Archived 2016 topics: St Helena Plover (Charadrius sanctaehelenae) – downlist to Vulnerable?

St Helena Plover (Charadrius sanctaehelenae) is endemic to St Helena (to UK). This species is classified as Critically Endangered because its population was extremely small and declining owing to land-use change (particularly a decrease in grazing pressure) and predation by invasive predators. Since 2005, annual censuses have shown a stable or slightly increasing population, and the population has exceeded 250 mature individuals since at least 2007, with the most recent count in 2016 recording 559 mature individuals (Oppel in litt. 2015, Fisher 2016).

Until recently, there was considerable uncertainty over the possible impacts of the construction of a new airport on St Helena, and whether this (and associated developments) would cause a decline in the St Helena Plover population, potentially reducing the population to below 250 individuals (Prater et al, in litt. 2011). Airport construction was completed in 2015, and although the airport has not yet opened it appears that the C. sanctaehelenae population has not been adversely affected (Oppel in litt. 2015, Fisher 2016). Plans for the construction of associated developments (particularly hotels and golf courses) have not yet been realised (J. Hall, S. Oppel pers. comm. 2016).

The species has benefitted in recent years from on-going conservation efforts, including habitat restoration and control measures against introduced predators (J. Roberts in litt. 2010; Burns et al, 2013; Oppel et al., 2014). These efforts are continuing, now led by the St Helena National Trust (Fisher 2016).

As the population is now stable and there are more than 250 mature individuals meaning that it does not meet the numerical threshold criteria for Critically Endangered or Endangered status, it is proposed that the species be downlisted to Vulnerable under criterion D1 on the basis that the population is estimated to number fewer than 1,000 mature individuals, with no evidence of a continuing decline.

Additional information or comments on this proposed downlisting are welcome.


Burns, F., McCulloch, N., Székely, T. and Bolton, M. 2013. The impact of introduced predators on an island endemic, the St Helena Plover, Charadrius sanctaehelenae. Bird Conservation International 23: 125-135.

Fisher, I. 2016. St Helena plover: Wirebirds on the up? Available at

Mcculloch, N.; Norris, K. 2001. Diagnosing the cause of population changes: localized habitat change and the decline of the endangered St Helena wirebird. Journal of Applied Ecology 38: 771-783.

Oppel, S., Burns, F., Vickery, J., George, K., Ellick, G., Leo, D. and Hillman, J. C. (2014), Habitat-specific effectiveness of feral cat control for the conservation of an endemic ground-nesting bird species. J Appl Ecol, 51: 1246–1254.

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5 Responses to Archived 2016 topics: St Helena Plover (Charadrius sanctaehelenae) – downlist to Vulnerable?

  1. The proposed downlisting is warranted given the recent population trend, which has been positive. From a scientific perspective, I can endorse the downlisting.

    However, I would caution the local government and stakeholders to not consider the downlisting as a signal to ‘forget’ about the wirebird. The positive population trend is the result of enormous conservation efforts to control feral cats and maintain suitable habitat, and these activities must continue to maintain the Wirebird population, so hopefully the downlisting will not result in a lapse in attention.

    Likewise, the downlisting should not be seen as an incentive to now proceed with harmful developments that could jeopardize the conservation gains achieved over the last decade. If the Wirebird habitat can be protected, suitable habitat maintained, and feral cats controlled then the Wirebird population appears to be reasonably secure.

    The downlisting is a great success indicating that conservation efforts have paid off.

  2. The wirebird is now routinely part of the discussion when considering development applications on St Helena. Whether this is as a result of the bird’s CR status or the general level of international interest in its conservation is uncertain. Down-listing of the species should be seen and communicated as a great conservation success and RSPB deserve a great deal of praise for their steady support of the species over the years.

    The St Helena National Trust remains committed to the wirebird in its 2015-2020 strategy and will continue to seek diverse sources of funding to support this work. the Trust is also committed to advocating for the protection of the species both on-island and abroad. As such, a change from CR to VU may have a moderate impact on the level of support available but should not significantly impact the work on the ground. VU is still one of the ‘Threatened’ categories and as such the species profile shall remain high in development decision making on St Helena.

  3. Dr Tony Prater says:

    The long term objective of the work on the St Helena Plover has to be to achieve a sustainable population. The slow but steady increase in numbers since 2006 has shown that the efforts (habitat management, predator control, awareness) have been effective to date. The relatively sharp increase in numbers over the last two years has placed the species in a favourable position.

    However, the full range of development proposals which were identified to take place after the building of the airport have not yet happened and the long term future remains uncertain. The value of the species to help develop the touristic value of St Helena has been recognised by SHG and provided this is maintained, there is the potential that the encouraging population growth of the species should be maintained.

    Under these circumstances I support the down listing of the St Helena Plover.

  4. Dennis Leo says:

    whilst we welcome the downlisting, we feel that we must continue our efforts with predator control and habitat clearance. St Helena has a feral cat problem island wide,
    so we need to address this issue. Rabbits are also becoming a problem as their abundance is destroying the nesting grounds.

  5. James Westrip (BirdLife) says:

    Based on available information, our preliminary proposal for the 2016 Red List would be to adopt the proposed classifications outlined in the initial forum discussion.

    There is now a period for further comments until the final deadline of 28 October, after which the recommended categorisations will be put forward to IUCN.

    Please note that we will then only post final recommended categorisations on forum discussions where these differ from those in the initial proposal.

    The final 2016 Red List categories will be published on the BirdLife and IUCN websites in early December, following further checking of information relevant to the assessments by both BirdLife and IUCN.

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