Asa Wright Nature Centre: an old house and a dream

The Asa Wright Nature Centre in Trinidad celebrates its 40th anniversary with activities

  • A sleepy young porcupine nestles in the branches of a tree at Asa Wright. Photograph by Harold Diaz
  • A male red-legged honeycreeper displays his spectacular cerulean blue plumage. Photograph by Harold Diaz

It’s 40 years since Trinidad’s Asa Wright Nature Centre was opened at the old plantation house of Springhill, now 100 years old.

To mark these anniversaries, the centre, situated on a former cocoa, coffee and citrus estate, has been running a year-long series of events including competitions, workshops, lectures and publication launches.

The centre’s CEO and conservation manager Dr Howard Nelson says the anniversary gives the centre a chance to reflect on its achievements. But, says Nelson, it will also “look forward and understand what the challenges of conservation are now and will be in the future.”

Nestled 1,200 feet up in Trinidad’s Northern Range, amidst stunning tropical rainforest, the Asa Wright Nature Centre is about 20 miles northeast of Port of Spain, or 90 minutes by car. The centre enjoys what must be one of the most picturesque locations in the world. It has become renowned as a place to view hundreds of the Caribbean’s most beautiful bird species, as well as one of the world’s few accessible oilbird colonies.

Asa Wright’s original charter was limited to preserving an area of the Arima Valley for conservation, recreation and education. Modern threats such as deforestation and habitat destruction mean that mandate has expanded.

“To protect biological diversity here, we have to protect other areas of the country as well,” says Nelson. “You can’t look at an area like the Arima Valley in isolation, because we now know that you need a lot of habitat to maintain biological diversity. This means working in conjunction with other bodies and organisations.”

If this conservation effort is to be successful, educating the public is key.

“I feel there is a change in public perception regarding conservation issues—you can sense it. We need to get as much information out to the public as possible, increase that level of sensitivity and awareness, and create more opportunities for people to become involved in conservation. This is the direction we should be going in over the next 40 years.”

So the centre has launched an art and essay competition on vanishing birds for all secondary schools in Trinidad and Tobago.

It aims to ensure that schoolchildren become aware of conservation issues, such as disappearing bird species, from an early age.

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“It is important to get children involved in conservation,” says Nelson, “and that’s why we want to make this an annual event. It keeps the message going beyond the 40th anniversary.”

Other events include:

• a lecture series honouring William Beebe, the naturalist and explorer who established the nature research station nearby at Simla

• a culinary week, the Taste of Asa Wright, highlighting the best in local food

• the launch of a book documenting the history of the centre, The Old House and the Dream.

On November 10 celebrations will reach their peak, at the anniversary function and lunch attended by the President of Trinidad and Tobago, Professor George Maxwell Richards. He will turn the sod for the new Jonnie Fisk Administrative Complex. Fisk, a wealthy American writer, gave the largest single donation to start the Asa Wright Centre.

The complex to be named after her will feature conference facilities, a new reception area and more administrative space for the staff. “It’s this whole idea of a fresh start again,” says Nelson. “This is the future.”

For more information on the timetable of events and on Asa Wright itself visit www.asawright.org