Woodland reserve zoning has caused hostile attitude and compromises being made in protected areas
In part one of a Know Your Land three-part series, which was featured in July's Green Pages, David Wingate wrote about the value of forests in our modern and rapidly changing world, and also about how Bermuda's forests have changed over the centuries. Here is the second part of the series in celebration of the United Nations International Year of the Forests
The catastrophic decade 1946 1956 saw the demise of the Bermuda cedar forest monoculture.
Thereafter, and continuing up to the present, a new forest consisting mainly of introduced and invasive broad leaved species took the place of the cedar. This transition was facilitated by a massive horticultural drive that resulted in the introduction of many new exotic trees and shrubs from all over the world, some of which also became invasive.
Dominant among the invasives today are the Fiddlewood (whose leaves turn bright orange in May before falling and regenerating); the allspice (which dominates many areas of Warwick Parish in particular); the Surinam cherry; the Chinese fan palm and, above all, the notorious Brazil pepper, which now completely dominates most woodlands and makes them largely inaccessible due to the sagging habit of its side branches.
This new forest grows much faster and taller than the native forest ever did and casts much deeper shade, which suppresses the native forest and prevents its recovery. While equally good at providing most of the general benefits of forests as cited above, its disadvantages to us from an economic perspective are that none of its components have significant timber or food value and most are terribly vulnerable to defoliation and blow down in major windstorms with the end result that our woodlands today are essentially inaccessible without costly maintenance.
The Australian casuarina, for example, was heavily planted at first but grew so tall and was so susceptible to blow down in hurricanes that it is now being phased out. This is possible because it doesn't self-seed on Bermuda except along the rocky coastline. But there it is becoming very difficult to control and is problematical because it blocks views of the sea and accelerates cliff erosion by the levering effect of wind on its tall stems.
With rapid urbanization on Bermuda after World War II the areas where woodlands survived best were on very steep lee hillsides because agricultural clearings still dominated the level valley floors and housing developments and roads were generally confined to more gently contoured uplands before the era of heavy excavating machinery like bulldozers and backhoes enabled the massive re-contouring that development on steep hillsides requires.
With the advent of Planning legislation the importance of protecting our arable lands and woodlands for food production, wildlife, windbreak, screening of developments and aesthetics generally was finally recognised.
The 1983 Development Plan introduced new zoning categories of “Woodland Reserve” and “Nature Reserve” which between them were intended to protect a minimum of 1500 acres of woodland in perpetuity from development.
In the Report of Survey for that plan this was considered to be the absolute minimum required to preserve native biodiversity and the Bermuda image for tourist promotion.
In the long term the plan was to connect all the nature reserves, parks and public beaches with green corridors, using the railway trail and the tribe roads as linkages.
As explained above, most of the areas selected for Woodland Reserve zoning in that plan were on steep hillsides, not only because that is where the best woodlands had been least disturbed by development, but also because their preservation maintained an aspect of wooded ridgelines especially as viewed from public roads in the valleys.
Unfortunately, these zonings were superimposed unequally over a mosaic of private properties and in the absence of any compensatory mechanism, other than a few purchases of land for Parks and Nature reserves, some landowners bore a huge burden of restricted development rights while others with no conservation zonings suffered no such burden but were often able to benefit from their neighbours' burden by offering high value lots for sale adjacent to protected open space!
Thus land developers benefited at the expense of those whose land was protectively zoned. This had the result of creating a generally hostile attitude towards the protective zonings by the landowners affected.
The end result has been that much has been compromised away through the Planning Appeals process and by intense political pressures for “compromises” and less protective zoning in subsequent development plans.
But in this context compromise meant that the developer gained half of what he wanted and the environment lost half of what was protected before. Where such compromises have been made in the case of Woodland Reserve zoning on steep hillsides the results of subsequent subdivision and development have been disastrous because development on steep hillsides requires massive excavations to level the land for house foundations and garden terraces destroying most of the woodland in the process.
To be continued in November's Green Pages.
For more information on the International Year of Forests: http://www.un.org/en/events/iyof2011/