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Government must ‘respect sanctity of our parks’

Last week, a government notice appeared in the Official Gazette announcing a proposed change of use at Southlands Park to create an events lawn for the Bermudiana Beach Resort. If approved, part of Southlands “will no longer be public property”.

This sets a dangerous precedent and makes us wonder what national park will be next. The public fought hard for Southlands and it belongs to the people of Bermuda. It is not acceptable to give away our parkland for the economic benefit of the adjacent Bermudiana Beach Resort, an unproven tourism venture. Although the resort is publicly owned, it will transition to primarily private ownership when the condominiums are sold.

If the economic success of this resort depends on the events lawn, then we should all be extremely worried. Our parks are essential to the wellbeing of our community and every piece counts.

We ask everyone who cares about our parks to respond to the public consultation and make your voices heard.

Southlands is a 37-acre wonderland on the South Shore that provides an increasingly rare resource, a large swath of nature. As a national park, it exists for the benefit of the people of Bermuda as well as for the plants and wildlife that thrive within its borders.

As a valuable natural resource, all management should be for the betterment of the park and it should not be partitioned for the benefit of the Bermudiana.

Development continues to destroy our natural coastal woodlands, and we should endeavour to preserve all that remains. The Bermuda Plan has designated areas of woodland reserve for this purpose, and we expect our government to comply with these policies. It is irrelevant that the area proposed for development is only a small portion of the park acreage. Every patch of woodland is important. We must stop the insidious, piecemeal destruction of our woodlands and open spaces.

At the time of application in 2022, a terrestrial survey of the existing flora and fauna had not been completed. As far as we know, this survey has not yet been done. Our observations show that there are native and endemic species that will be destroyed to create the events lawn. These plants and trees are not easily relocated.

Not only will the plants be impacted but also the birds. In particular, the white-eyed vireo will lose valuable nesting habitat. The white-eyed vireo is a protected species under the Protected Species Act. The forest is a complex living system whose richness cannot be replicated by placing a few endemic trees at the periphery of an events lawn and surrounding it with a chain-link fence.

It is also likely that this lawn will be treated with chemicals to keep it looking pristine, which will add to the environmental degradation of this site.

We oppose any development that will result in the destruction of the remaining coastal woodland at Southlands. A large grassy area that is suitable for events already exists across the street on the northern side of the park. The cleared area to the west of the woodland could be enhanced for an events lawn. These spaces are available to the public and can also be reserved by the resort on an as-needed basis. The brownfield property to the east is at present undeveloped and has the appropriate tourism zoning. The Bermuda Housing Corporation and the Bermudiana Beach Resort should focus their efforts on innovative ways to utilise these alternative and more suitable locations.

Enough is enough. This proposal has been turned down twice by the planning department, the National Parks Commission objected to the development and the appeal decision had to be withdrawn because the minister failed to consider that provisions of the National Parks Act had not been followed. This public consultation is the first step in fulfilling those provisions. The Ministry of Public Works has a clear conflict of interest as it is responsible for Parks and also the Bermuda Housing Corporation. Several members of the newly constituted Parks Commission will also have a conflict as they have been involved in the development of the Bermudiana Beach Resort.

We need government to do the right thing and respect the sanctity of our parks. They should stop trying to destroy and essentially give away a precious piece of Southlands Park. Instead of claiming to be interested in protecting the environment and doing what is best for our community, it is time for them to show us that they really do care.

• Janice Hetzel is the president of the Bermuda Audubon Society. The full statement can be found in Related Media. The Bermuda Audubon Society can be reached at info@audubon.bm. The society urges the public to respond to the public consultation on the events lawn at Southlands. Details can be found at: www.gov.bm/sites/default/files/2024-04/Change-of-Use-Notice-portion-Southlands-Park.pdf and www.gov.bm/sites/default/files/2024-04/Public-Comment-Form.pdf

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Published April 29, 2024 at 8:00 am (Updated April 29, 2024 at 7:35 am)

Government must ‘respect sanctity of our parks’

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