Pathway to Protection for South Georgia & the South Sandwich Island

(24/05/21: Media Release)


The Government of South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands (GSGSSI) announces its intention today 24th June to designate Terrestrial Protected Areas that will cover the entire landmass of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands.

This announcement is an important step to support the aspirational vision of ‘environmental recovery and resilience through world-leading evidence-based sustainable management’ as detailed in Protect Sustain Inspire [.pdf], the new stewardship framework for the Islands published in January 2021.

The creation of Terrestrial Protected Areas, complements the Marine Protected Area , which covers the whole 1.24m km2 maritime zone and is an exemplar in delivering world-class protection, coupled with sustainable use. This is a model that works for nature and works for society.  Bringing a similar rigour to the 3,800kmlandmass marks an important step in consolidating existing protection measures and careful management and enshrining them in law.

As the stewards for this precious UK Overseas Territory the Government are seeking to create the conditions to enhance the protection of the incredible biodiversity whist still ensuring it is accessible to visitors to enjoy. Facilitation of visits means people will have the opportunity to experience these amazing habitats and develop collective knowledge about the biodiversity of the island. The Government aims to deliver a truly sustainable visitor experience, supporting this global rarity; an ecosystem in recovery.

Today’s announcement builds on the 1st September 2020 release of the mandatory visitor film narrated by the naturalist and broadcaster Sir David Attenborough. An inspirational look at how the territory is sustainably managed and why the steps each visitor is asked to take are so vital to the Islands’ protection.

Ensuring that there is a Territory worth protecting is only possible because of ongoing careful and active management, ambitious habitat restoration projects, putting in place rigorous biosecurity measures to help protect native flora and fauna and very importantly the sustained commitment of many individuals and organisations to sustainable management. But the message is clear – past human activity harmed the environment.  The introduction of rats, reindeer and invasive plant species upset the delicate ecological balance on land, pushing some species to the brink of extinction. But rather than close the Territory to everyone, it is managed in a sustainable and precautionary way allowing every visitor a chance to witness something spectacular; the wildness and wonder of South Georgia.

A modern framework that builds upon current policies and legislation will help further protect and promote the incredibly rich biodiversity of the islands. The global community of stakeholders has been asked for their help in getting this right.

The announcement today draws attention to the ambitions and invites others to get involved with how to progress our terrestrial protection. Before the end of 2022 it is anticipated that there will be a consultation on the management plans for each Protected Area so there is agreed understanding on what is being protected and why.

Phase I.

“Pathway to Protection” sees the development of the South Georgia Protected Area which will focus on protection of the ecosystem and promotion of biodiversity, facilitating globally significant science alongside sustainable visits.

A South Sandwich Islands Protected Area will recognise their pristine nature, absence of introduced species and strengthen the inherent protection that arises from their inaccessibility.

Following this announcement the Government will prepare, in consultation with its global community of stakeholders, the management plan in preparation for Protected Areas legislation to be drafted.

Phase II will see further work undertaken to identify areas within South Georgia that need additional research, monitoring and management within the Protected Area.

His Excellency Nigel Phillips CBE, Commissioner for South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands said:

“The incredible success of the South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands Marine Protected Area demonstrates how working in collaboration with partners can leverage a precautionary approach to our maritime environment.  We will now extend that approach to our landmass.  The South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands Terrestrial Protected Area will drive a coherent and consistent methodology in delivering our vision and associated strategic objectives across the entire Territory.  In pursuit of this goal, we will be relentless in strengthening the protections we afford nature and this announcement marks the latest step in the values based approach set out in our stewardship framework: Protect Sustain Inspire.  Let South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands be your inspiration”

Lord (Tariq) Ahmad of Wimbledon, Minister for the Polar Regions said:

“I very much welcome this new announcement by the Government of SGSSI to reinforce the high standards of Terrestrial Protection across the Territory. The Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) continues to work in close partnership with the Government of SGSSI to support the ongoing conservation and sustainable management of the Territory.”

Professor Dame Jane Francis DCMG, Director of the British Antarctic Survey said:

“With South Georgia increasingly in the limelight as a result of the science being undertaken on land and in the ocean it is important that areas needing special protection are given just that.  British Antarctic Survey looks forward to working closely with the Government as Phase II takes shape on how local science can enhance policy and have a global impact.”

Chief Executive of JNCC, Dr Gemma Harper said:

“JNCC is excited to be a part of the next chapter in the conservation of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands. The Government of SGSSI has shown real commitment to the protection of species such as Albatrosses and Petrels through its highly successful marine protected area and the intention to create territory wide terrestrial protected areas.  We look forward to working with the Government of SGSSI to deliver the next stage of the project, as part of our commitment to working with our nature rich Overseas Territories.”

Amanda Lynnes, IAATO Director of Environment & Science Coordination, said:

“South Georgia has long been close to IAATO’s heart, with its abundant wildlife, breath taking scenery and rich history. For decades we have closely collaborated with the Government of South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands to enable our visitors to sensitively and responsibly experience the magic of the islands first-hand. We look forward to contributing to this next exciting phase of protected area management and the continued conservation of this precious place for many generations to come.”

Colin Clubbe, Head of Conservation Science, Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, said:

“The Government of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands has been in the vanguard of strong environmental stewardship for many years, leading the world in setting and implementing ambitious policies with clear targets for conserving the fragile biodiversity wilderness under their protection. This is exemplified by their recently published 5-year Strategic Framework: Protect, Sustain, Inspire. Establishing this Pathway to 100% Protection for Terrestrial Protected Areas will bring the terrestrial sphere in line with their well-established Marine Protected Area which is a strong reason to celebrate. GSGSSI’s on-going commitment to managing, monitoring and controlling invasive species is a clear example of their approach not only to protecting terrestrial ecosystems but to improving and recovering them through active and informed conservation interventions. I am delighted to see this announcement which signals GSGSSI’s intention to continue its exemplar environmental management of these fragile islands to ensure their long-term future”




The Government of South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands (GSGSSI) is already world renowned for its conservation of its precious marine environment.  All marine waters of SGSSI are within a marine Protected Area, delivering conservation of these important areas, while at the same time enabling sustainable use  through a well-managed fishery

Today they are announcing a comprehensive “Pathway to Protection” programme to ensure that the terrestrial habitats on the islands are as equally valued and conserved for future generations.

Encompassing and implementing our vision and a values-driven approach for the management for SGSSI, Protect, Sustain Inspire[1], launched earlier this year, under the  “Pathway to Protection” programme, it commits to creating a Protected Areas that encompass over 3,800km2 of stunning landscapes, sites of historical and cultural importance and are a natural laboratory for conducting research of global significance and benefit.

GSGSSI remains committed to evidence based decision making and so as part of the Pathway we will review existing monitoring in the Territory and determine how this can be further developed to inform ongoing management.  A plan will draw together currently available information and will be available for stakeholder review later in the year to inform the implementation of the Pathway.  In the coming months, GSGSSI will establish an advisory group with representatives from the tourism industry, scientific committee, government administration and conservation groups.

This group will work help to further refine management so it is more spatially explicit and identify sites which would benefit from more detailed conservation and management plans and/or strict protection.

  • Approximately 90 per cent of the UK’s biodiversity is located in the 14 British Overseas Territories.
  • The Government published a new valued driven approach to the stewardship of South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands called Protect Sustain Inspire.
  • 1st September 2020 release of our mandatory visitor film narrated by Sir David Attenborough. No permission is granted for commercial use of this film but it can be viewed from our website at
  • Full details of our Pathway to Protection can be found here

[1] Protect Sustain Inspire – Government of South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands