Feature: A History Of Arbor Day In Barbados

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You have been thinking about building that dream home, but there is a large tree sitting on your property that you want cut down – stop!

And, the next time you are traversing the highway, or along the island’s coasts and there is an inclination to break off, pull up or damage a tree that was planted, you need to carefully contemplate the ramifications of your actions.

It is better to consider how you can achieve your dream without removing any trees, since preserving trees is essential!?? Removing or destroying trees, may result in land slippage thus endangering properties.

Trees and their importance will take centre stage on Saturday, September 22, when Barbados celebrates Arbor Day under the theme: Trees: The Circle of Life. An all-day Expo will take place at the National Conservation Commission’s (NCC), Codrington, St. Michael headquarters from 10:00 a.m.

The Expo is expected to showcase eco-friendly products, services and technologies, and introduce the public to businesses, non-profit organisations, community groups and governmental agencies dedicated to preserving the natural environment.

General Manager of the NCC, Keith Neblett, put the significance of trees into perspective by noting that: "The importance of trees to our social and economic development continues to be underscored, and this is why events such as National Arbor Day serve as a constant reminder to Barbadians that our fragile ecosystem will be threatened if there were no trees.

"Trees play a very significant role in our lives and we use the bi-products in our daily existence, without paying much attention to the fact that if it wasn’t for trees, many of the comforts we have grown used to would be non-existent."

He further explained that Arbor Day was one of the vehicles used to promote the green initiative which was part of the overall policy of the Ministry of the Environment and Drainage.

The concept of Arbor Day first came from Journalist, J. Sterling Morton, in Nebraska in 1872. He made the first call for a tree planting holiday during a meeting of the State Board of Agriculture.

He wanted a date set aside to plant trees, educate people about the importance of trees and honour the role of trees in the daily lives of people.

That date was originally set for April 10, 1872, but was officially proclaimed on March 12, 1874, and observed on April 10, 1874. It also became a legal holiday in Nebraska in 1885.

However, records indicate that the first Arbor Day celebrations in Barbados occurred on November 9, 1907 and again on November 9, 1908.

On November 8, 1908, the Preservation of Trees Act was passed to put in place a bounty for the public to plant trees, and protect the land on which trees grew. That Act also put in place a no tax incentive for all land, one acre or more, that was already under forestation.

However, this Act was repealed in 1950 and replaced by the Cultivation of Trees Act of 1950 which commenced on March 13, 1951, and looked more at the cultivation of approved fruit trees.

The Trees Preservation Act (1981) was proclaimed on December 14, 1981 under the ambit of the Chief Town Planner and provides for the protection and maintenance of trees. In addition, the Act also empowered the Chief Town Planner to mandate the planting, replanting or maintenance of any tree on any vacant land on which a new road is being built or any land adjacent to a road.

Years passed, and in 1997 the NCC re-launched the National Arbor Day with assistance from a number of organisations, and a committee was formed to bring these activities to fruition. During this time, emphasis was again placed on tree planting, the importance of trees to the environment, and the vital role they played in people’s daily lives.

"Around that time, Heraldic Artist, Anne Rudder, designed the logo for the Arbor Day celebrations, incorporating historical research of the Silver Notarial Seal (Public Notarial Seal) of Barbados.

That logo also bears September 22 – the revised date for Arbor Day in Barbados to mark the anniversary of Hurricane Janet.

Mr. Neblett noted: "Fifty-seven years ago on September 22, Hurricane Janet devastated Barbados. This devastation resulted in the loss of many lives and the mass destruction of trees.

"We remember this significant event in our history by planting trees. This simple act in itself serves as a reminder to all of us of the need to replenish the dwindling tree stock on the island."

The NCC is leading the way in this venture with its Revegetation Project which was started in 2008 and seeks to replace old fallen trees, those that were blown down by hurricanes and replacing vegetation in parks.

Between 10, 000 to 12, 000 trees are planted during the rainy season under the revegetation programme.

But, NCC Technical Officer, Ryan Als, pointed out that the major problem affecting trees was vandalism. "Trees have natural pests, but they have a way of adapting to that. …The issue really is vandalism," he said.

Mr. Als explained that people may see a tree and break off limbs or cut it down because, in their opinion, it was hindering their view. "…But that tree may be there for erosion control as is the case when we plant on the East Coast," he pointed out, noting such problems were localised and were not major.

Environmental Officer in the Ministry of the Environment and Drainage, Kim Downes Agard, also pointed out that the planting of trees was an important component to Barbados’ sustainable land management programme, keeping biodiversity in-tact, protecting the land from erosion, and improving water runoff.

Mrs. Downes Agard added that the clearing of land not only entailed using a bobcat and removing all the vegetation. "[But] we need to think about the removal of trees and vegetation in vulnerable areas," she stressed.

She advised homeowners to get advice on the most suitable location to plant trees near their homes, and the best type of tree to plant. "We do have expertise in the Ministry [in the form of a] Botanics Gardens Officer," she pointed out.

julia.rawlins-bentham@barbados.gov.bb

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