Protecting the natural beauty of our Island
In the third and final part of the Know Your Land series, Dr David Wingate discusses the impact of Special Development Orders (SDOs) on our woodland reserves in celebration of the United Nations Year of the Forest.
In the second article of this series I showed how the importance of saving woodlands on Bermuda was finally recognised and built in to development plans from 1983 by means of protective “Woodland Reserve” and “Nature Reserve” zonings. I then went on to explain that because these zonings were superimposed unequally over a mosaic of private land holdings without any compensatory mechanism to spread the burden of loss of development rights, they have received a hostile reception from land owners and have been steadily compromised away under intense political pressure in subsequent development plans.
Ironically, this compromising away of our Woodland Reserve zoned lands for housing development has been most pervasive on lands owned by hotels and cottage colonies and zoned for tourism, thanks to a proliferation of Special Development Orders (SDOs) intended to bolster investment in tourism in recent years.
These SDOs have by-passed the constraints of the zoning or at best are hopelessly incompatible with woodland conservation if fully implemented. For example, a recent artist's impression on the front page of
The Royal Gazette depicting the proposed Park Hyatt hotel development in St George's shows saturation development along the entire face of that steeply sloping wooded ridgeline below the former holiday hotel site. Despite the fact that this hillside is zoned Woodland Reserve at present and provides a wonderful green backdrop as viewed from the tourist attraction of Fort St Catherine, perfectly preserving the rural aspect and natural beauty of Bermuda which attracted tourism in the first place!
In an Island which is already overdeveloped beyond a sustainable level for the people who actually live and work here, the saturation development of our remaining woodlots to provide even more housing units for tourist rental and sale in the hope of promoting a tourism revival is the surest way I can think of to prevent that revival.
By increasing the crowding and strains on our service infrastructure and destroying what little is left of the Bermuda image as witness the current visual aspect of the proposed Grand Atlantic tourism site in Warwick with its adjacent high density condominium development.
Quite apart from the effect this loss of woodlands is having on our tourist economy we have to consider the impact that it is having on our native biodiversity.
This is even more severe because our wildlife depends directly on the habitat and food provided by the woodlands whereas our ecological footprint includes vast areas of the continents from which we import our resources.
With every new block of woodland that we clear the wildlife that once occupied it eventually dies out, increasing the risk of actual extinctions. Moreover, as patches of woodland get smaller by fragmentation in subdivisions the loss is amplified even more by the effects of increased exposure to wind defoliation, predators and other factors.
This is why those few remaining large blocks of woodland involving whole hills in Tucker's Town are so disproportionately significant for the survival of our native biodiversity. And why there was such a groundswell of public concern over the threat of their loss when the plans submitted under the initial terms of the Tuckers Point SDO were revealed.
Not only is it incumbent on us to preserve the best of our Woodland Reserve zoned areas, we should also be working on the challenge of restoring them back to the higher standard that prevailed before the great cedar scale disaster.
I did a lot of research on native woodland restoration in my time as Conservation Officer in the Parks Department and was able to demonstrate on Nonsuch Island and elsewhere that the best of our native woodland heritage, even the Bermuda cedar, can still be restored with relatively little effort. If we only take the trouble to control the worst of the invasives and replant with higher quality trees on our nature reserves, parklands and private gardens.
The results of that research are becoming more readily available in publications providing guidelines for woodland management. In addition the Government plant nursery at Tulo Valley and the SOS nursery in Devonshire have done much to propagate and promote native tree plantings in recent years making them more available for public use.
I look forward to the day when the compensatory aspects of saving Woodland Reserve zoned private lands from development compromise has been fully resolved through new Government legislation and other initiatives like the “Buy Back Bermuda” campaign. And when landowners and hotel owners will once more be able to take pride in preserving and/or restoring zoned woodlands on their properties, perceiving them as a resource which actually enhances the value of their landholdings for both private and tourist benefit rather than diminishing them.