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UDC to Host Public Education Session in Hellshire

The Urban Development Corporation (UDC) will be staging a community engagement session for residents of Hellshire, St Catherine on Wednesday, January 30, 2013 commencing at 6:00 pm at the Hellshire Heights Community Centre. Topics to be discussed include the impact of current practices in the area such as cutting down of trees to produce charcoal, the importance of preserving protected areas, the benefits of living in these areas and also some of the prohibited activities.

UDC ranger discovers charcoal kiln
                    Charcoal Kiln in Hellshire
This community meeting forms part of a public awareness programme in the Hellshire Hills and Goat Island area, which are part of the Portland Bight Protected Area (PBPA). The UDC through funding from the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and under the auspices of the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) is currently spearheading the programme.

The UDC has further increased its efforts to educate the populace of the Hellshire Hills by combining resources with the project entitled ‘Mitigating the Threats of the Invasive Alien Species (IAS) in the Insular Caribbean” (MTIASIC). The MTIASIC project is also funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF), Centre for Agricultural Bio-Science International (CABI) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and is being implemented by NEPA.

The IAS project goal is to conserve globally important ecosystems and reduce the threat to the various animals and plants found within the Caribbean, some of which are endangered. An example of the implementation of control and management of IAS includes the consumption of the invasive Lionfish.

As part of the public education drive, the UDC team has already conducted a survey of over 600 residents in the environs of the Hellshire Hills to determine baseline awareness. The survey covered areas such as what is a protected area the benefits of living in such an area and the role of respondents in preserving the unique species in the area.

   Endangered Jamaican Iguana

The findings showed that approximately 40% of residents incorrectly understood protected areas as being associated with socio-cultural issues such as crime and violence, therefore validating the need for a public awareness campaign on national protected areas. The survey findings are further being used to shape the campaign and redress the shortfalls in the knowledge and practices of residents. Intervention strategies thus far include 5 community education meetings held in Greater Portmore, Bridgeport/Port Henderson, Hellshire, Dunbeholden and Old Harbour Bay.

The UDC was entrusted with the environmental management of the area in 1999 through the NEPA and has been working with stakeholders and users of the area to carefully balance the development of urban settlements with the delicate ecology of the area in a sustainable manner.