Founding of the South Georgia Heritage Trust

Brigadier David Nicholls RM

The founder of the South Georgia Heritage Trust was Brigadier David Nicholls RM, a retired Royal Marine and former Commander of the British Forces in the Falkland Islands (1999-2000).
Image: West Ridge Everest & 45 Commando Badge

David first encountered South Georgia through his passion for mountaineering, leading several expeditions to the island for gap year students. During these visits David realised that despite its prolific wildlife and extensive heritage, South Georgia had major conservation issues (including an infestation of rodents which was decimating the island’s wildlife) which Government funds alone could not tackle. In collaboration with the Government of South Georgia & South Sandwich Islands and his friend Elaine Shemilt, a fine print maker and Professor of Dundee University, a plan was created to set up a research centre within the University (initially Project Atlantis, now Centre for Remote Environments) and establish a charity to benefit South Georgia, based in Dundee (where David was based). SGHT was established in August 2005 with an international and highly regarded Board of Trustees. Alison Neil was recruited in 2006 to help David (then Chairman of Trustees and Executive Director) run the charity.

One month later, however, Brigadier Nicholls unexpectedly died. “It was a devastating blow” Alison Neil said. “We didn’t know whether the Trust could continue without David, he was such an inspirational character. But the exceptional Board of Trustees that David had assembled rallied round and together we decided to take forward this infant charity and continue David’s legacy”.

The South Georgia Heritage Trust (SGHT) was established in 2005 for two primary purposes:

  • To help efforts to conserve and protect those species of indigenous fauna and flora that breed and grow on South Georgia or in the surrounding seas and to raise awareness of South Georgia’s threatened species
  • To assist efforts to preserve the historical heritage of South Georgia, including selected historical sites of importance, and increase international awareness of the human history of the island through the South Georgia Museum


The late Brigadier David Nicholls RM: Founder of SGHT

SGHT has a Board of Trustees who ensure that the charity fulfils its primary purposes. We are registered as a charity in Scotland, with a branch in Norway and an affiliate organisation Friends of South Georgia Island in the USA. The head office for SGHT is based in Scotland, located within Dundee’s industrial museum, Verdant Works.

Listen to David Nicholls’ 1999 BBC Radio interview, where he talks about his past military experience and plans for his CBFFI (Commander British Forces Falkland Islands) role.

David's Legacy

David had already set out what was to be SGHT’s major ambition for the next decade, to help remove invasive rodents from the island. SGHT also took over the management of South Georgia Museum, a pivotal moment which gave the charity a presence on South Georgia and the means to fundraise for conservation work. Howard Pearce, a former Governor of the Falkland Islands and Commissioner for South Georgia, was invited to Chair the Trust. Howard had liaised with David and another founding Trustee, philanthropist, explorer and owner/director of Ferring Pharmaceuticals Frederik Paulsen, in the establishment of SGHT and the plan for it to manage the Museum. Moreover he shared David’s ambitions for South Georgia.

In 2007 through the USA family foundation the Island Foundation, SGHT received its first substantial donation towards what was now being called the Habitat Restoration project. In 2009 a Habitat Restoration Steering Committee chaired by Professor Mike Richardson was formed and Professor Tony Martin was subsequently appointed as Project Director. With SGHT now running the Habitat Restoration project as well as fundraising for it, Frederik Paulsen made a major donation to allow SGHT to purchase two helicopters. Trustee Denise Landau established the Friends of South Georgia Island (FOSGI) in Colorado, USA, an independent non-profit organisation allowing US citizens to support South Georgia tax free and in 2011 the funds and logistics were finally in place to launch the first season of baiting work.  Ten years and four field seasons later, in 2018, the island was declared rat free. You can read about the Habitat Restoration Project here.

SGHT has since successfully completed other major initiatives including hosting the Island Invasives Conference, undertaking an Archaeological Survey of historic sealing sites around South Georgia, and enlarging and developing the South Georgia Museum to tell more of the island’s rich history and make it available worldwide through online exhibitions and collections online through its website. You can find out more about past projects and our ambitious current projects here.

The Government of South Georgia & South Sandwich Islands

The island of South Georgia is governed by the Government of South Georgia & South Sandwich Islands (GSGSSI) from its administrative base in Stanley, Falkland Islands. Government income comes primarily from two sources: the fishing industry (its major source of income) and from visitor landing fees. However, this income is limited and cannot possibly be expected to manage the range of challenges that confront South Georgia. Therefore, a charitable – and international – entity like SGHT can offer ongoing support to help Government to address these challenges.