Saunders Island

Site description (2006 baseline):

Site location and context
Saunders Island is the second largest offshore island in the Falklands and has been managed as a working sheep farm for many years. It has a complex shape, being about 13 miles (21 km) from east to west and almost as wide from north-east to south-west. There are three large upland areas, with the highest point (457 m) at the summit of Mount Richards. There are varied habitats, including wetland and permanent lakes, areas of dune formations and extensive steep cliff slopes, particularly towards the northern and western coasts. A narrow waist of open dune and sand flats (The Neck), north-west of Mount Richards, leads to Elephant Point with Mount Harston (433 m) and the far western coast known as the Holy City, where steep cliffs provide habitat for Black-browed Albatrosses and Rockhopper Penguins. The slopes of the upland areas are rich in native flora, which consists of feldmark formation and upland hea

Key biodiversity
About 50 species have been recorded on Saunders Island, 40 of them breeding or probably breeding. The Cobb’s Wren is absent and few songbirds are seen, due to the presence of introduced cats and rats. However, in some valleys with more vegetation and, particularly, good stands of Fachine Chiliotrichum diffusum, songbird numbers are higher. The largest variety of waterbirds is found on and around the ponds on Elephant Point. A colony of Silvery Grebes favours this locality. There are significant populations of Imperial and Rock Shags that warrant further investigation. The Tussacbird has been recorded recently but is not thought to be breeding. There are one to two pairs of Macaroni Penguins among the Rockhoppers but insufficient to warrant site qualification. A small colony of Southern Giant Petrels has been recorded on a small island adjacent to Burnt Island, south of Saunders Island. Endemic sub-species present are the Whitetufted/ Rolland’s Grebe, Upland Goose, Dark-faced Ground-tyrant, Falkland Pipit, Falkland Thrush and the Long-tailed Meadowlark. Members of the Royal Air Force Ornithological Society carried out a complete coastal survey in 1995.

Non-bird biodiversity: Up to five Southern Elephant Seal Pups are born annually at Elephant Point, and this area is also a favourite haul-out for adults, especially during moulting. A few Southern Sea Lions and the occasional South American Fur Seal haul out on the island. Saunders is one of the few offshore islands that have had an intensive sample survey of their flora. In the early 1990s, 176 species were found, including eight endemics. Coastal rocks, dry ridges and moist areas were found to support the most varied species groups.

Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
Saunders Island has a thriving tourist industry, with selfcatering facilities in the settlement and at The Neck. Approximately 200–500 cruise ship passengers per year visit throughout the summer, mostly at The Neck, to see the Gentoo and King Penguins on the sands and the Imperial Shag, Rockhopper Penguin and Black-browed Albatross colonies on the slopes of Mount Richards. It is very important that the Falkland Islands Countryside Code (see Appendix 1) is followed, particularly to guard against the risk of fire. There are more albatross and penguin colonies to the north and east of Rookery Mountain. Some areas of the coast are prone to erosion and the entire island has grazing stock with little Tussac. Saunders Island has great potential for managed recovery from overgrazing and its importance as a tourist site within the archipelago is increasing, both to land- and ship-based tourists. Unfortunately, the island has populations of feral cats, House Mice, rats and some rabbits, and because of the size and varied habitat, it is unlikely to be cleared of introduced predators in the near future. Control programmes around sensitive sites could perhaps reduce the threat to key bird species from rats and cats. All visitors should be advised about the dangers of accidentally introducing alien species to the Falklands. Accidentally introduced Spear Thistles are becoming more prevalent across the island and volunteers helped to destroy some in the autumn of 2003. With careful management, it is hoped that this alien plant species can be eradicated from the island in the next few years.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2023) Important Bird Area factsheet: Saunders Island. Downloaded from on 03/10/2023.