Untold tales: The many faces of the unique Southlands estate will be laid bare later this year when it becomes a ­public park. But few islanders know that the property’s coastline was once used as a military firing range for anti-aircraft guns or that the dense woodland is home to 13 tree species found nowhere else in Bermuda. *Photo supplied
Untold tales: The many faces of the unique Southlands estate will be laid bare later this year when it becomes a ­public park. But few islanders know that the property’s coastline was once used as a military firing range for anti-aircraft guns or that the dense woodland is home to 13 tree species found nowhere else in Bermuda. *Photo supplied
1
2
3
4
5
6

A spectacular vision of what Southlands could look like when it becomes a public park is slowly beginning to emerge.

The pristine woodland and coastal estate is home to a unique collection of natural life and history.

But it has been plagued by fly-tipping and scramblers over recent years and many of the structures have fallen into rack and ruin.

This week Parks Officers began the first stage of the project to return Southlands to its former glory.

Workers have begun to clear huge quantities of trash and household goods that have been recklessly dumped on the property.

While other departments involved in the process are beginning to talk of tree-top walks through the Banyan canopy, walking trails for school groups and community gardens.

These are just some of the ideas being looked at by those tasked with resurrecting Southlands when the estate becomes a public park in the next few months. It will be a long process that will rely heavily on public input.

But already Parks and Conservation bosses are looking at the possibility of using the dilapidated main house as a visitors’ centre and museum, as well as incorporating the site’s existing historical features into the park.

Director of Conservation Services, Drew Pettit told the Bermuda Sun: “There is potential for all species in Southlands.

“Within this 37 acres there is every possible habitat that Bermuda has – apart from mangrove.

“There are existing ponds, a stretch of spectacular coastline and sheltered quarry sites as well as wooded hillsides.

“You could find homes for all of Bermuda’s endemic species here.

“Our aim would be to protect the existing historical features of the site like the graveyard and the old properties and run with them and make them part of the park.”

While Lisa Dawn Johnson, head of the Parks Department added: “The potential is limitless but what will constrain us is maintenance.

“My idea would be to do everything in phases.

“The amount of work that needs to be done is overwhelming because it has been left for so long now — and that is why we need to look at it one step at a time.

“We need to develop a programme to maintain everything to a standard we want it so it is sustainable.

“The public involvement with this will be crucial.

“I know there are enough people out there interested in this project and looking for something worthwhile to do with their time and lend a hand.

“Southlands is a Bermuda treasure. It is whimsical, romantic and inspiring and there is something here for everyone. This will be a big responsibility for the Parks Department and we will do our best.”

Environmentalists have fought to ensure that the Southlands estate is not developed on and is accessible for the public to enjoy.

This wish came true last year when under the terms of a land swap agreement the estate was passed from Bermudian businessmen Craig Christensen, Brian Duperreault and Nelson Hunt to Government in return for Morgan’s Point.

Stuart Hayward, chairman of the Bermuda Environmental and Sustainability Taskforce, said he hoped that the Southlands estate would become a ‘Mecca for the public’.

He added: “We have always felt this area is a unique space that deserves protection – especially in these days when open space is so scarce.

“This is why we fought plans to build a hotel on the property all that time ago.

“Now the future is very exciting for Southlands.”

Residents and conservationists joined forces at the start of 2013 and formed the Friends of Southlands group to make sure islanders have a say in what shape the public park takes.

The group’s chair, Kuni Frith-Black, said: “We would like to see this beautiful area returned to its original, pristine condition.

“Conservation Services and the Parks Department have already done a great deal of work and this has provided us as a group with all sorts of information, documentation and aerial shots.

“We have seen pictures of what this property looked like in the 1800’s and would love to take it back to its Golden Age so children and families can enjoy this untouched area.”

Mr Christensen’s daughter, Michelle, who lives on the property, told the Bermuda Sun: “I really think that Government has a good plan and it’s exciting that Southlands could be returned to its former glory. Everyone should be able to enjoy this incredible area.” 


Next step: Making Park status official

 

Southlands was officially handed over to Government under a land swap agreement just last year.

But it is still yet to be officially designated as a public park — although the Government now owns the 37-acre property.

The estate needs to be incorporated into the Parks Act through legislation for it to become a “public park”.

And this is expected to be done within the next couple of months when it comes before the House of Assembly.

Conservation Services and the Parks Department have already started to work on a “management plan” for how the area will be improved and maintained once it has been designated as a public  park.

But this will be subject to extensive public consultation.

Director of Conservation Services, Drew Pettit, said:  “This will all happen as quickly as possible; but there is a process that has to be gone through.

“In order for Southlands to become a public park requires it to be added to the Parks Act.”

He added: “From that point there will be extensive public consultation to find out what people want to see in this area.

“There is a management plan that we have put together that people will be able to contribute to.

“We go out to the public at least three times with open forums — similar to town hall meetings — when islanders can give us their input.

“Once we have canvassed everyone’s opinion it is up to the Parks Commission, Minister and Cabinet to sign off on it and we can get the ball rolling.”

Minister of Environment and Planning Sylvan Richards said: “Southlands is truly a unique property and it is a priority for this Government to preserve it for present and future generations. 

“In our 2013 Throne Speech this Government indicated that we begin a process of public consultation that will culminate in the creation of the Southlands National Park in Warwick.

“This initiative will see an area of parkland, roughly the size of the Botanical Gardens, designed,
protected and opened to the public. 

“We have already begun this process and will continue to work diligently to designate Southlands as a protected park.”