National Trust says Cup Match camping at nature reserve must not be allowed to happen again
An environmental charity has raised serious concerns over Government’s decision to grant access to a nature reserve for campers and their vehicles over the Cup Match holiday.
The reserve – Cooper’s Island Nature Reserve – is categorised as a Class A protected area under The National Parks Act 1986 and as such camping and vehicular traffic is not normally permitted within the site.
Karen Border, the executive director for the Bermuda National Trust, said: “The nature reserves have been given special protection for good reasons and it is imperative that those protections are upheld at all times.
“The Bermuda National Trust is very concerned that part of the Cooper’s Island Nature Reserve was open for camping over Cup Match. Camping is a high-impact, inappropriate use of such a space.
“Cooper’s Island Nature Reserve is one of the last preserves of the critically endangered Bermuda skink, some of the islands on which Cahows nest are just offshore of the beaches, and there are hundreds of longtails nesting along the shore of the reserve.
“Many local schoolchildren, community groups and corporate groups have given hundreds of hours of volunteer time to replant the nature reserve with native and endemic species – some of that vegetation has been trampled and damaged due to the camping activity.“
While parks are managed by the Parks Department, nature reserves, which are afforded the protections owing to their environmental sensitivity, are managed by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
It remains unclear which department authorised the granting of access but Lieutenant-Colonel David Burch, the Minister of Public Works under which the Parks Department falls, issued an advisory “for parks and beaches” on the government’s website on July 26 saying that camping would be permitted at the reserve and other sites over the holiday.
The advisory stated: “Gates will be opened on Tuesday, July 26 to allow patrons to move their equipment and property into the parks and beaches, and will close at 9pm on Wednesday, July 27.
“After 9pm, park rangers will lock the gates. All vehicles will be directed to be removed from the picnicking and camping areas and instructed to park in the parking lots.
“Gates will be reopened on Sunday, July 31, to allow all property to be removed.”
He added that maintenance staff would collect trash and clean bathrooms during the Cup Match holiday and weekend, and that parks rangers would be deployed to enforce Bermuda national park regulations.
Ms Border said the Bermuda National Trust received a number of calls over the Cup Match holiday from "upset“ members of the public.
She added: “Camping in parks at Cup Match and other holidays is a long-established Bermuda tradition and great way for people to enjoy using our open spaces, but allowing camping in a nature reserve is another matter entirely.
“It comes down to striking the right balance between protecting nature and meeting community needs. Bermuda has many parks in which camping can take place, but very few nature reserves.”
Ms Border said: “This may not be the first time there has been camping at Cooper’s Island, but it would appear to be the first time it has been officially sanctioned by Government, even if not by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources itself, which is nominally responsible for nature reserves.
“We hope that this will not set a precedent for future years and that the regulations that have been put in place to protect our nature reserves will be respected and upheld in the future.”
The Government did not respond to questions by press time including which department authorised the granting of access in a nature reserve, whether normal protocols were followed and whether this was the first time the reserve had been opened up to such activity.