Government defends Cooper’s Island Cup Match access
The Minister of Public Works has defended the Government’s decision to grant access to camping and vehicular traffic at Cooper’s Island Park and Nature Reserve during the Cup Match holiday.
Lieutenant-Colonel David Burch was speaking in response to calls by environmentalists to halt the practice of granting access on the basis of protections given to the nature reserve portion, and questions from this newspaper about whether protocols were followed.
Responding to questions sent seven weeks ago, Colonel Burch referenced the Bermuda National Parks Amendment Act 2017 which classifies part of the area as park and not reserve.
He said: “While the status of a portion of Cooper’s Island has been designated as a ‘park’, it continues to be managed as a nature reserve for most of the year except for the Cup Match holiday.
“This strikes a balance between giving the public greater access to a section of the island and ensuring its pristine condition and natural environment are safeguarded.
“These safeguards include locking the main entrance gate to restrict vehicular access, except for the recent Cup Match holiday period when the main gate was opened to permit vehicles to drive a short distance for drop offs and alleviate the burden of people having to carry heavy items.
“This decision also eliminated traffic bottlenecks and ensured that emergency vehicles would not be obstructed.”
The reserve portion of land – Cooper’s Island Nature Reserve – is categorised as a Class A protected area which is afforded the greatest environmental protections.
The Act states: “Class A protected areas and shall be managed to protect special or fragile natural features and provide limited public access.”
While parks are managed by the Department of Parks under the Ministry of Public Works, nature reserves are managed by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources under the Ministry of Home Affairs.
It remains unclear which ministry gave the authority to grant the access but it was Colonel Burch who issued an advisory about the access to the park and reserve.
No response was given to whether the National Parks Commission approved of the granting of access on the reserve.
Colonel Burch added: “During the Cup Match holiday, additional protective measures were enacted, including the increased presence of park rangers who patrolled the area from early morning until late at night and prohibiting bonfires and dogs.
“While the main gate to Cooper’s Island was opened and monitored by park rangers, the secondary entrance, located just after the Nasa building, was cordoned off with cones, jersey barriers and signage to prevent vehicle access and parking.
“Cars were allowed to park either along the grass verge or in the parking lot by the Nasa building.
“The Class B amenity park designation is listed under the Bermuda National Parks Amendment Act 2017.
“This change was made as the area is essentially industrial in nature, with the US space agency Nasa, the Bermuda Weather Service radar, and a compound which is shared with DENR in the old power station, the Department of Parks in the main warehouse building, and there is also a trailer that the European Space Agency operates to track rockets and satellites.
“Following its inspection of the park following the Cup Match holiday, the Department of Parks was satisfied that its procedures and guidelines successfully prevented any long-term disturbance to the island’s habitats.
“The park and nature reserve were and are always patrolled on a regular basis by units from the Bermuda Police Service, with whom the department closely works. This enables an added level of protection for the area.“
At the time, 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.
“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.”
Colonel Burch continued: “The department will continue to work with local communities to provide as much public access to protected areas as possible, while ensuring that wildlife, natural habitats and history, are preserved.
“I am satisfied that the appropriate steps were taken to allow access to Cooper’s Island Park over the Cup Match holiday.
“Those who enjoyed the site – did so with respect for nature and left the area clean.
“The Department of Parks is well aware of the risks to the nature reserve and will continue to take the necessary steps to ensure its protection.”
Colonel Burch said the BNT, this newspaper and the One Bermuda Alliance, which also questioned the use of the reserve, “got it wrong”.
He provided an excerpt from Hansard of Cole Simons, Opposition Leader, supporting the amendment act and saying he took it through Cabinet when the OBA was in power.