Involving local communities in protecting natural and cultural heritage

Susan Otuokon
Published: 03 February 2016
Last edited: 12 April 2018
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The Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park and World Heritage Site (BJCMNP), in protecting the natural and cultural heritage of the site just inscribed on the World Heritage List, works closely with the Windward Maroons who revere these mountains which provided all they needed to establish their culture and secure their sovereignty through guerilla warfare and eventual signing of a Peace Treaty in 1739. The Park provides capacity building and support for alternative livelihoods and projects.


Scale of implementation
Forest ecosystems
Temperate evergreen forest
Access and benefit sharing
Cities and infrastructure
Indigenous people
Outreach & communications
Protected area management planning
Sustainable tourism
World Heritage


Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park, Portland Parish, Jamaica


Poverty, harmful agricultural practices, limited PA management and funding were the three main challenges. The rural communities of the Blue and John Crow Mountains are mainly poor, small farmers whose agricultural practices threaten the values that the National Park was established to preserve. The Government of Jamaica has limited funds for management of the National Park. There is a need to generate support and income for the National Park and the local communities using sustainable approaches.


Windward Maroon communities and other local communities.

How do the building blocks interact?

The three building blocks are closely related and operate in an integrated fashion. Building relationships requires listening and understanding community needs and interests and helping them to achieve their development goals (in ways that will also benefit National Park management). The first step however, is building the relationship – meeting and communicating. This will eventually lead to working together on mutually beneficial activities particularly those which strengthen the ability of local communities to generate income to improve their livelihoods in ways which preserve and promote natural and cultural heritage.


The BJCMNP is managed by an NGO, the Jamaica Conservation and Development Trust (JCDT) on behalf of the government. The JCDT’s community outreach focuses on the Windward Maroon communities because their cultural heritage is being protected and has helped protect the natural heritage of the site. The involvement and benefits to these communities have made them supporters of the park. The additional income and new livelihood approaches have created greater interest from community youth resulting in cultural heritage and traditional practices being passed on more strongly and have created new economic benefits. The participation of the Maroon communities on committees helps ensure that they are kept informed and are able to provide information and recommendations on management plans and approaches. This allows the Maroon communities to guide Park management based on their knowledge and concerns and to participate in management activities e.g. monitoring and education/ public awareness. Park management support for the 4 festivals of the Maroon Councils and groups has helped strengthen the relationships between the organisation and communities.


A visit to Ambassabeth, the eco-resort operated by the Bowden Pen Farmers’ Association (BPFA), is an experience which combines the warm hospitality of a rural Jamaican community with the cultural traditions of a community proud of its Maroon heritage and views into the both ranges of the Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park. The visit will likely entail a hike on the historic Cunha Cunha Pass Trail, a walk to Sacred Site crossing Quaco River after paying respects to the Maroon warrior after whom the river is named and hopefully a sighting of the Giant Swallowtail Butterfly (Papilio homerus).The BPFA is a community-based organization formed in 2000 by a group of citizens from Millbank, Portland, in response to their concern for the destruction of forest and land degradation they saw occurring in the Rio Grande Valley. The group self-formed out of the Local Advisory Committee which the National Park management (including JCDT) had established in the area and much of their concern was based on what they had learned during meetings and the visits of researchers and observed for themselves. In addition, the group’s coordinator (Mrs. Linette Wilks) had obtained the JCDT’s technical experience in the mid-1990s regarding the possibility of an eco-resort at the site and she had later worked with the JCDT for several years as a Community Outreach Officer. In addition, JCDT assisted with writing of the proposal and support from National Park Rangers for the establishment of the Cunha Cunha Pass Trail. JCDT has worked closely with the BPFA – facilitating skills training and business planning and bringing visitors who have been able to assist the BPFA in many ways. The BPFA is usually present at the National Park’s “Misty Bliss” cultural festival and the JCDT provides a small grant towards hosting of the BPFA’s Emancipation Day event. JCDT continues to support the work of the BPFA by directing possible funding and other assistance it. The BPFA reports sightings of the Giant Swallowtail Butterfly and any breaches of legislation as well as raising awareness of their visitors about the National Park. The most recent collaboration includes a set of poster exhibits for the Visitors Centre at Ambassabeth which the BPFA contracted JCDT to produce with funds they sourced.

Contributed by

Susan Otuokon


Jamaica Conservation Development Trust