Ascension is in the South Atlantic, some 1,125 km north-west of St Helena and around 3,200km east of Brazil. It covers an area of 90 sq km and is of volcanic origin. The last eruption was about 600 years ago.
Ascension was discovered in 1501 by the Portuguese and “found” again on Ascension Day 1503 by Alphonse d’Abuquerque, who named the island. In 1815, when Napoleon was a prisoner on St Helena, a small British naval garrison was stationed on Ascension.
The island remained under Admiralty supervision until 1922 when it was made a Dependency of St Helena. During the Second World War the US Government built ‘Wideawake’ airstrip on the island.
In 1957 a US Air Force presence was re-established and the airstrip and ancillary facilities enlarged. It is now a missile tracking station and an airield used by UK and US Air Forces. In 1982 it became the crucial stop for Royal Air Force flights to and from the Falklands.
Ascension continues to provide a re-fuelling stop-over point for RAF flights to the Falklands and a small UK military presence to support these flights.
Ascension is also used by Cable and Wireless, the BBC and the Composite Signals Organisation as well as the Royal Air Force.
These ‘user’ organisations financed all non-military activities on the island until 2001/2. A plebiscite was held on Ascension in 2002. 95% of those who voted chose the option of forming an Island Council.
The first elections took place in November 2002. There is no indigenous population and no right of abode.
Ascension has globally important populations of seabirds and turtles. In addition Ascension is home to many endemic species – 22 plant, 26 invertebrate and seven fish types.
The Ascension Island Government funds a Conservation Department to protect the Island’s biodiversity with major partners such as the University of Exeter, Kew Gardens and the RSPB using funding from the UK and Ascension Governments, and the Darwin Fund. The central Green Mountain area is now a National Park.
Executive authority for the Territory is exercised by the Governor resident on St Helena, either directly or through the resident Administrator of Ascension.
There is an Island Council. The Governor receives advice from the Island Council and consults it when making laws.
The composition and functions of the Island Council are prescribed by law.
The current Island Council consists of five elected members plus three ex-officio members, the Administrator, the Attorney General and the Director of Financial Services. Ex-officio members have no vote.