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November 29, 2022
King’s Hill Forest Reserve, not without her challenges

by: Gerelyn Desirée John

I live in the wake of the King’s Hill Forest Reserve. When she slumbers, I sleep. When the sun announces the dawn she awakens and so do I.
When she frowns, I am guided accordingly, taking my clothes from the line. When she smiles into her mirror the sun I am caught in her reflection.

Let me tell you more about this nature reserve located in the southeastern corner of Saint Vincent and Grenadines about half a mile from the coast line.

King’s Hill Forest Reserve was established by way of act #5 of April, 2nd 1791. This act read in part: “We your Majesty’s most loyal and dutiful subjects James Seton Esquire Captain General and Governor -in – Chief in and over the island of St Vincent, Bequia and such other islands commonly called the Grenadines as lie to the northward of Caricacou… and it is hereby enacted by the authority aforesaid that the hill called the King’s Hill with the timber and other trees and wood growing or that may grow thereon,…shall be and is hereby reserved an appropriated for the purpose of attracting the clouds and rain…”.

Doctor Edgar Adams in his book, ‘People on the Move’ , helps us to appreciate that the purpose of this legislation was “to limit the rapidly increasing loss of trees on the Islands”. He pointed out also that the purpose of the Act was to attract rain for the benefit of the neighbourhood. Dr Adams went on to relate that “this act with its 5 sections is believed to have been the first of its kind to be introduced in the Western Hemisphere and clearly demonstrated an understanding of the relationship between regular rainfall and sustained agriculture”.

It was indeed also the first piece of environmental legislation to be passed in St Vincent and the Caribbean. It is also considered a model piece of legislation which incorporated many principles considered today as modern and of the 21st century.

It is believed too that the Reserve is instrumental in climate control.

Sharon Almerigi, writing in the Caribbean Contact of 1994, page 7, stated that the King’s Hill Forest Reserve is “living testimony to one of the earliest pieces of environmental legislation in the western Hemisphere”.

She pointed out that it was established by “far sighted” individuals for the protection of the surrounding sugar cane estates from “the kind of environmental degradation that many of the other island colonies had already experienced”.

She too acknowledged that the King’s Hill enclosure Ordinance of 1791 gave official protection to 54 acres of hill top “for the purpose of attracting the clouds and rain for the benefit and advantage of the owners and possessors of lands in the neighbourhood thereof”.

In 1791 the main crop of St Vincent and the Grenadines was sugarcane, a crop devastated by dry conditions . It was therefore necessary that every attempt be made to ameliorate the conditions which prevailed at Ribishi, Cubiamarou and the Diamond sugar estates in the south eastern area of mainland St. Vincent. In this south eastern region the natural vegetation is dry woodland. The soils are light and sandy and the land forms consist of low sand covered hills. The area is said too, to be swept by drying North Easterly winds.

In a paper entitled Forest change in a subtropical moist Forest of St Vincent, West Indies, co-authored by Jorge O Trevin, Kenneth P. Rodney, Amos Glasgow and Nigel Weekes referred to the King’s Hill Forest Reserve as “ one of the oldest reserves in the Caribbean and the oldest protected area of St. Vincent & the Grenadines”. In their paper the soil of the Reserve is described as being of “dark brown loam of friable consistence, humic changing toward a dark brown, sandy clay loam at 30 cm depth and a yellowish red sandy clay loam at 45cm depth”.

In that same paper it was stated that in the area of the King’s Hill Forest Reserve the annual precipitation in the area of the Reserve is 1739 cm and that the mean annual temperature is around 26.7c.

Today some 230 years have passed and King’s Hill Forest reserve stands on bravely with history on her side.

She has not been without challenges however. The SEARCHLIGHT newspaper of Friday March 19, 2010 tells of a forest fire “deep in the King’s Hill Reserve” which occurred on the previous Friday, March 12, and which burnt over an acre of Crown land. In that newspaper article, then forestry supervisor, Casmus Mcleod commenting on the damage caused by the fire said: “We cannot give a direct value due to the multiplicity of species in the area, we have species people don’t even know…their names”.

It is helpful to note here that it is said that under the Act of 1791 the penalties for breaking the environmental laws were harsh. Fees of up to £150 could be enforced, the equivalent of the cost of the purchase of an estate at that time.

It is encouraging to note also that a healthy appreciation has been engendered among the local populace by organizations such as JEMS (an acronym representative of the surroundings areas of Junction, Enhams, Mc Carthy and Stubbs). Such organizations have greatly influenced attempts at encroachment on the Reserve.

One visitor after a “deliberating” journey to the top of the Reserve described a setting where “ huge trees towered above us, reflecting the emerald green leaves in their sunlit tops… Birds provided the only sounds in the silent and still woodland where old trees, permitted a natural death, slowly decay into the earth”.

Sharon Almerigi , quoted before, stated also in her article that the National Trust and local foresters would like the Reserve to remain “undisturbed” as it has been for the past number of years but some “grassroot organizations” within the surrounding communities would like “to see the woodland used for eco-tourism”.

I was always curious to know what lies on the slopes of the King’s Hill Forest Reserve and did hear that two graves are to be found there, one of them belonging to a former estate owner.

Whatever treasures or secrets the Forest may hold only time would reveal.

What the future does hold for the Reserve is yet left to be played out and would be influenced greatly by the continued awareness, or lack thereof, to what this site was designated to achieve at its enactment.

As time presses on it is my deepest wish that the birds would continue to sing, that the wildlife would boom, that flora and fauna may thrive and that the Hill would ever alert me of the impending rain!!.