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Saturday, 01 July 2017

Tidings of Tussac Grass: Falkland Islands - Page 2

Written by Matthew Hay
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Since humans arrived in the Falklands they have exploited tussac, over-grazing it to support unsustainable herds of sheep and cattle or else burning it to flush out the sea lions and penguins that yielded them oil. Originally, 22,000 hectares of this plant fringed the entire coastline of the archipelago. Now the two largest islands retain just 65 hectares in small, isolated clumps.

The irony is that our exploitation of tussac grass has hurt economic interests as much as ecological ones. In 1842, it was estimated that 30,000 long-horned cattle and 3,000 horses roamed East Falkland alone, grazing on the “extensive plains of fine grassland”, which early visitors noted reached to the very tops of the mountains. These large herbivores rapidly degraded the islands’ pastures until only the hardy sheep could eke out a living on most of the land. Cattle now number just 5,000 and likewise the size of sheep herds has dropped substantially since their heyday in the late-19th century, when over 800,000 called the Falklands home.

It is hard not to see the ecological plundering of the Falklands in the context of current global environmental concerns. Short-term economic interests and a desire for profit above all else led to callous mismanagement of the country’s natural assets. This is a pattern we see again and again, in the palm oil plantations of Indonesia, in the cattle ranches of Brazil, in the fisheries of northern Europe. The correlation between healthy ecology and strong long-term economy is determinedly ignored, blurred into obscurity by the blinding glare of immediate financial gain.


A post-tussac landscape on Pebble Island, eroded and bare

But if the Falklands are a microcosm for man’s relationship with the natural world, there are at least some tentative signs of hope; some forward-thinking local farmers are finally implementing a longer-term agricultural vision and a regenerative economic strategy.

Working with conservation organizations, they are attempting to replant and restore the tussac groves that once covered their estates. It is not a simple process, as much of the islands’ topsoil has been eroded by the Falklands’ fierce winds since the original grasses were destroyed. However, with sufficient labor and care the plants do seem able to take root in some places once again.

(Page 2 of 3)
Last modified on Friday, 30 June 2017

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