Many an old-timer will tell you that all of George Town was once a forest.
George Town had some of the biggest mahogany trees in Cayman; so big, the biggest man could not put his arms around one. If one reads some of the transcripts in the oral history department at the National Archive, one will learn that the great shipbuilders of the past got many of their choice pieces of wood from the George Town forests.
Though these facts still interest me, most of it is just dead history now, because there is nary a mahogany left in George Town. I mean, unless you can remember what George Town looked like in the old days; you probably could not imagine that anything other than a struggling palm tree ever existed.
So, where are all the trees – the natives ones, not the exotic and imported? Well, the ship builders are not to blame for their total disappearance. I believe a combination of poor development and apathy is at fault. In Cayman we have a habit of mowing everything down before we build, and unfortunately there is no law to stop indiscriminate land clearing.
All the Planning Law requires is for people to get permission for land clearance by mechanical means. But the penalties for breaking this provision are so low, most don’t bother. There is also a tree preservation order, but look around and you will see that it is rarely put into practice.
A friend once told me about the struggle she faced saving an old-growth forest on the property she was developing. Even though she flagged the trees she wanted to save, the men driving the bulldozer knocked a few down each day they came. In the end she took to babysitting the trees every day, until the construction of her home was complete. Due to her efforts her yard is sheltered by a canopy of beautiful trees that one can sit under in height of noon without even breaking a sweat.
What my friend was trying to do was develop her property in a sustainable way. Unfortunately sustainable development is only a buzzword here, because we just do not do it. Many other countries do it and do it well, because developing sustainably is not impossible; it just requires a little effort and some progressive planning. Developing sustainably means that you keep some of the natural environment to complement your surroundings, and also reduce the energy you waste on water and landscaping.
So, that brings me to the Ironwood Forest behind the University College. A multi-lane highway is slated to go through the middle of this last bit of forest in George Town. I believe this is a real opportunity to demonstrate some progressive planning. I believe the Ironwood Forest is worth protecting.
Trees are not only important to our natural environment but they also give us a sense of place and history. I remember looking out of a window in the Glass House – staring out at an old tree in the grounds. My boss explained to me that the tree I was marvelling at was there when he was a boy. He played under that same tree. Now that’s history. If left to be a part of our lives, trees can tell our stories and provide us with a living history. Our history need not exist only in books.
The Ironwood Forest is also part of our unique story – some of the plants and trees in that forest are found no where else on the island, or the rest of the world. So, given its uniqueness, should we not elevate the buzzwords and bring sustainable development into action? Can we not find a better route for that road?
I am a 32-year old Caymanian who enjoys the natural environment as much as I do the everyday conveniences of modern day life.