West Point Island Group

Country/territory: Falkland Islands (Malvinas)

IBA criteria met: A1, A2, A4ii, A4iii (2006)
For more information about IBA criteria, please click here

Area: 3,501 ha

Falklands Conservation

Site description (baseline)
West Point Island lies off the most north-westerly point of West Falkland. It is about 3.7 miles (6 km) long and no more than 2.7 miles (4 km) at its widest. The dramatic west-facing cliffs with gullies or sheer rock faces rising from the open South Atlantic reach 350 m or more in height and the scenery is spectacular. The southern third of the island has impressive rock faces below Cliff Mountain and, further south, Mount Misery (337 m) defines the narrow deep channel to the east, known as the Woolly Gut. The settlement is snug at the north-western edge of a large harbour on the eastern coast, sheltered from the prevailing westerlies. The vegetation is mostly short turf, upland heath or feldmark with several large Tussac paddocks, some with Cinnamon Grass Hierochloe redolens, replanted more than a century ago. The valley across the island from the settlement leads to the Devil’s Nose, a sheer-sided promontory with accessible colonies of Black-browed Albatrosses and Rockhopper Penguins, which attract many tourists from cruise ships. Gibraltar Rock lies approximately 1 mile (1.5 km) northwest of Cape Terrible, West Point Island, and when viewed from the sea appears in the shape of a slipper (hence its local name, The Slipper), with the cliffs on the western side forming the highest point at around 100 m. The island is covered in very dense but low tussac and there are no records of stocking or burning in the past. Low Island is less than 0.6 miles (1 km) south-east of Carcass Island in the north-western entrance of Byron Sound, West Falkland. It reaches about 28 m in height towards the northern coast, which has steep cliffs and vertical rock strata. Large bays on the eastern and western coasts enclose a lower area of heath and open grassland, with bogs and a permanent pool. The southern coast is rocky. Low Island has dense, mature Tussac on the northern part and a fringe on the southern section. There were still some retired dairy cows present on the island in 2000 and these are thought to have had very little impact on the Tussac. There are no plans to stock the island again after they have died. Dunbar Island lies at the entrance to Byron Sound about 750 m south-east of Low Island. It is about 2 miles (3.5 km) from north-west to south-east and only about 0.6 miles (1 km) wide. The highest part, Dunbar Hill, is almost central at 89 m while it reaches 38 m and 53 m near the eastern and western points respectively. There is serious soil erosion on the northern slopes, probably due to heavy stocking with sheep until 1969, when livestock were removed and the vegetation was left to recover. Some mature Tussac remains around the coastline, especially at the north-western point and along the southern coastal slopes. Inland, the vegetation is heathland with rocky outcrops. A small shanty stands near the south-eastern point. Carcass Island is 6 miles (10 km) from north-west to southeast and has a maximum width of 1.5 miles (2.5 km). There are large sand bays and a tidal rocky point to the north-west, while the north-eastern coast has cliffs and slopes. The highest point of the island is Mount Byng at 220 m. The island also has several substantial freshwater ponds, mainly towards North West Point, which are important waterfowl sites. Carcass Island has been a sheep farm for more than a century, but excellent management has left it with a varied habitat and a diverse flora, including mature Tussac in replanted coastal paddocks. The Twins are two Tussac-covered islands, lying approThe northern Twin is 600 m long and low lying, with dense Tussac cover and apparently supports a good population of Southern Sea Lions, while the southern Twin is 850 m from south-east to north-west and has a more varied habitat. Apart from a bay and sand dunes to the north-east, the coast is mostly boulder beach.ximately 1.2 miles (2 km) north-west of Carcass Island.

Key biodiversity
Atotal of 50 species was recorded on or near West Point Island during the Breeding Birds Survey 1983–93, of which 30 were breeding or probably breeding. Seven of the native songbirds were present but their numbers were low compared with Carcass Island, where Tussacbirds and Cobb’s Wrens were widespread and numerous. Gibraltar Rock has only four or five songbird species but supports a large breeding population of Thin-billed Prions, and it is probable that the Grey-backed Storm-petrel is breeding there and on Carcass, Low, Dunbar and The Twins. The Common Diving-petrel may breed on The Twins and Dunbar. The Rock Shag is breeding on most islands but the only breeding records for the Imperial Shag are for Carcass and Dunbar. West Point Island is a key site for breeding Black-browed Albatrosses, while the entire chain supports a small but significant number of breeding Striated Caracaras (>7% of the estimated Falkland population of about 500 breeding pairs). The Southern Giant-petrel is possibly breeding on the southern Twin as 40 adults were present in 1997. Endemic sub-species present are the Common Diving-petrel, Black-crowned Night-heron, Upland Goose, Dark-faced Ground-tyrant, Falkland Pipit, Falkland Grass Wren, Shorteared Owl, Falkland Thrush and the Long-tailed Meadowlark.

Non-bird biodiversity: There are several breeding populations of Southern Sea Lions in the group. At the 2003 census, 59 pups were found on The Twins, 14 on Gibraltar Rock, 40 on Low Island and 51 on Dunbar Island. The plants on West Point have been fairly well surveyed and 123 species were identified between 1995 and 1998. Of these, only four were endemic and 52 (42%) were introduced, including several grasses sown to improve pastures and others that have naturalised from garden plantings. On Carcass Island, about 107 species have been identified, including the uncommon Yellow Orchid Gavilea littoralis, the rare endemic Hairy Daisy Erigeron incertus and Whitlowgrass Draba funiculosa, as well as a large number of introduced species. In contrast, Low Island had 20 species, including one endemic and seven introduced, Dunbar had 23 species (one endemic and three introduced), the southern Twin had only seven species (two introduced) and Tussac was the only plant found on the northern Twin.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2023) Important Bird Area factsheet: West Point Island Group. Downloaded from on 30/05/2023.