered Tristan albatross, and pushing them towards extinction.

Restoring a seabird paradise With the help of world-leading island restoration experts, and in partnership with Tristan da Cunha, the team aim to remove the mice, restore the fortunes of Gough’s seabirds, and save this World Heritage Site. To find out more and support our vital work visit: https://www.rspb.org.uk/join-and-donate/donate/appeals/gough-island/

An Endangered MacGillivray's prion chick in Prion Cave, where breeding success is regularly as low as 0% (M.Risi)

To keep up to date with all the latest news please follow our Gough Island Facebook and Twitter pages, or contact us on email: goughisland@rspb.org.uk

Acknowledgement

The Gough Island Restoration Programme is being carried out by the RSPB in partnership with Tristan da Cunha, the UK Government, BirdLife South Africa, the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries in South Africa, the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, Island Conservation, BirdLife International and Landcare Research. The programme is part-funded by the RSPB, the UK Government, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and other generous individuals and organisations.


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© The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) is a registered charity: England and Wales no. 207076, Scotland no. SC037654

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