A small ceremony took place on Friday, July 3 at Holywell, in the Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park, to celebrate the fifth anniversary of its inscription as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. I am not sure how many people realize what an achievement it was to have the site recognized for both its natural heritage and its cultural heritage. It involved an enormous amount of work over a decade. The Park is our first and only Heritage Site to date, and it is precious.
Holywell was in the news recently, after information emerged that the then Minister responsible for Land, Environment and Climate Change, Daryl Vaz, had made a bid for a piece of land within the buffer zone, adjoining Holywell and in fact incorporating part of a designated trail. The Jamaica Conservation & Development Trust (JCDT) is the non-governmental organization that manages the Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park on behalf of the Natural Resources and Conservation Authority (NRCA) and the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA); and the World Heritage Site on behalf of the Ministry of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport. JCDT Executive Director, Dr. Susan Otuokon did not learn about this bid to lease the land until virtually the last minute (when they saw a notice posted at the entrance to Holywell!) and was not consulted.
I wish to register my deep disappointment in Minister Vaz’s actions; and also in the government agencies that seemed to have no qualms about facilitating his wish to acquire land in a protected area – apparently for an Air B&B. This would have involved cutting down trees, etc. Moreover, the Minister subsequently criticized the JCDT for their protest at his planned action in a belligerent manner that was quite uncalled for. This behavior left a very bad taste in my mouth. If Minister Vaz does not realize the global significance of the National Park (and does not understand that the Visitor Centre built at Holywell for the education and benefit of the public is NOT the same as a private development) – then I am sad. Very sad. And some of us clearly need a lesson in ethics.
Soon after, Prime Minister Andrew Holness wisely transferred Minister Vaz from the Land, Environment and Climate Change portfolio at the Office of the Prime Minister to the “Water and Housing portfolios and subject matters having to do with certain special economic development projects.”A recently appointed Minister Without Portfolio, Leslie Campbell, has been appointed to take over in this area.
It remains for me to wish this wonderful, magical place a happy fifth anniversary as a UNESCO World Heritage Site; and to congratulate the JCDT, its staff and the park rangers on their continued dedication, hard work – and simply their love for the mountains. Remember, too, that this unique ecosystem is the subject of ongoing research – two major wildlife programs were initiated in 2018 to study two endangered endemic species (that is, species that are found nowhere else in the world) – the Jamaican Swallowtail Butterfly and the Jamaican Hutia or Coney.
Here is a little bit of history from JCDT…
Blue and John Crow Mountains celebrate 5th Anniversary of World Heritage Site Inscription
3rd July, 2020 will be the 5th anniversary of the inscription of the Blue and John Crow Mountains as a World Heritage Site. It is currently one of only 39 World Heritage Sites inscribed for both natural and cultural heritage. Most of the over 1,000 properties on the UNESCO World Heritage List are either natural or cultural heritage sites, so a “mixed” property is quite a feat.
Sites or properties inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List must be:-
- legally protected sites of outstanding universal value for selected cultural &/or natural criteria;
- in a well-protected state, with a high level of integrity (usually requiring large size);
- authentic, particularly with respect to cultural heritage and
- suitably managed with a legally designated buffer zone.
There is a rigorous process involving preparation of a nomination dossier and independent evaluation including a site visit by evaluators prior to inscription. It took Jamaica, over ten years of work to have the Blue and John Crow Mountains placed on the prestigious World Heritage List.
The Blue and John Crow Mountains World Heritage Site is the 26,000 hectare, core Preservation Zone within the National Park – this is an area of closed broadleaf or primary forest – one of the last remaining such areas in the island. The National Park (designated in 1993 on boundary of the Blue Mountain Forest Reserve) is just over 41,000 hectares.
The first nomination to UNESCO in 2011 sought to have the whole area designated as World Heritage. This nomination was deferred and the team had to go back to the drawing board as the whole area is not under good forest cover and in fact many areas particularly around Cinchona and west of Holywell are degraded – covered mainly by Caribbean Pine, Blue Mountain Coffee or invasive grasses. Further, we had not used tangible or geographical descriptors for the cultural heritage so we had to clearly identify Maroon trails, battle sites and communities, including those which are now only archaeological sites such as Nanny Town.
In addition, the Maroon communities had no national protection so the area had to be designated Protected National Heritage in 2014. Finally, the National Park does not have a legally defined buffer zone around it – except for some Forest Reserves and what JCDT refers to as the Community Buffer Zone – an area within 2km of the National Park boundary where we conduct public education and outreach and facilitate sustainable community livelihoods. Hence, we nominated the “crème de la crème” of the Blue and John Crow Mountains – the last remaining primary forest which is also the last resting place of many Maroon Freedom Fighters.
Support JCDT! Please see a note from them below.
The Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park is managed by the Jamaica Conservation and Development Trust (JCDT). The JCDT is a registered charity which receives part-funding from the Government of Jamaica. The remaining 70% of the park management budget is financed by grants and donations.
We especially need your donations at this time to help us purchase a new 4WD pick-up – we have raised 70% of the funds but still need another JA$2.25 million to make this necessity a reality.
The Friends of the Blue Mountains programme is an opportunity for individuals and companies to support conservation efforts in the national park. All contributions are tax deductible. Friends of the Blue Mountains support the management of the national park through annual contributions in the following tiers: INDIVIDUAL – J$ 4,000 (with Friends T-shirt); CORPORATE AGATE – J$ 25,000; CORPORATE MALACHITE – J$ 50,000; CORPORATE JADE – J$ 75,000; CORPORATE EMERALD – J$ 100,000
Contact: JAMAICA CONSERVATION AND DEVELOPMENT TRUST, 25 Eastwood Park Road (cnr. Courtney Walsh Dr), Kingston 10.
TELEPHONE: (1876) 960-2848-9 / 920-8278/9 / 355-7717
WEBSITE: http://www.blueandjohncrowmountains.org FB: BlueMountains, Jamaica