Lower Valley Forest

| 06/09/2008

The Lower Valley Forest on Grand Cayman is larger and even more magnificent than the Ironwood Forest in George Town, and is one of the last remnants of the disappearing ancient Caribbean Ficus forests.

A simple on-line search turns up an abundance of information about Caymanian flora and fauna and the significance of this forest. The Cayman Islands are very isolated and not part of the Eastern island chain. The plants and animals here are unique, and our location as a rest stop for migratory species is of paramount importance if these birds are to continue their long journeys over the sea.

Migrating birds have been finding wild figs and other wild fruits in the Lower Valley Forest to sustain them for millennia. October 11 is International Migrating Bird Day in the Caribbean. The loss of this forest would be a severe blow to migratory species, as well as to native birds and wildlife.

The rocky karst there also contains undiscovered caves where rare and endemic Cayman Islands bats live. Naturalists have mist-netted the bats in the area, but it is too dense and difficult a terrain to find the caves. If this area is quarried, the bats and their caves will be buried forever.

Wildlife experts have documented 53 species of birds including 12 endemic races using this forest. The native plant diversity is also significant. Mature native trees such as Ironwood, Pepper-Cinnamon, Headache Bush, Wild Jasmine, Spanish Elm, Candlewood, and so many others flourish here.

The Lower Valley Forest also supports the threatened White-shouldered Bat, a forest-dwelling Caribbean endemic animal that lives only in trees and is found on Grand Cayman, Cuba and Haiti. Four other rare or endemic bat species also inhabit the forest, living either in hidden caves or dense vegetation. They are not the common fruit bat, which is a crop pest, but rare and beneficial bats that control insects and pollinate native plants. Dr. Merlin Tuttle of Bat Conservation International said, "The importance to wildlife of these last remnants of ancient ficus forest in the Caribbean cannot beunderestimated."

The Lower Valley Forest is divided into two sections by a pasture. Over 300 acres (125 hectares) on the northern edge are separated into twenty private lots varying from 149 acres to small house lots of only .33 of an acre. The southern portion – about the same size but closer to the sea – is an important buffer zone. The salt-tolerant trees protect the more inland part of the forest from sea spray and support a plethora of birds and other wildlife.

It is hoped that the Cayman Islands Planning Department will make some changes to certain outdated regulations that currently are costly to developers and environmentally destructive. In addition, improved follow-up on neighbourhood covenants would protect the property values of everyone within the community. Informed landowners who understand the value of leaving the dramatic native landscaping in place will save money on fill and on importing foreign landscaping plants; they will never have to mow the lawn, fertilize or prune and will have natural storm surge protection as well as smaller electrical bills due to the natural cooling effects of the forest.

The preservation of the forest is crucial as a migrating bird foraging ground and native bird habitat. It is also essential if the White-shouldered Bat is not to become extinct in the Cayman Islands. With the cooperation of landowners, a showcase neighbourhood can be created, featuring Caymanian trees and wildlife as a positive part of innovative development that is compatible with the natural landscape and allows people to live side by side with the created world.

 

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Category: Viewpoint

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  1. Anonymous says:

    Environmental Law Needed – Pity there aren’t any environmental laws that could be brought to bear to protect this area. Maybe the Tourism minister should get on with tabling something along those lines.