Speedwell Island is one of the larger offshore islands, extending about 11 miles (17.5 km) from north to south and 3 miles (5 km) at its widest central part. It is generally low lying with boulder beaches and sandy bays, some permanent ponds and substantial stands of introduced Marram. It has been used as a sheep farm for more than a century, and coastal areas of the south and centre camps have suffered badly from overgrazing, leading to serious soil erosion. Annie Island lies 1 mile (1.5 km) to the east of Annie Island Point on the south camp of Speedwell Island. It is low lying with boulders on the northern coast and cliffs of less than 10 m on the southern coast above a wide tidal rock platform. The southern cliff top is bare sand and stones, with a wide band, several metres across, of black decomposed peat and scattered Tussac plants merging into low grasses inland. The severe erosion and destruction of Tussac suggest that the island was heavily grazed by sheep, while bones of cattle show that the island has also been used for fattening bullocks. Several patches of orange ash below fibrous Tussac roots indicate that the island was also burnt, perhaps two centuries ago by sealers. Grasses have recolonised in some places and thick vegetation now covers most of the island. Native grasses predominate inland with dwarf shrubs, and the northern coast has some introduced plants. George and Barren Islands are situated off the southern tip of East Falkland between Sea Lion Island and Speedwell Island and are both generally flat, reaching no more than 18 m in height, with a rugged coastline. There are several ponds on George Island and there is severe soil erosion in the central section. Barren Island is sparsely vegetated and, in the early 20th century, large quantities of Marram were planted across the island. Coastal areas are badly eroded, particularly to the south and east, with remnants of an extensive Tussac fringe. The northern and western coasts are greener and have gently undulating valleys containing rushes and Diddle-dee. On the south-eastern coast there is a spectacular patch of relict Tussac pedestals, still containing the bones of seals, which was probably burnt out by sealers many years ago. George and Barren Islands form the most southerly farm in the Falklands. They are currently being promoted as a wildlife tourism destination, with cruise ships visiting through the summer months.
More than 40 species have been recorded on Speedwell Island. One of the largest rat-free islands in the Falklands, it has a thriving population of native songbirds including the endemic Cobb’s Wren, and the ponds provide excellent waterfowl habitat. George and Barren Islands hold the most accessible large breeding colonies of Southern Giant Petrels in the Falklands, which are attractive to tourists. There are significant numbers of Rock and Imperial Shags on Speedwell and Annie Islands, and a colony of Sooty Shearwaters at the northern point of George Island. More than 10,000 pairs of seabirds breed on a regular basis, which means the IBA qualifies under the A4iii criterion. A total of 27 species have been recorded on or near Annie Island. Of these, 24 were either breeding or probably breeding, including eight of the nine native songbirds, only the Falkland Pipit being absent. Canary-winged/Blackthroated Finches, Tussacbirds and Magellanic Snipe seemed particularly numerous. With Cobb’s Wrens breeding and the large number of small landbirds, it is almost certainly free of rats. The only colonial birds noted were Rock and Imperial Shags, which jointly occupied a colony on the south-eastern cliff. Endemic sub-species present within the group are the White-tufted/Rolland’s Grebe, Upland Goose, Blackcrowned Night-heron, Short-eared Owl, Dark-faced Ground-tyrant, Falkland Pipit, Falkland Grass Wren, Falkland Thrush and the Longtailed Meadowlark.
Non-bird biodiversity: The breeding colony of Southern Sea Lions in Speedwell Pass produces about 90 pups annually and the animals haul out on most islands, including Annie. Southern Elephant Seals also visit the islands, but do not breed. The Tussac-covered Emily and Tiny Islands and the Knob Islets are all heavily used by Southern Sea Lions as haul-out sites. Flowering plants on Speedwell Island have been sampled but not surveyed intensively. On Annie Island, at least 35 species of flowering plants were found in December 2001. Of these, 25 were native plants, including large areas of Bluegrass Poa alopecurus, Falkland Cudweed Gamochaeta malvinensis and the endemic Smooth Falkland Ragwort Senecio vaginatus. The other 10 were common farmland weeds, originally from Europe.
BirdLife International (2021) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Speedwell Island Group. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 13/04/2021.