Law won’t be enough says NT

| 01/10/2012

side-environment.jpgCNS): Even if the much needed National Conservation Law is passed, Cayman will still need to protect far more of its dwindling natural habitat. Carla Reid, chair of the National Trust for the Cayman Islands, says the organisation needs to buy more land in the face of the relentless development and is in desperate need of resources to help it do that. Although the Trust is criticised at times for not advocating loudly enough for the environment, Reid told CNS that it is doing what it does best, which is buying land to protect it from the bulldozer.  But with a dwindling government grant and more charities than ever competing for a smaller donation pie, that job is getting tougher.

“People see our lack of advocacy as a weakness but what we do is buy the land,” Reid said. Although she acknowledged that advocacy and activism is important to raise awareness of essential issues and gain support for environmental protection, the only sure fire way of protecting any land at all in Cayman is for the Trust to own it. “We are not environmental policemen and we are far more effective by buying up the land that is under threat.”

The Trust currently owns just  5% of the islands’ natural land and historic built sites, which it manages and protects and iskeen to buy much more, but it cannot do so without the assistance of the community. However, with a growing numbers of unregulated and unofficial charities as well as government agencies now competing for private donations, not to mention the continual annual cuts to its budget, the Trust is struggling to keep up with the purchases it needs to make to protect even some of Cayman’s most precious and critical sites.

From the Mastic Trail to the Botanic Park, important natural sites are under threat from potential development surrounding them and the only way sure way to secure these and the future of other sites is to buy the land so that it cannot fall into the hands of developers.

Reid noted that laws can very easily be changed or overridden by government, as demonstrated by the recent removal of protection for Salt Water Pond on Cayman Brac as a result of an amendment to the Animals Law. However, once the land is owned by the Trust it can be protected in perpetuity.

In the face of continued warnings about the dwindling habitat for some of Cayman’s most iconic and unique national symbols, such as the parrot and the ghost orchid, the Trust believes that in order to meet the government’s own target of zero extinctions, as set out in the Department of Environment’s own National Diversity Action Plan, then the habitat of these and other species has to be given protection of the kind that not even the proposed conservation law can provide.

Reid said she would like to see government lead by example and vest some critical crown land in the Trust to deal with some of the most impending threats. In particular, Reid pointed to the George Town forest and the crown land there in an effort to save the ghost orchid and other species at the site which are found only there and on the brink of extinction.

During the past fiscal year the Trust has managed to purchase 118 acres of land in the Mastic Reserve, a further 23 acres for the Salina Reserve and two critical acres in Little Cayman to add to the holdings on the Salt Rocks Nature Trail. But over the last three years the Trust has lost around $100,000 over the last three years from its annual grant from government and depends more than ever on the community. It has around 600 members making annual donations but needs to desperately increase its membership not only to raise the much needed cash but to have more people be more aware about the real threats Cayman’s environment faces.

Reid warned that without greater and more consistent financial support the Trust will struggle to even survive and if it cannot continue then all of the work it has done so far will be lost. In addition, it is the ownership of certain lands by the Trust as a part-funded government entity that enables the Cayman government to comply at all with its many international obligations regarding the environment.  As a result of the land it owns and more importantly protects, the Trust ensures the country is at least partially compliant with treaties such as the conventions covering wetlands, bio-diversity, fragile eco-systems and the environmental charter.

The future, however, is precarious, not just for the Trust but the lands and species it protects.

Reid noted that if the Trust cannot carry on doing its work in the continued absence of a conservation law and even with it, the natural and historic environment of the Cayman Islands will be lost to the bulldozer. 

“For everything we have done in the past to mean anything we have to survive,” she added. “We aim to have 10% of Cayman’s land protected by 2020, which wouldn’t be difficult. If government gave us the wetlands in Little Cayman, for instance, then we would almost be on target,” Reid said.

In the meantime, however,  the Trust is calling on the community to help them “Conserve Cayman”  with a new campaign where people can donate to help purchase specific land. The organisation is also trying to recruit more members to join the fight to save the environment. With annual individual membership only $30 a year, Christine McTaggart, the Trust’s general manager, said they have made it as easy as possible for new members as they can now sign up and pay on-line.  

“Given the current economic circumstance and the competition from other causes, people don’t see the work of the Trust as pressing – but it is; it is critical, especially in the face of increasing development,” she said.

For more information and to sign up as a trust member go to the National Trust for the Cayman Islands

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  1. luvu says:

    Does anyone know whether the property laws allow for selling of construction rights/easements?  I've belonged to a land trust elsewhere which had such things donated to it by land owners in more remote areas who wanted the land to remain natural.  Also, the price of such for more developable areas would be less given that the property remains privately owned by the grantor and heirs who may continue to enjoy it exclusively–just no building on it.

    • Anonymuse says:

      its a fair idea. The proposed National Conservation Lawwould have allowe dthe Government to 'rent' people's land for conservation, if they didn't want to sell it. (IIRC from the public meeting I attended.) Sounded interesting then. But we see how far that law has gotten. As it is now I suspect that the Trust could do a rental but couldn't buy the development rights as they dont' really exist as a tradeable 'right'. As a member of the Trust I think their problem would be paying the monthly rent from a cash base that is 'sporadic', as are most donation funded organisations.

    • Anonymass says:

      No, they don't. The Trust could probably do it as a private contract with the landowner but, considering the main article was about them needing money, would they want to take on that expense for property that they couldn't 'protect for posterity' which is, I believe, their mandate? They would also have to rely on private litigation if they ever needed to enforce the right they had contracted from the landowner. Not an attractive proposition.

      Of course, the National Conservation Law had an idea like this in it, which would have established a legal mechanism to do this sort of thing,  but we see how far thats getting.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Not guilty……it wasn’t me…..I was having an out of body experience….

  3. Truth says:

    This is true.  As CIG leadership has shown (and many others) Laws can not help if those who break them are not held accountable for their actions. Personal responsibility is not something taught here in schools and church or at home. Plan accordingly or stay disappointed.

  4. peter milburn says:

    I certainly agree that the money collected for the environmental fund should be used (in part)for the buying of sensitive land areas (at a fair market price) which  would then be held for future generations of Caymanians.There are other areas this fund could be used for but it seems like the present government is VERY reluctant to use it for what it was originally set up for.and that is the PROTECTION of our fragile environment.I just hope and pray that that money is either used for the proper areas or it stays in the bank and not be allowed to be used for anything else.I am not sure who has control over that fund but I shudder to think it is in the hands of the wrong people and THEY know who they are.Keep up the good work National Trust and I urge all that can support the fundraising efforts of this fine organisation please do so.

  5. Anonymous says:

    What the National Trust needs to do is start a national campaign and have every one of their members lobby all politicians and hopeful politicians until they promise to give the money collected from every departing passenger "for environmental protection" and hand the entire $40 million over to the Nation Trust so that it may be used for the purpose intended.

    • anonymous says:

      As long as it is clearly understood that the CAymannain who needs to feed, educate and maintain health care for his family an can and will sell to the highest bidder to meet his/her needs is entitled to do s, then conserve as much as you want..

    • Anonymous says:

      Unfortunately, many of the members are expat. Politicians do not listen to expats, no votes there.

      • Anonymous says:

        This was not a expat orCaymanian argument.  However since you have opened that door…

        Look the West Road closure, the destruction of the mangrove buffer island wide and the unpaid $6 million.  Let us not forget the total absence of an EIA in East End.  Judging from those events, I would have to say the politicians listen very well to the expats.

        Then when that particular brand of expat (now status holding Caymanians)  is done telling Government how high to jump, nature is asked for its forgiveness by throwing some crumb$ at local charities.  The charities all quickly bank the $$ after posing for a photo with the "kind" donor.

        Life in Cayman has proven there is something more important to politicians than votes. 

        The only group being ignored here is the honest and hard working middle class.

        • Paper Pusher says:

          I am a relatively lazy member of the middle class with a tendency to tell the odd little untruth.  I can assure you that I feel I am being ignored too.  It is just I can't be bothered about it.

  6. Lorax says:

    The National Trust is the most important NGO in the Cayman Islands – for all our futures; for the tourism dollar; for our quality of life; for the survival of our culture; for this to be an island where local people and the rest of the world want to do business and live and invest in homes, for our national pride and reputation in the wider world; for the beauty and peace of this "verdant island".  Developers should remember that they too, benefit from the National Trust's work, yet it is shorted and undermined constantly by our own government, and piece by piece we are losing what we have. I urge everyone to join the National Trust, attend their upcomong Gala Fundraiser, donate funds, especially to the Land Purchase Fund and volunteer to help the hard-pressed and hard-working staff with their overwhelming workload. 

    • †ŹĄР† says:

      Pretty arrogant to say "The National Trust is the most important NGO in the Cayman Islands".  There are other NGOs that feed hungry children and the elderly, shelter battered women, and assist worldwide following natural disasters to name but a few.  Whilst I agree that the work of of the National Trust is important, some might say critical, there are many other organisations that are equally "important".

      • Lorax says:

        Yes, perhaps over-stated, but the well-being of all three islands and our financial ability to support the other very worthy charities depends upon a healthy environment and not allowing short-term profiteers to ruin the country. We can do good, by doing right. There is no other vehicle here besides the National Trust to preserve land. We don't even have a real National Parks system and there is very little zoning or legal protection. Other countries have strict regulations about wetlands and limits on what can be done in sensitive ecosystems. We have no laws like that, and the population doesn't want them. They want to do whatever they will with their own land, and I can see that point, but the end result is a mess of unplanned, uncoordinated development and sprawl. De facto, the only option here is for the National Trust to purchase land. Trust properties are the ONLY places here that are legally protected for all time, and the Trust must find it's OWN funding to purchase land. Land is more expensive every day, time is running short, soon it will be too late, and there is no way the Trust can afford to purchase the few remaining pristine habitats without a major breakthrough in funding. A little more help from the Environmental Fund would be a very good thing