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Birder Dobson bids farewell

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Avian expert: Andrew Dobson, the outgoing president of Bermuda Audubon Society, never traveled to Spittal Pond without his camera and binoculars (File photograph)

Bermuda must do more to protect its environment, former Audubon Society president Andrew Dobson said yesterday.

Mr Dobson, who is to retire to Britain after nearly 30 years on the island, said Bermuda had to introduce policies to tackle introduced species, ban plastic bags and safeguard the island’s natural resources.

He said: “Everybody wants progress. We want a high standard of living, we want income, we want jobs, but it has to be balanced.

“If we are just going to build houses in formerly wooded areas and they’re just going to bail out hotels, then we are being pretty short-sighted.

“We don’t know if those hotels will be there for ever, but the land is gone.”

Mr Dobson added that the Audubon Society had fought for years to protect the island’s wetlands, but more work had to be done. “We need more organisations, the Government and the community to recognise their importance,” he said.

“They are not just eyesores that are occasionally smelly in hot weather; they play an important part in our environment.

“Places like Pembroke Marsh and Devonshire Marsh are helping to provide a habitat for plant life, animal life, and that water is going into our water lens, which is hugely important.”

Mr Dobson, a keen birdwatcher, said he has seen the decline of some species over the years due to pressure from on and outside the island.

Mr Dobson added: “Without a doubt there has been a fall in the number of warbler species in particular in the 30 years I have been here. David Wingate can talk about a far more dramatic decline in his lifetime.

“That’s undoubtedly due to the loss of breeding habitats, forests in North America and rainforests in South and Central America. There’s a pattern we can observe locally about what is going on globally.

“It’s the same with shore birds. We have seen dramatic declines in those as well.”

He said introduced species such as cats and kiskadees had put additional pressure on native and migratory birds.

Mr Dobson said legislation to tackle the cat problem could be difficult, but policies to promote responsible ownership would help.

He suggested: “Have chips on cats as you would with dogs so they can be traced back to their owners.

“Other countries have a cats indoors policy, which might sound strange, but if you are going to be a cat owner, then sensible ownership is the way to go.”

Mr Dobson, a former teacher at Warwick Academy, also endorsed a ban on plastic bags and the introduction of a “bottle bill”.

He explained: “We know bottles just get discarded everywhere over the island. It’s an eyesore, so why not have a bottle bill?

“No government here has really been ready to run with it. An incentive to return bottles would be a win-win for everybody.”

Mr Dobson, who was awarded a Queen’s Certificate and Badge of Honour in the New Year’s Honours List in January for his volunteer environmental work, added that he enjoyed being able to serve as Audubon Society president and work with conservationists.

He said: “The opportunity to work with the likes of David Wingate and Jeremy Medeiros on the cahow recovery programme has been really special.

“Bermuda is on the map for its success with the cahow, an endangered bird rediscovered and brought back from the brink. But the other great thing about Bermuda and its birds is that it has so many species in relation to other island’s of its size.

“We have recorded nearly 400 species and that’s not far behind Cuba which is a thousand miles long. It’s quite an attraction.”

Mr Dobson said some of his favourite memories were being able to snap the first pictures of a green heron nest in Bermuda, spotting the island’s first recorded Eider Duck and helping to identify an Arctic Warbler.

But Mr Dobson added: “Nothing compares to experiencing the cahow, especially seeing these superb long-winged seabirds flying over the ocean during trips organised by Audubon.

“In 2007, we were on a night watch on Horn Rock. With no trees available a cahow climbed on top of my head to take off.”

Mr Dobson said Spittal Pond was his clear favourite for birdwatching as he had recorded about 200 species there.

Mr Dobson added: “And even if you are not a golfer, the golf courses are great. It’s amazing how many birds you will see there.

“I also particularly like Ferry Point Park and Coopers Island Nature Reserve. Those are particularly profitable areas for bird watchers.”

Update: This article was amended to reflect that Andrew Dobson is retiring after nearly 30 years, not more than 30 years

Friend of Bermuda: Andrew Dobson watching birds at Paget Marsh (Photograph by Akil Simmons)