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Tree-planting drive launched as expert says ‘go native’

Talking trees: Bryan Naqqi Manco, left, assistant director of research and development for the Department of Environment and Coastal Resources in the Turks and Caicos Islands, with Myles Darrell, head of natural heritage at the Bermuda National Trust (Photograph by Jonathan Bell)

Turks & Caicos, a sister jurisdiction to our south, has offered lessons for Bermuda in bringing about regrowth from ecological disaster.

On the eve of a three-year tree-planting drive to be launched tomorrow by Clarien Bank with the Bermuda National Trust, a leading conservationist from the Caribbean island group shared what real environmental recovery looked like.

Bryan Naqqi Manco, assistant director of research and development for the Department of Environment and Coastal Resources in the Turks & Caicos Islands, said the islands had been scourged just as Bermuda lost much of its endemic cedar forest to the scale insect blight from the 1940s.

A biodiversity hotspot, Turks & Caicos was devastated far more recently by scale insects that wiped out nearly all of its Caicos pines – a cherished national tree like the Bermuda cedar.

“About 97 per cent of our population of trees was lost,” Mr Manco told a gathering last night at the Bermuda National Gallery in Hamilton City Hall.

Mr Manco spoke with Myles Darrell, head of natural heritage at the Bermuda National Trust, as the trust in tandem with Clarien sets about planting 100 native and endemic trees around the island each year over the next three years.

As researchers in Turks & Caicos scrambled to regrow resilient pines, they discovered the seedlings thrived with the help of fungus in the island’s native soil.

Mr Manco said that success was “when you start seeing the ecosystem working – when the trees are growing the way they are supposed to grow”.

Both sets of islands are susceptible to hurricanes, with Turks & Caicos taking a hit most recently from Hurricane Fiona in September .

Mr Manco said the lesson for Bermudians looking to plant trees was the same: go with native and endemic species.

“We have habitats that are rough on plants,” he said. “Those habitats have shaped these plants to be tough.”

Many invasive species look pretty – but “they grow quickly and die off quickly”.

As the climate warms, hurricanes are expected to increase in numbers and intensity.

“I’m sure you’ve seen what happens in hurricanes to ornamental trees,” he added.

The tree-planting partnership between BNT and Clarien will start tomorrow with clients and staff from the bank joining volunteers at Scaur Lodge in the West End to get more of Bermuda’s hardy native and endemic trees in the ground.

The slow recovery of the Turks & Caicos pine forest recently produced a sight Mr Manco had not expected: new Caicos pines pushing up from the territory’s thin cover of soil.

He said that finding a tiny Caicos pine seedling sprouting in the wild was “so exciting”. “The first wild seeds growing,” he added.

Trees outlive humans and the results of regrowth are measured in many decades.

“It’s important to realise you won’t necessarily see the results but take the little wins when you can,” Mr Manco said.

He advised tree planters to collaborate with others and do their homework.

“Research as much as possible to find out how you do it, talking to other people who have done it.

“You can’t force a tree to grow quicker – but you can prevent mistakes happening that other people have made and that’s the most valuable thing.”

Responding to audience questions, Mr Darrell shared a Bermuda example with the island’s endemic cedar.

The old survivors of the cedar blight yield the seeds for the hardiest new Bermuda cedars, he said.

The BNT looks for Bermuda cedars that are older than 70.

“Churchyards are common places to find older cedar trees in Bermuda,” Mr Darrell said, giving St James’ Church in Somerset as an example.

Cedars, olivewood and palmetto are examples of endemic trees, whose distinct species are only found in Bermuda, while the deciduous Southern Hackberry is classed as native, meaning it is found outside the island as well.

Mr Manco said the optimal time to start planting, once equipped with the right information, was now.

“The best time to plant a tree is 50 years ago,” he said.

“The second-best time is today.”

Mr Darrell said the Trust wanted to “find success as quickly as possible – it’s going to require all of us”.

He thanked Mr Manco along with Clarien for joining in.

“I know this is going to push Bermuda towards a more sustainable place.”

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Published November 04, 2022 at 7:52 am (Updated November 04, 2022 at 7:52 am)

Tree-planting drive launched as expert says ‘go native’

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