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  • Writer's pictureLaura Beasley

The Takeover: Welcome to the ‘Roaring Forties’

With our whole team now safely ashore on Gough we began to take in the stunning environment and appreciate the daunting scale of eradicating mice from this island. At 13 km long and 5 km wide Gough may not sound like a very big place, but these figures do not do it justice. The terrain is incredibly difficult to work in and very unforgiving. It is windy, very wet and walking anywhere on the island takes considerably longer than you could imagine due to thick vegetation and bogs.

Phylica woodland
Inside a stand of Phylica woodland (R.Hall)

Phylica woodland, known as island trees, and bog fern form a dense impenetrable barrier. The old growth of the island trees is coated in thick coverings of lichen which hangs in long beards from the branches. In the shelter of this vegetation you find Atlantic yellow-nosed albatross sat atop their turret-like nests.

Atlantic yellow-nosed albatross on its nest
An Atlantic yellow-nosed albatross on its nest (R.Hall)

To get firsthand experience of the inaccessible regions of the island, Davin, Pete, Rich and I took a helicopter flight around the coastal cliffs and up over the highlands and peaks of the centre of the island. To the south the island is lower with wide boggy valleys. But along the North East coast the landscape is higher and dominated by steep broken terrain and deep valleys full of lush vegetation.

Bogland and heathland at Gonydale
Bogland and heathland at Gonydale (R.Hall)

Hags Tooth
The cliff known as Hags Tooth (R.Hall)

This visit to Gough is already proving to be incredibly valuable for our team. The first-hand experience we’re gaining of the island will inform our planning of the eradication of furry invaders that are causing so much devastation to the native birds.

Jaimie and Michelle in the low-lying Phylica woods
Jaimie and Michelle in the low-lying Phylica woods (R.Hall)

Our task during this trip is to plan out the infrastructure for placing a team of 30 people, four helicopters, aviation fuel, and bait on the island. In addition to this we also need to construct aviculture facilities to hold Gough moorhens and buntings during the baiting operation. With the boggy ground and thick vegetation this is no simple task. To make things easier we are centring our camp around the South African meteorological station on the southern end of the island.

Gough meteorological station from the sea
Goughs meteorological station from the sea (R.Hall)

This little base perches on steep cliffs above wild seas in what is referred to as the 'roaring forties': the storm and wind lashed region of the Southern Hemisphere at 40 degrees latitude. For most of the year the base is home to just ten hardy wintering staff. Seven are South African Weather Service personnel tasked with taking weather observations throughout every day of the year, which feed into global weather models. The remaining three are RSPB staff who monitor the wildlife of the island. These RSPB staff have observed first-hand the devastating effects of mouse predation on the albatross and two endemic land birds, the Gough bunting and Gough moorhen.

Gough meteorological station during annual handover and resupply
Gough meteorological station during annual handover and resupply (R.Hall)

For just a few weeks a year numbers on the base swell during the takeover period when the SA Agulhas II arrives with food and supplies to restock the base. The old team nearing the end of their year on the island hand over to the new team, introducing them to the base and the island and training them on their work for the year ahead. This is also the maintenance time for the base when teams of technicians and engineers arrive to service and repair machinery, install new kit and keep the base running. It's a busy time of frenetic activity with everyone striving to complete their work before they must leave the island once more to its little team of overwintering staff.

Map of Gough Island


Dickie Hall

Operational Logistics Manager, The Gough Island Restoration Programme

Before joining the RSPB's Gough Island Restoration, Dickie was the Project Director of the South Georgia Restoration Project which was declared a success earlier this year.

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