Referred to in 1842 as “the gold and glory of the Falklands”, tussac grass (or just ‘tussac’) is a plant with a turbulent history. Found only in the Falkland Islands and nearby islands in the Southern Atlantic, this coastal grass is an invaluable livestock feed for local farmers as well as a habitat and food source for numerous birds and other species. Using a combination of historical documents and local interviews, we set out to better understand the dramatic decline of tussac in the Falklands, capturing accounts of its discovery, exploitation, and current stage of renewal.
The Falklands is a small, treeless island group located a few hundred kilometers off the coast of South America. It is a British Overseas Territory with a population of only a few thousand people, several hundred of whom live in the countryside and raise sheep on vast pastures. Once visited by Charles Darwin and many other explorers surveying the wildlife and geography of the islands, the Falklands eventually became known as a wool producer. Two centuries of grazing by sheep and other livestock have left significant environmental impacts, not the least of which is the near elimination of tussac.
Tussac once ringed the coasts of these islands, and now farmers and conservationists are working together to revive this important plant. Current efforts underway include the designation of nature reserves, campaigns for tussac seed collecting and planting, and the rise of sustainable grazing practices. Reserve designations for small islands that remain rich in tussac are necessary for securing the tussac grass communities that remain. For areas where tussac has been eliminated, planting projects have been organized to help re-establish this plant community. Finally, to ensure the ongoing sustainability of both remaining and renewed tussac grass, there has been a move toward rotational grazing practices that help to ensure any use of tussac as livestock feed is sustainable. As the production of wool remains synonymous with farming in the Falklands, a continued shift is needed toward practices that help farmers work with the natural environment in which they live.