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By Gemma Handy

Plans to bring some of Antigua’s most prized natural landscapes under official protection are gathering momentum.

The nation’s highest point Boggy Peak, Christian Valley and Greencastle Hill are among the celebrated sites set to form part of a new terrestrial protected area. The latter is home to megaliths which some believe are the remnants of an ancient observatory. Others think the unusual rock formations may have been used in prehistoric rituals or even to tell the time.

The Department of Environment announced plans to create the Shekerley Mountain Management Area (SMMA) last year. Further details were announced yesterday and the vast south-western stretch takes in a host of other prime spots too including Fig Tree Drive, Wallings nature reserve and Mount McNish, along with residential areas such as Ebenezer, Cades Bay and Urlings.

Currently none of the places cited are protected by law, except for Greencastle Hill, although plans to create Boggy Peak National Park have been in the pipeline for some time and are well advanced.

The department is now calling for landowners within the proposed management area to come forward and join discussions.

The precise perimeter has not yet been finalised, explained biodiversity project coordinator Katecia Thompson, and environment chiefs are keen to garner support from local residents.

“We have been getting a lot of questions from the public. Some people are worried that we will be telling them what they can and can’t do with their land. But that’s not the case at all. We want to discuss how this will benefit them,” she told Observer.

“What we don’t want to see are activities happening that should not be, such as vast amounts of pesticides and fertilisers being used. We also don’t want to see huge developments not being built sustainably.

“We want developments to be approved by the community; we are looking for residents’ input and to improve the way such processes are undertaken,” she added.

It is hoped that the project will better position Antigua and Barbuda to tap into worldwide opportunities for conservation investments.

The zone would offer protection for biodiversity of global significance across more than 3,000 hectares. Encompassed in its environs is the only remaining wet forest ecosystem in the country, plus various native birds and rare ferns.

The move has been welcomed by local environmentalists.

Arica Hill, executive director of the Environmental Awareness Group (EAG), said, “We are excited about the prospect of a terrestrial protected area, particularly one that will engage with communities, landowners and NGOs in its management.

“This model that will be used is one that will highlight both the ecological and cultural significance of wildlife in Antigua. The area is quite large and therefore captures quite an interesting mix of flora and fauna.

“The benefit of this type of protected area is that it is so accessible to all of us, and we anticipate that many Antiguans and Barbudans will be able to experience the wonder of nature and appreciate it for all that it provides,” Hill added.

Four locations in Antigua were designated as national parks in 1984 primarily for their historic and cultural values. They are Nelson’s Dockyard, Devil‘s Bridge, Greencastle Hill and Fort Barrington.

Currently only the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Nelson’s Dockyard is actively managed.

Landowners within the proposed SMMA are asked to call the Department of Environment on 462-4625 or email [email protected] by November 30.

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