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Community nature reserve rehabilitation

Spittal Pond south trail September 15th 2023. Ocean swell inundates the pond making some access impossible post hurricane. Credit - Myles Darrell.

Major rehabilitation project for community nature reserve

A Darwin Plus Local grant was awarded in March 2023 for the rehabilitation of the largest nature reserve and most important public open space on the island of Bermuda in the north Atlantic.

Spittal Pond, a 64-acre reserve, is part publicly owned, and part owned by the Bermuda National Trust, which is the recipient of the award. Given that Bermuda is one of the most densely populated and isolated islands on earth, the area of focus is crucial to the conservation of the island’s biodiversity, mitigation of climate change, and protection of community open space.

"By improving the water quality of the pond, biodiversity loss can be reversed in this area."

A key element of the project is rehabilitation of the nature reserve’s rare freshwater coastal pond. It has been significantly polluted by run-off from the neighbouring cattle farm, causing associated eutrophication (an excess of algae due to overly nutrient rich environments) and species destruction. By improving the water quality of the pond, biodiversity loss can be reversed in this area.

Black mangrove planting will strengthen the capacity of the habitat to face the anticipated impact of climate change by acting as a natural barrier against storm surge and flooding. Development of a conservation management plan for the property, and community engagement through publicity and signage, are also included in the plan.

Spittal Pond June 9th 2023, Hurricane damage to the fencing allows cattle to freely access the pond. Credit - Myles Darrell.

Work began in May with water quality testing. As suspected, results showed that E. coli in the main pond, under normal conditions, were too numerous to count. However, testing after this summer’s hurricane events revealed more limited quantities of E. coli. This suggests that the significant influx of seawater causes a natural flushing of the system to take place. This improvement will be only temporary, however, and it is expected that the E. coli count will be back to more alarming levels within a few months, when the waters settle. E. coli is a strong indicator of animal waste contamination, and these tests are confirming that the project is positioned to have a positive impact on the pond's health.

"The Bermuda National Trust is determined to ensure that stories of enslavement in the island’s history are told in their entirety, truthfully."

The selected contractor is ready to begin work, following this year’s particularly active hurricane season. Initially, repairs will be carried out to the fencing separating the reserve from the farmland, and a berm and swale (to prevent stormwater damage) will be created for additional protection. The 213m fence will be built of a combination of treated timber and allspice (Pimenta dioica), an invasive species that will be removed from another nature reserve as part of its conservation management plan. Removing the allspice and reusing it as timber for fencing effectively ‘feeds two birds with one seed,’ which is an appealing prospect.

The Bermuda National Trust’s strategic goals are focused on ensuring its work broadens and deepens community connections. This includes placing a strong focus on ensuring concerns associated with signage at the site are addressed, notably information about Bermuda’s past intersection with slavery. The Trust is determined to ensure that stories of enslavement in the island’s history are told in their entirety, truthfully. To achieve this, the Trust is collaborating with another non-profit organisation, Citizens Uprooting Racism in Bermuda (CURB), to facilitate a focus group to help curate signage sharing a truer more balanced representation of the history.

Spittal pond June 9th. A cow can be seen at the western banks of the pond with the ocean in the distance. Credit - Myles Darrell.

Bermuda residents are also getting involved in January 2024 with a community day to celebrate the island’s heritage and complete the planting of hundreds of native and endemic trees, shrubs, and ground covers on the northern banks of Spittal Pond.

The Trust is incredibly grateful for the Darwin Plus grant because it will have such a significant impact; the environment and the island’s people will benefit from the results of this important project. Stay tuned for the next update!

Written by Myles Darrell. For more information on this Darwin Plus Local project DPL00017, led by the Bermuda National Trust, please click here.