The Montserrat National Trust on Monday and Tuesday hosted meetings with stakeholders on a proposed plan to rehabilitate the Belham Valley and develop a wetland area which would serve as a bird sanctuary.
The Belham Valley Rehabilitation Project is part of three-island programme developed by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) which received 300,000 pounds in funding from the Darwin Initiative. The other two Overseas Territories are Anguilla and the Turks and Caicos Islands, who will benefit from the project to protect four wetland sites. The national trust identified the Belham Valley as an opportunity to halt the degradation of the area and develop a wetlands which could provide a haven for birds who travel South in the winter and an attractive place for residents and visitors.
National Trust Director Sarita Francis said the loss of the Piper’s Pond and Foxes Bay wetlands has meant that the island no longer attracts many of the seasonal birds. The lower Belham Valley has been identified as an area for development. The first phase of the project is to discuss with stakeholders the plans and develop a methodology for restoring the lands degraded by sand mining. It is hoped that a standard of best practices can be established, said mining expert and project consultant Johnathan Stacey, to improve how sand is mined.
On Monday evening, Minister of Agriculture and the Environment Crenston Buffonge was in attendance along with residents of Isles Bay, Old Towne and surrounding areas to discuss the three-year project to design a rehabilitation plan for the Belham Valley.
On Tuesday morning the miners were invited to learn about the plan from the project leads John Badley, Wetlands Manager for the RSPB, Johnathan Stacey, Ecologist and Mining Sector Expert for the Montserrat Project, and Lyndon John, Project Officer for the RSPB Wetlands Project in the OTs.
The project began in April 2019 and runs until June 2022. In this time, the key aims include a need to mitigate hydrological instability, choosing and reinforcing a central meandering channel (from the upper Belham), slope stability, selecting a reinforcing key infrastructure such as a priority road crossing for the Belham, and supporting features to safeguard wetlands, along with requisite training for stakeholders.
National Trust and project officials acknowledge that is is early days yet and the consensus is that developing a wetlands is an attractive outcome to aim for. However, the path to get there will need to be defined and agreed upon. Historically, there has been much tension between the sand miners and homeowners in the area. As of July 2017, miners were stopped from extracting sand in the lower Belham Valley West of the Old Bridge Road.