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A plea for stronger protection of our open spaces

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Environmental groups are calling for a stop to development of areas zoned for conservation (File photograph)

Protecting Bermuda’s environment has never been so important — and yet, it is at risk as never before.

Bermuda’s green space is rapidly diminishing because we are not adhering to our own conservation guidelines. It is particularly affecting areas of open space, and woodland, agricultural and coastal reserves.

This is of significant concern to local environmental organisations, as it should be to everyone. The Bermuda Environmental Sustainability Taskforce, the Bermuda Audubon Society, The Garden Club of Bermuda and the Bermuda National Trust are calling on the Government to commit to the protection of our conservation zones as a way to contribute to the health and wellbeing of our community and to protect our natural heritage now and in the future.

Kim Smith is the executive director of the Bermuda Environmental Sustainability Taskforce

Specifically, we ask the Government to honour the conservation zones and areas designated in the Draft Bermuda Plan 2018 and to restrict development to brownfield sites and urbanised settings.

The Draft Bermuda Plan 2018 appropriately aspires to balance development with environmental protection. However, in practice, a steady loss of our protected lands is taking place. Once a parcel of land is developed, it is lost for generations, if not for ever. Undeveloped land provides continuing value to all Bermudians.

The Covid pandemic has demonstrated the critical value of our conservation zones and areas. We found respite during lockdown in our open spaces, which exist as parks, nature reserves, woodland reserves, coastal reserves, open-space reserves and agricultural reserves. There is a recognised and measurable relationship between the level of urbanisation and human health. Research has shown that spending time in natural environments has a positive effect on our physical and mental wellbeing. Simply put, the more we destroy our natural environment, the sicker we become.

The protection of conservation zones is also critical for promoting biodiversity and cooling the Earth. Woodlands, in particular, are essential for mitigating climate change. We are intimately aware of the impact of climate change on sea level, flooding during storms and the strength and frequency of hurricanes. As a small island nation, we would be wise to do our part and stop the loss of woodland habitats.

In addition, this beautiful natural environment is critical to our tourist industry. As the world becomes more crowded, developed and polluted, people are increasingly seeking out the healthy and less developed places in the world to visit. If we want Bermuda to continue to be appealing to tourists, we must preserve our natural environment.

The Covid crisis also highlighted that our agricultural land is essential to food security. From more than 3,000 acres of farmland under cultivation in 1920s Bermuda, today we have fewer than 750 acres of agricultural reserve land and, of that, possibly only half is in production. Typically, that land might be able to feed 1,500 to 3,000 people for a year, possibly more in a crisis, but it is far from enough to sustain the present population. We need more agricultural land in production, not less. We are pleased that the Government has recognised this need by committing to creating more community gardens.

Construction is crucial to Bermuda’s economy; however, we do not need to allow development on conservation lands. We have enough buildings in varying conditions that can be redeveloped, creating similar construction activity and value. We also have urbanised areas and brownfield sites that can be further developed without impinging on undeveloped sites.

In summary, we call on the Government to:

•Commit to more robust protection of open spaces, with the aim of improving our health and protecting our natural heritage

•Ensure that the Draft Bermuda Plan 2018’s conservation zones and areas are upheld in the Planning process and encourage development in brown-field or urbanized settings.

• Stop the misuse of, and encroachment on, agricultural lands and encourage the use of all available farmland for food production

• Consider the introduction of mechanisms to compensate owners of lands with conservation zonings in the Draft Bermuda Plan 2018 for preservation of their properties

In addition to the Government, each of us has a personal responsibility to consider the future of our unique island. Individuals can make a difference! Therefore, we urge our fellow Bermudians to:

• Ask your Member of Parliament what their vision is for the protection of Bermuda’s natural environments. How do they plan to keep development from taking over our natural heritage?

•Ask the Government to honour the environmental intentions of our development and planning legislation

• Donate land, money and time to Buy Back Bermuda, an entity whose sole purpose is to purchase, hold and protect land for ever

• Make the planning process work for you and all of Bermuda by paying attention to development applications in your neighbourhood and making your concerns heard

• Think carefully about the impact of your own development plans

If Bermuda follows these steps, we have a better chance of preserving our conservation zones for the benefit of our children and grandchildren, while allowing development that will boost the economy.

Kim Smith is the executive director of the Bermuda Environmental Sustainability Taskforce

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Published November 25, 2020 at 8:00 am (Updated November 24, 2020 at 5:56 pm)

A plea for stronger protection of our open spaces

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