The Cayman Islands government denied claims that the Cayman Islands National Trust was an “evil empire,” as it was described during a recent parliamentary debate in the Legislative Assembly.
However, the Trust does hold a significant amount of land, more than 5 percent of the land mass in the Cayman Islands, according to its recently released annual report for 2013/14.
“Through the generosity and support of our donors, land protected by the National Trust has increased by an amazing 59 percent since 2010,” a statement from Trust accountant Clare Lumsden indicated. This includes two parcels of land in Cayman Brac the Trust acquired during the past year.
“This brings the value of land held under protection to over $11.5 million [cost of valuation at acquisition], which represents over 5 percent of the land mass in the Cayman Islands,” the report read.
Trust Executive Director Christina McTaggart Pineda stated earlier in the report that the organization’s “internal goal” for protected land acquisition was to reach the international standard of 10 percent protection by the year 2020.
“The National Conservation Law has now increased the Cayman Islands’ chances of reaching the internationally accepted standard,” Ms. McTaggart Pineda said. “Crown land now has the opportunity to be protected once the [law] is brought into force.”
The 10 percent standard refers to a United Nations recommendation established more than two decades ago at the Fourth World Congress on National Parks and Protected Areas. Recommendation 16 from the conference established a 10 percent protected area of each major ecosystem type.
The sharp increase in protected land areas acquired by the Trust has come during a time when the organization has suffered through a sustained decline in fundraising. The Trust, which receives some financial support from the Cayman Islands government, saw fundraising efforts that earned $150,000 in 2010 fall to less than $50,000 in 2012.
That number has increased in 2013 and 2014, but has never made it back to 2010 levels, the Trust reported. The government also doubled the funding received by the National Trust during its 2013/14 budget year.
The Trust has taken criticism regarding land purchases, which it makes to preserve native areas of flora and fauna.
Last month, North Side MLA Ezzard Miller told the Legislative Assembly that the Trust, since its formation in 1987, had gone well beyond its remit in buying up land in Cayman, particularly in his less-inhabited district.
“In the view of many of the persons that I am elected to represent … the National Trust has become the evil empire that many of us who were here in 1987 were concerned that it would become,” Mr. Miller said. “The National Trust was not intended to be a body that would go out and solicit to purchase people’s land.”
Mr. Miller said the designation of vast tracts of land in North Side as “inalienable” not only prevented developing that property, but also precluded Caymanians from using the land for “heritage purposes,” such as farming, making thatch rope, retrieving mahogany and ironwood to build houses and boats, hunting rabbits and crabs, and the like.
Section 18 of the National Trust Law says a person who takes or attempts to take any wildlife on Trust property, starts a fire on Trust property [except where fires are permitted], removes any artifact from any Trust property or defaces any Trust property is guilty of an offense punishable on conviction of up to $5,000 in fines and one year imprisonment.
‘No special powers’
Environment Minister Wayne Panton said in the Legislative Assembly in the same debate that the National Trust Law sets out clearly the organization’s purposes and gives it no special powers – such as those of compulsory acquisition given to the government – in obtaining or purchasing private land.
“The only limitation we have in terms of ownership of land and the ability to buy land in this country is that foreign companies have to be registered in Cayman as a foreign company in order to acquire land,” Mr. Panton said. “That has been one of the features essential to the success of Cayman.”
“The National Trust does not have the power to take someone’s land,” Minister Panton said. “This land that the National Trust owns in the district of North Side is land which anyone, any individual, any investor could have purchased in the Cayman Islands.”