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Concern over future of endangered yellowwood trees

At risk: the yellowwood tree is one of several protected species of trees on the island (Photograph by Alison Copeland)

The Bermuda National Trust raised concern about the future of a “critically at risk” grove of trees at a nature reserve in Hamilton Parish.

In its April newsletter, the organisation said the yellowwoods, a rare, endangered species protected by law, thrive on a 6.6-acre area of land in the nature reserve at Paynters Hill.

The charity feared that the trees could be under threat from works associated with the Government’s planned demolition of the historical lookout tower at the site.

In January, Lieutenant-Colonel David Burch, the Minister of Public Works, said structural assessments revealed that the tower’s condition had “reached a critical state, rendering it unsafe for restoration or public access”.

The tower is a landmark located within the woodland reserve and was originally erected by the US Navy during the Second World War to serve as a lookout point for potential attacks on the island.

No time was given for when the works will start.

In its newsletter, the BNT said: “It is unclear what, if any, measures have been put in place to ensure that the nearby yellowwood grove will be carefully protected during the demolition.

“As far as is known, there is no conservation management plan for this government nature reserve that is home to such an important piece of Bermuda’s natural heritage.

“It is high time that appropriate protections are put in place and the necessary care is taken of these special trees, and that the recovery plan for the species is dusted off and implemented.”

The trust shared its concerns with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

Myles Darrell, the BNT’s head of natural heritage, said: “They have responded to say my concerns will be discussed with the terrestrial conservation section of DENR.

“We look forward to some meaningful action that will protect these specimens.”

In its newsletter, the trust said that the trees have historically flourished at Paynters Hill.

“The yellowwood was common when Bermuda was settled but within a few years was brought to near extinction because of its valuable timber,” it noted.

Efforts were then made to safeguard the trees by law; they are now under the Protected Species Act.

The stock of the tree on the island is limited, the BNT said, with the greatest number still growing on Paynters Hill.

In 2016, a paper — Recovery Plan for the Yellow Wood Tree — was prepared by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, which listed all the mature yellowwoods then known. The document confirmed that their primary area was still Paynters Hill.

“It even included a photograph of the tree measured by Governor Lefroy and gave its measurements when it was measured again by Hubert Jones in the 1970s — it had hardly grown since 1912,” the BNT said.

The environmental group said the paper also confirmed that there are tree protection orders on 16 of the most mature trees in the area.

“So in theory they are well protected. However, the reality is a different story.”

In January 2019, the Paynters Hill yellowwood grove was mapped by the DENR and, according to the BNT, “at that time, three of the protected trees were found to be dead, including the Lefroy yellowwood”.

It said the grove of trees continues to be under threat for a variety of reasons, one being susceptibility to overgrowing by invasive species.

The DENR “periodically cleared around the trees” for a number of years.

However, “work stopped due to cutback and underfunding, and the whole area has become heavily overgrown”, the BNT added.

The charity said that prevented the “slow-growing tree” from successfully reproducing, as seedlings get crowded out and overshaded.

In addition, it said the area at Paynters Hill lacks demarcation or signage indicating that it is a nature reserve and vandals have recently been in the area cutting trees, although “fortunately not the yellowwoods themselves”.

“The buffer zone of vegetation that served as a windbreak protecting the trees has been cut down and already the remaining trees are not looking as healthy as they once were,” the organisation wrote.

The area at the lookout tower was leased to the Tucker's Point Hotel for a number of years.

In January, the Government said the hotel expressed its intent to surrender its lease for the area, thereby returning the surrounding land to government management.

The Government said as it assumed that responsibility, there is an expectation that public use of the nature reserve around Paynters Hill will increase and it would not be safe to do so with the tower in its present state.

The Government was approached for comment but none was received by the time of publication.

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Published May 02, 2024 at 7:59 am (Updated May 02, 2024 at 7:59 am)

Concern over future of endangered yellowwood trees

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