New Island Group

Site description (2006 baseline):

Site location and context
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 Tussac remains. 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 New Island. 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.

Key biodiversity
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 Sea Lions. 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 133 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.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2023) Important Bird Area factsheet: New Island Group. Downloaded from on 01/10/2023.