“This our life, exempt from public haunt, finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, sermons in stones, and good in everything.” (Duke Senior, in: As you like it. William Shakespeare)
“The lake and the mountains have become my landscape, my real world.” (Georges Simenon – Prolific Belgian author)
“Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.” (Albert Einstein)
“The mountains are calling and I must go.” (John Muir, 1838 – 1914; “John of the Mountains” – Scottish American naturalist, early author and preservation advocate)
“Nothing before its time,” said Grandmother, to temper your impatience and frustration. I often quote the seven-year gap between the cholera epidemic in Barbados of 1854, that killed more than 22 000 innocent Bajans, and the eventual provision of piped water from Newcastle in St. John to Bridgetown in 1861. In fact, there was a ten-year gap between the proposals to do so, when the cholera broke out in Jamaica in 1851, and the reality of a water supply. Why do I say all this?
Because the Barbados National Trust commissioned the first study, in 1967, to assess and report on a proposal to make the Scotland District a National Park of Barbados; it commissioned a further three studies over the next 15 years, and this week, on Wednesday, June first, 49 years later, the Natural Heritage Department launched the Barbados System of Parks and Open Spaces. Congratulations, team Heritage.
There are three National Trust “heroes” or “agents of change” for the National Park concept – Sir Donald Wiles, Captain Maurice Bateman Hutt, and in more recent times Geoff Ramsey. Sir Donald was the second president of the Trust, and his passion for trees knew no bounds – his legacies include the National Park concept, Accra Beach and Brown’s Beach, among others. Under his presidency, the inimitable ornithologist historian Captain Hutt undertook two detailed studies, and produced two reports: Hutt M.B. 1975. The Preservation of Areas of Natural Beauty in Barbados; and Hutt M.B. 1981. The Barbados National Park. Report of an Investigation into the Physical and Ecological Aspects of the Proposed National Park.
The Barbados Government then commissioned a further report, the Pennington Report: Barbados National Park. A Report prepared for the Government of Barbados on Proposals for a National Park on the North and East coasts, published in 1981. And while I played a minor role as a member of the National Advisory Committee for Town and Country Planning in the 1980s, and we succeeded in incorporating the proposal in the Physical Development Plan of 1986, and it remained on the drawing board in the successive Physical Development Plans (PDP) and amendments, the lead role on behalf of the Trust and as a Trust member was played by Geoff Ramsey, who consulted over many years and many plans.
Geoff has had enormous experience and recognition for his roles in the Tourism Development Programme, with production of master plans for key Barbados heritage sites in association with ARA Consulting Group, Canada, and in the Redevelopment of Harrison’s Cave, as Project manager for the Caribbean Development Bank funded sustainable tourism project, examining the potential for marketing an integrated nature tourism area. And he continues as consultant on the new PDP.
And so it was with enormous pleasure that we both witnessed the launch on Wednesday of the Barbados System of Parks and Open spaces.
As the Prime Minister said in his excellent and cogent speech at the launch, THE National Park comprises 17 per cent of our total land area – a higher percentage than the protected natural landscapes of any other CARICOM country. It comprises the Scotland District and a bit more of the highlands above and around the escarpment of Hackleton’s Cliff. It extends from Archer’s Bay in St. Lucy to Conset Point in St. John. It’s been designated Open Space One or OS1.
Natural Heritage Conservation Areas are both land and marine. They include areas within the park, such as Walker’s Savannah, Morgan Lewis and Long Pond landscapes, Chancery Lane and Graeme Hall Swamps, and “above the cliff” - Jack in the Box Gully, Harrison’s Cave and Welchman Hall Gully, designated OS2.
Open Space 3 (OS3) sites are the coastal landscapes – from Archer’s Bay to Maycock’s Bay in St. Lucy, and from Conset Bay to Chancery Lane. Open Space Four (OS4) sites are the Public Parks and Open Spaces, such as Barclays Park and Bath Beach, Queen’s Park and the Garrison Savannah, Farley Hill Park, Three Houses Park and King George V Park. OS5 are national attractions such as St. Nicholas Abbey, Andromeda Botanic Gardens, Welchman Hall Gully, Morgan Lewis Windmill, Foursquare Heritage Park and so on. And OS6 are Crown-owned lands with mature forests, such as Turner’s Hall Woods, Hackleton’s Cliff, Joe’s River Forest and Pico Teneriffe.
These National Parks and Open Spaces are among our most precious treasures. Queen’s Park is the Lung of Bridgetown and the Scotland district National Park and related Coastal Zones are the lungs of our people. Long may they be protected, but meanwhile, let us enjoy them. Let us use them for recreation, without littering, damaging and despoiling them. Let us use them for hiking and health – with safer, better trails. Let us use them for meditation and prayer, relaxation and renewal, to satisfy our souls and reduce our daily stresses. And of course, let the planners and environmentalists and tourism managers talk together, so that our wonderful gifts of God can be shared with our visitors to everyone’s mutual benefit, socially and economically.
Postscript: In spite of Mr. Irving Burgie’s exhortation to sing the wonderful words of our National Anthem, we were invited simply to listen to the charming pupils of Holy Innocents School sing it. I was delighted to be joined by Senator Irene Sandiford-Garner, MP Cynthia Forde and PS Sonja Welch, my immediate neighbours in the audience, as we formed a little “island” singing it together. I hope we harmonised … Masters of Ceremonies, do, please, exhort your audiences to sing and be inspired!
Brickbat: To those many managers in government departments who have been ignoring the most basic requirements of their jobs, and ignoring the Auditor General. The Prime Minister has spoken. What is the next step, to halt our continuing decline?
Professor Fraser is past Dean of Medical Sciences, UWI and Professor Emeritus of Medicine. Website: profhenryfraser.com