Soil and cricket headache

What took place

An International Cricket Council (ICC) pitch consultant condemned Bermuda’s cricket grounds as “more suitable for growing carrots.”  This naturally caused a major headache because Bermuda is scheduled to host some matches leading up to the World Cup cricket next year.

The island cannot afford to lose those prestigious matches so what to do? The authorities decided on importing soil for the cricket pitches.

But this has caused concern. Bermuda’s farmers, a conservationist and a former Director of Agriculture said importing soil for cricket posed a serious environmental threat.

Farmers first feared an invasion of harmful pests from foreign soil when the ICC pitch consultant condemned Bermuda’s cricket grounds and now local food producers made their strongest case yet that Government’s plan for soil importation could kill not only traditional farming but potentially every crop on the Island.

Tom Wadson, president of the Farmers Association said if soil was imported from the Caribbean there was the possibility a pink mealy bug – which can even feed on poisonous Oleander – could decimate local crops.

Mr. Wadson said importing soil for cricket would set a bad precedent. “If this sort of stuff is allowed to come in here, it’s just beyond ridiculous,” he complained. “We are obliged to protect this Island. You just can’t do this over a game of cricket.”

He went on to say if the soil was treated it would just be an inert material and defeat the purpose of importation. He said it had to be treated because it contained more “nasty bacteria” than cow manure.

“Local soil must do the job for the National Sports Centre,” Mr. Wadson continued. “If the soil is slightly deficient for the National Sports Centre we could always add to it with permissible amendments approved by the Department of Environmental Protection.”

The Farmers Association pointed out that “Foreign soil may contain bacteria, fungi or nematodes which could devastate the Island, as took place with the Bermuda cedar tree epidemic from 1944 to 1952 and the sweet potato white fly which wiped out poinsettia plants on their way to Bermuda as recently as Christmas 2005,” farmers said.
According to the law, carrots and fresh corn were not allowed in because of harmful insects.

The farmers said no other developed countries in the world allowed foreign soil into their country and there were many clay rich areas of soil – at Walsingham, for example – already here.

“Despite the fact that the Minister of Community Affairs and Sport said that they are continuing to consult with farmers, we have heard nothing from him or the Government for months,” they said.

“We are being kept in the dark and are concerned because we don’t know what’s going on behind closed doors.”

Farmers felt the National Sports Centre was placing all life on the Island at risk because it was too much work to invest in Bermuda soil.

The Government presented the soil importation like it had already been decided but before anyone was consulted, Mr. Wadson said.

There was no word from National Sports Centre officials about their intentions.

Commentators’ views

“The Government wants to break the law (by importing soil)” Tom Wadson, president of the Farmers Association, said. “But this law is in place for a good reason.”

He spoke about insect pests and added: “If they get here what will we do? Spray the whole place with chemicals just to keep that in check? How do you want to die here?” he asked. “The fact this is even being discussed appalls me.”

The Farmers Association said in a release that Bermudans might wake up one day to find that Bermuda could not longer grow food. And this can stem from pests contained in imported soil.

Government presented the soil importation like it had already been decided but before anyone was consulted, they stated.

“I am strongly opposed to the importation of foreign soil,” Edward Manuel, a former Director of Agriculture, Fisheries and Parks said in a press release. “It presents a high risk to Bermuda’s existing flora and could readily lead to the destruction of our crops and the ornamental shrubs and trees that make Bermuda so beautiful.”

He said if soil was imported all of Government’s quarantine programmes may as well be scrapped. “The importation of foreign soil has been prohibited for decades because it is universally known to be a great danger,” Mr. Manuel said.

Former Conservation Officer Dr.David Wingate agreed. “It’s extremely difficult to prevent new pests from arriving in soil unless it is thoroughly sterilised and that would be virtually impossible with large quantities of soil.

“The greatest environmental crisis that we are facing in Bermuda today is that caused by introduced and invasive species,” Dr. Wingate said. “Once established, most are impossible to eradicate again and we are stuck with the problems they cause forever. Hence I’m strongly opposed to this proposed importation. If it’s a kind of clay soil that is needed, the Walsingham soil is a red clay soil and might serve the same end.”