New Island has a length of 8 miles (13 km) and an average
width of 0·5 miles (0.75 km). In section, the island is wedge
shaped, the western and northern coasts rising
dramatically to form a formidable coastline of cliffs. In
contrast, the eastern coasts are lower lying and gently
sloped, comprising rocky shores and sandy bays. The
island was formerly heavily grazed and in some places has
suffered considerable erosion.
Landsend Bluff consists of two large bluffs lying off the
north-western point of New Island, both of which have an
elevation of around 100 m. The bluffs are deeply fissured
and provide cliff nesting habitat for colonial seabirds.
Beef Island lies almost 1.2 miles (2 km) east of the New
Island settlement. It is generally dome shaped with very
steep slopes on the south-eastern side and rises to around
50 m. Much of the island is thickly covered with Tussac,
with the exception of a small area of heathland and low
grasses on the north-eastern point.
Coffin Island is about 0.6 miles (1 km) north-east of South
End Camp, New Island. It is dome-shaped, with very steep
sides above cliffs, which rise to around 50 m. The higher
elevations are dominated by heath and grassland, while the
summit at 122 m has cushion plants on very thin soils and
exposed rocks. On the steep coastal slopes, a fringe of
North Island lies 1.5 miles (2.5 km) offshore from the
northern point of New Island and is just under 1.7 miles
(2.75 km) in length and 0.3 miles (0.5 km) in width. The
western coast is dominated by cliffs, which peak at 70 m and
are often undercut at sea level. Most of the island is covered
by Tussac, with the exception of a central interior plateau,
which is oceanic heathland, with Balsam-bog and Bluegrass.
Saddle Island is located roughly equidistant between New
Island and North Island. It has sheer cliffs up to about 75 m
on the western and eastern coasts but has a sheltered sandy
bay facing south-east. Much of the island is covered with
dense but fairly low Tussac 1.5–2 m tall. There are two
shallow ponds in the centre of the saddle, which are
thought to dry out in the summer.
Ship Island in Ship Harbour is a low hummock reaching
a height of no more than 15 m and is only 400 m from
Cliff Knob Island is only 400 m to the south-east of Sabina
Point, New Island North. It is a steep-sided domed islet no
more than 15 m high and covered in Tussac, much eroded in
the lower part by burrows. It is unlikely to have been grazed.
The New Island group is considered to be one of the finest
wildlife areas in the Falklands, with at least 46 species
breeding or probably breeding, and very large populations of
colonial nesting seabirds. It is probably the world’s most
important breeding ground for the Thin-billed Prion. The
colony of Black-browed Albatrosses on North Island was
devastated by fire from a lightning strike in January 1988. It
has since recovered to a population of about 17,700 pairs in
2000. New Island has a breeding population of Falkland
Skuas numbering several hundred. There are a few pairs of
Macaroni Penguins but they do not qualify the site as they are
probably not breeding. Birds of prey include Peregrine
Falcons, Southern Caracaras, Variable Hawks, Turkey Vultures
and Short-eared Owls. New Island North has one or two pairs
of King Penguins with Gentoos and a colony of about 50 pairs
of Southern Giant Petrels. Dark-faced Ground-tyrants are
widespread and common but other songbirds are uncommon.
Non-bird biodiversity: New Island has one of the Falklands most important
breeding locations for South American Fur Seals at
Landsend Bluff, with an estimated total population of
about 2,500 animals. The islands in this group are
also breeding grounds for a small number of Southern
Endemic plants include Lady’s Slipper Calceolaria
fothergillii, Vanilla Daisy Leucheria suaveolens, Coastal
Nassauvia Nassauvia gaudichaudii, Snake Plant Nassauvia
serpens, Woolly Falkland Ragwort Senecio littoralis, and
Smooth Falkland Ragwort Senecio vaginatus. Other
interesting plants are Whitlowgrass Draba funiculosa, Tufted
Azorella Azorella monantha and Yellow Orchid Gavilea
littoralis. New Island (North Harbour), Coffin and Beef
Islands have populations of an unidentified purslane
(Calandrinia), possibly a new endemic plant.
Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
Two owners manage New Island as separate nature reserves.
Only a very small number of sheep are retained on the New
Island North property as a meat supply for the owner.
New Island South Conservation Trust (NISCT) researchers
Paulo Catry, Ana Campos, Petra Quillfeldt, Juan Masello
and Ian Strange prepared the area description, breeding
bird status notes and the material below on conservation
issues for New Island South.
The management of New Island South as a wildlife reserve
was started in 1972 with all sheep being removed in 1975.
New Island has some alien species: Black/Ship Rats Rattus
rattus, House Mice, a small number of feral cats, the
European Rabbit Oryctolagus cuniculus and possibly a
Cottontail Rabbit Sylvilagus sp. The eradication of
introduced rodents from New Island would be a costly and
major undertaking. The ecological value of this remains
questionable. As a result of management and studies made
of these alien introductions, none is considered to be a
serious threat to native species. Intensive studies over the
last four years by NISCT on the Black Rat, the only species
of rat found on New Island, show that populations are
restricted to small areas. The species has been found to feed
largely on vegetation, with little evidence to show it is
reducing populations of ground-nesting bird species.
Nevertheless, the absence of the Cobb’s Wren as a breeding
species is significant.
The NISCT is aware, however, of the potential dangers that
such alien species pose and will continue to undertake
monitoring and management strategies employed over the
last 33 years. Similar studies will also be carried out on the
small populations of feral cats and rabbits to evaluate their
position in the general ecology of New Island. All visitors
should be informed about the dangers of accidentally
introducing alien species to the Falklands.
Researchers at the field study centre on New Island South
have clearly demonstrated that the removal of sheep and
careful management of the environment have greatly
benefited native plant and bird species. New Island
receives a number of tourist vessels throughout the austral
summer (early November to late March). Tourists are
permitted to land in restricted areas to view the wildlife
and dramatic coastal scenery. In 2003/04, 21 vessels
brought an average of 98 passengers every eight days for
visits of three to four hours’ duration. It is very important
that all visitors should follow the Falkland Islands
Countryside Code (see Appendix 1), particularly to guard
against the risk of fire. Although a potential conservation
issue in the future for some islands, by adhering to present
management policies New Island would not expect to see
its environment under any threat from controlled tourism.
Falklands Conservation is aware that the offshore islands
need ecological surveys.
Saddle Island was stocked with cattle until 1972. There is
no evidence to indicate that Tussac has been burnt and it is
believed to be free of introduced predators.
Access to North Island is extremely difficult because there
is no easy landing place. It has never been stocked and no
sign of rats or mice was found in November 2000. A large
area of Tussac was burnt in January 1988 following a
lightning strike and many albatrosses abandoned their
nests and chicks. Since then, the vegetation has recovered
to some extent and the albatrosses have recolonised. Beef
Island carried sheep and cattle until 1972. There are signs
that Tussac has been burnt in the past but the island is
believed to be free of introduced predators. As on Beef
Island, sheep were removed from Coffin Island in 1972 and
there is no evidence that this island has ever suffered a fire.
Ship Island carries little vegetation except dwarf shrubs
and low introduced grass, and shows clear evidence of
having been burnt long ago. It is likely to have been grazed
and there are also signs that it has a population of rats.
BirdLife International (2021) Important Bird Areas factsheet: New Island Group. Downloaded from
http://www.birdlife.org on 27/10/2021.