Silk Cotton Tree Replacement Ceremony: A Report from John L. Webster

On Friday 2nd December 2011, the Ministry of Transport and Works invited {Dr John L. Webster} to what they termed a “Tree Dedication Ceremony” at the Sandbox Tree Roundabout, Jackson, St Michael. As we all know the last week or so in Barbados has been exceptionally wet, with some areas in St Thomas reporting in excess of 15″ of rainfall in the last week alone! (Friday) was no exception as the rain continued in a drizzle steadily from early morning …and perhaps the Tree Spirit had summoned tears… major tears over the fate that will befall one of the older trees that exist in Barbados, as we give way to progress: – the rapidly expanding town/city centre of Warrens that is quickly outstripping its boundaries, leading to Urban sprawl over former sugar cane fields and forcing the Government of Barbados, no matter whether it is the Dee’s or the Bee’s, to be constantly reworking and expanding the existing roadways to accommodate the 1000’s of new vehicles we add to the already choking roadways. I arrived at the site shortly before the designated start time of 10:00 am to find a small grouping of tents set up just adjacent to to the “Sandbox Tree Roundabout” (currently under construction).

Minister John Boyce as he addresses the audience

There were members of the MTW staff, including of course Ms E. Scott, Senior Information Officer for MTW (the organiser of the event I believe) and Mr Dave Scantlebury, Project Manager for the Warrens Traffic Safety Improvement Project, representatives of both the Contractor (C.O. Williams Construction), and the Consulting Engineers of the Project (PESL), members of the press, the Facebook “A” Team – Nicole Garofano (Future Centre Trust), Kammie Holder (aka Agyeman Kofi) (PRO for FCT), and David Spieler (Flower Forest), and a few other persons I do not know. It was a small grouping of about 20 persons. Shortly afterwards the PS for MTW, Mr Lionel Nurse, the Hon. Mia Mottley QC & MP and the Hon. Cynthia Forde MP, arrived followed by the Minister of Transport and Works, the Hon. John Boyce. PS Nurse, Master of Ceremonies for the event, then got things going and invited (Pastor?) Dave Scantlebury to offer a word of prayer. After outlining the sequence of events for the “short” ceremony, Mr Nurse invited the Hon Mia Mottley, MP for St Michael North East, to speak.

Dr John Webster - 'These trees are considered "replacements" for the Silk Cotton tree that has to be removed. They mark the start of a massive "Greening Warrens" Project the MTW has initiated for the area, largely as a result of the considerable protests shown by people of Barbados to the removal of the Silk Cotton tree. These protests sensitised Government and the MTW to the need to adopt the concept of "....beyond engineering we are more than asphalt and concrete"!'

Ms Mottley in her typical style, of speaking from her heart without notes, over the ensuing 20 minutes delivered a most eloquent, candid and informative presentation. She covered various aspects of the area, renewed her call for the establishment of the National Botanical Garden in the 250 acre area at Waterford originally slated for that purpose, thanked the Government and MTW for finally providing the new road into Jackson that had been delayed for some 14 years, and amongst other things, made it clear that the BLP would be standing WITH the DLP Government on this occasion in the issue of the removal of the Silk Cotton Tree since the costs to do otherwise would be very substantial in these difficult economic times – in other words the BLP would not be making a political football out of this issue.

Ms Mottley’s speech was outstanding and I am hoping that we may be able to transcribe it from a recording taken by one of the Journalists present, and who has promised a copy, so it can be shared with everyone. The next person slated to speak was Dr Karl Watson, President of the Barbados National Trust. Unfortunately, Dr Watson was unable to attend due to a previously arranged commitment, and asked me, in my capacity as a member of the Council of the BNT, to speak on his behalf. I conveyed to the Minister and those gathered there, the President’s message, which, in summary, states that the BNT does not in any way condone the destruction or removal of trees in our landscape, and especially one as aged and historic as this one. However, the BNT is not an organisation that opposes for the sake of opposition, and had carefully considered all the options presented with regard to the tree in question. The BNT had reached the decision that it would really be too costly, in these tough economic times, to save the tree and reroute the roadway. The BNT would therefore not oppose the Government’s decision to remove the tree, provided at least 5 other Silk Cotton trees were planted in appropriate areas. I also advised the Minister that Ms Vicky Goddard, who operates and manages Andromeda Botanical Gardens, a BNT Property, had offered 20 Silk Cotton tree saplings to the project. I also echoed Ms Mottley’s call for the establishment of the National Botanic Garden (NBG), a project very dear to my heart as I chaired the Friends of the NBG Committee, a Government appointed committee from establishment until it’s disbandment in 2008.

Minister John Boyce was then invited deliver his address to the audience. Agyeman Kofi (Kammie Holder) has already posted his address verbatim to Facebook – the benefit of a technologically-savy minister who uses an Apple Ipad for the notes of his presentations, rather than a sheaf of papers, so I will not repost or comment further on that. At the conclusion of the Mimister’s address, PS Nurse invited both the Minister and Ms Mottley to symbolically plant the already planted replacement Silk Cotton Tree, even as the Tree Spirit continued to rain his tears upon the event.

The MP for St Michael North East eschewed her usual iPad which accompanies her for most addresses

The ceremony was brought to a conclusion with a Vote of Thanks from Dave Scantlebury. In summary, two trees have been planted near to and just North East of the new Sandbox Roundabout. One is a Silk Cotton Ceiba pentandra – and the other is “HondurasMahoganySwietenia macrophylla. I would have preferred a true West Indian Mahogany – Swietenia mahagoni – as this has been such an important wood locally, since it was introduced to Barbados in 1763 and first planted at the nearby Belle Plantation. These trees are considered “replacements” for the Silk Cotton tree that has to be removed. They mark the start of a massive “Greening Warrens” Project the MTW has initiated for the area, largely as a result of the considerable protests shown by people of Barbados to the removal of the Silk Cotton tree. These protests sensitised Government and the MTW to the need to adopt the concept of “….beyond engineering we are more than asphalt and concrete“!

Lionel Nurse prepares to hand the shovel for planting new trees (I wonder what will happen to them? Maybe it's better we won't be around when they mature?) and seeming to ask who will dig first... Mia or John?

We may be losing one old and historically significant tree but as the Government strives to make our daily commutes to and from the Warrens area easier and more bearable, at an affordable cost, they have also committed to creating a significantly enhanced greening of the area. It is our task to ensure that this commitment is truly implemented …or else! {N.B. ALL PHOTOS ARE COURTESY DR WEBSTER AS WELL}

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