Cockpit Country is a limestone mid-elevation tropical forest in the uplands of west-central Jamaica, spanning across parts of St Elizabeth, Trelawny, and St James
The forest reserve that covers large parts of the very dense, hilly, contiguous core has been in place since the 1950s. In November 2017, however, Jamaican Prime Minister Rt Hon. Andrew Holness announced plans to designate the region as a protected area.
The boundary of Cockpit Country has been hotly disputed for over a decade. The Government of Jamaica previously recognised the geological boundary defined by geologists at Mona GIS (University of West Indies), though the team themselves have stated that the boundary is solely geological and does not incorporate the ecological and cultural features necessary to offer appropriate biodiversity protection. The Cockpit Country Stakeholder Group – a consortium of conservation researchers, state departments, local communities, and NGOs, formed as part of the Parks in Peril programme funded by The Nature Conservancy and USAID – proposed a boundary definition in 2006 that included a significant buffer region.
Read Windsor Research Centre's description of the ongoing boundary definition debate
The proposed boundary of the designated protected area is still in draft as it has to be groundtruthed. This is an arduous process in a region that has historically difficult to access and navigate and is historic home to the Leeward Maroons whose ambush, traps, and knowledge of the dense, unnavigable forest brought the British troops to near-defeat in the First Maroon war (which ended in 1738-1739). The Forestry Department is responsible for this process; click below for updates on their progress
The Forestry Department is responsible for the designation of the protected area and are currently working to groundtruth the proposed boundary. See their GIS portal here
Countermapping Cockpit is an indigenous mapping project, co-created by traditional Maroon communities that seeks to map portions of Cockpit Country South with biocultural markers, unveiling previously uncharted territory and depicting regions of spiritual, geographical, cultural, biological, and economic importance. This website serves as both a resource for conservation planners and policymakers and a voice for communities who remain unseen or voiceless for decades, with many of their words, thoughts, and concerns being mediated through actors who may (inadvertently or otherwise) distort or misrepresent them. The site is filled with videos, images, words, and stories of the Maroon team members and the researchers that work alongside (not above) them.
It is well-recognised that biological and cultural diversity are deeply intertwined and that the impending ecological crises cannot be addressed without an unwavering commitment to environmental justice (see our resources page for suggested reading). We still have some way to go to get to a better understanding of what this means in practice, how we stop reproducing centuries of colonial trauma, how we broaden our conceptions of nature and culture to stop imposing upon traditional practices our own western-centric, romantic notions of morality and sustainability, and how we can coproduce knowledge not distrust or blame.
Check out IUCN SuLi - Specialist Group for Sustainable Livelihoods - to read more about why effective conservation cannot be achieved without environmental justice
Browse UNESCOs resources around indigenous knowledge and biodiversity
Everyone positions themselves in different places in their conservation journey, we understand. Respectfully, we will not engage in debates around the rights of human beings to live in natural spaces or ways to modify the behaviour of rural communities, many of whom live in persistent poverty under increasing pressures and diminishing resources. We understand that forests must be protected, and the team involved in Countermapping Cockpit are committed to such efforts, but the threats we continue to observed are entangled in complex webs of relationships between local communities, state interventions/absence, conservation work, and large multilateral funding, as well as rapidly-shifting environmental, population baselines, and evolving political and economic contexts. Placing a spotlight on communities who are trying to survive is not only deeply unfair but quite unhelpful. We also do not seek to place blame or point fingers at researchers, small organisations, and underfunded state departments who attempt to do as much as they can with the little that they have.
This website is dedicated to the kinds of critical knowledge that can be gained from engaging with the traditional, cultural and economic activities of local communities in heavily forested and difficult to access areas. Some of the regions mapped are well inside the dense forest reserve, while others are in currently unprotected forest fragments, inaccessible by roads. We hope our dispersed findings can help efforts to determine an appropriate, safe, inclusive, justifiable boundary. This is a resource for policy-makers, conservationists, researchers and students. It features interdisciplinary information that may be useful for anthropologists, geographers, biologists, ecologists, historians, and anybody wanting to learn more about Cockpit Country and the Maroons who live there!
Invasive species are posing significant threats to populations of birds and amphibians native to Jamaica, some of which can only be found in Cockpit Country. From the cane toad, which predates upon and outcompetes critically endangered species of rain frogs, to small mammal predators (rats, mongooses, and feral cats), whose populations have spread into the forest core as nearby villages tackle their waste management systems, we take a look at the invasive species documented so far.