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Coronavirus: Stranded conservationists back in UK after mammoth trip with RAF help | UK News

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A team of conservationists stranded in one of the world’s most remote places have made it back to the UK after sailing nearly 2,000 miles and boarding a military flight.

The group of 12 from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) had been working on Gough Island, an isolated South Atlantic island which is part of the British overseas territory Tristan da Cunha.

They arrived on the island in February as part of a project to help save endangered seabirds from giant invasive mice.

Conservationists
Image:
The group of 12 were from the RSPB

But when the coronavirus pandemic escalated, the team quickly realised they had to get back home – and their options were limited.

The island is about 1,700 miles west of Cape Town and the closest countries’ borders were closing rapidly.

In the end, the team’s best option was a 12-day voyage on their yacht – the ESV Evohe – to Ascension Island, some 1,969 nautical miles away on rough seas.

File pic
Image:
Ascension Island, where the group sailed to. File pic

Kate Lawrence, who was among the RSPB group and lives in New Zealand, said: “Sailing in that boat for 12 days, looking at the endless blue ocean around me, made the world feel quite big, in contrast to the previous ease of air travel and the rapid spread of COVID-19, which makes the world seem so small.”

When the group arrived on Ascension Island, they were put on to the next Royal Air Force (RAF) flight to the UK’s Brize Norton air base.

The flight had been visiting the island to deliver essential supplies.

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Both the Foreign Office and the RAF were involved in repatriating the team.

Tristan da Cunha administrator Fiona Kilpatrick said it was a “complex operation” and had involved staff from three UK overseas territories, as well as teams in South Africa, Vienna and London.

The RSPB hopes to return to the island next year, if conditions allow, to help save rare seabirds such as the critically endangered Tristan albatross.

The birds have come under threat after people inadvertently introduced giant mice to the island.

The mice eat chicks, killing more than two million birds at the World Heritage Site each year.

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