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Saint Helena lies in the South Atlantic over 1,200 miles from the nearest landmass. Previously uninhabited, it was discovered and occupied by the Portuguese in 1502. From 1659 it has been a British possession, apart from a short Dutch interlude in 1673.
The island is ringed by precipitous cliffs whilst the interior is an island of contrasts, including barren deserts, pastureland and cloud forest. In 1502 Saint Helena was a pristine wilderness, with six endemic land birds and extensive forests of endemic plants. Although, within a century much of it had been denuded by settlers and wild goats, it was recognised by Darwin as having no biological parallel anywhere in the world. The long period of isolated evolution has led to over 400 endemic plants and invertebrates and the Wirebird, with many higher taxa (genera and above as well as species) which are also unique to the Island. The past three decades have been marked by concerted efforts to conserve the remaining endemics and restore tracts of native forest.
The Island demonstrates different ecosystems and climatic zones. Despite concerns about reduction in endemic species over time there are a high number of endemic species and genera (400 known globally unique species in its 47 square miles) and an exceptional range of habitats, from cloud forest to desert representing a biome of great age which exists nowhere else on earth. In recent years, dedicated conservation work has done much to stabilise the position while some ecosystems are now known to be essentially little modified by humans.
(x) The island remains a treasure trove of endemic biodiversity, with over 400 known globally unique species in its 47 square miles, including tree ferns, giant tree daisies and desert-dwelling nocturnal spiders.
Integrity: the Island demonstrates different ecosystems and climatic zones with a high number of endemic species and genera, an exceptional range of habitats, with some ecosystems previously thought to be damaged now known to be essentially little modified by humans. The island contains habitats that maintain diverse fauna and flora characteristic of the biogeographic province.
All oceanic islands have some unique or distinguishing feature and comparisons are difficult. An empirical rationale for the comparative analysis of islands in Insulantarctica has been developed by the IUCN but not yet applied to other island systems. This approach identifies four critical factors; landscape, geological features, biodiversity and human impact: Unmodified, non-impacted islands rate highest. St Helena ranks highly on at least three of these factors; human impact is relatively high in some areas but rehabilitation work has restored many habitats.