|Table 2. Summary of provisional species richness of Hidden Valley|
|No. of Species||Globally threatened||Belizean Endemic|
|Butterflies & moths||49||126||0||0||0||0|
|C = confirmed in HV; L = Likely total based on nearby records and those from Hidden Valley|
Evaluation of The Protected Area
Hidden Valley provides a number of important goods and services for the local area and the country as a whole.
Maintenance of Biological Diversity
Due to its proximity to the Maya Mountain Massif, Belize’s most important group of terrestrial protected areas and its altitudinal gradient, Hidden Valley contributes to the protection of very high species richness as summarized in Table 2. Importantly, the area is likely to house 5 endemic species and 5 globally threatened species (listed as being Critically Endangered, Endangered or Vulnerable by IUCN, 2010).
However, on its own, Hidden Valley ecosystems would not be able to maintain viability and could slowly lose their species composition and thus their functionality if they were to be ecologically disconnected from surrounding ecosystems. Thus maintenance of connectivity with lowland broadleaf forests such as Tapir Mountain Nature Reserve and the upland pine forests of the Mountain Pine Ridge is essential for preserving biodiversity.
Stock Populations for Heavily Used Resources
As there are very low levels of hunting, fishing and unauthorized collection of any plant materials within its area compared with , Hidden Valley serves as a core protection area (alongside MPRFR and BRO) and thus a stock of game, non-timber forest products and lumber for nearby areas. The importance of this will continue to grow as pressure on local natural resources continues to increase from population growth, and populations of impacted species may need to recolonise from within the protected area.
Reliable Source of Clean Water:
The Barton Creek flows into the Belize River and is protected by Hidden Valley to some extent, thereby benefiting a number of communities with crystal-clear water for drinking, recreation, washing and agriculture. In particular, as the source of the Barton Creek, the area provides clean water year round.
The forests of HV keep erosion at minimal levels, especially by reducing landslides on the very steep slopes of the northern Maya Mountain escarpment and protecting riparian areas. This thereby reduces sedimentation of rivers and downstream impacts.
As Belize’s population expansion continues to force people to live in areas that are more hazardous, and global climate change continues to produce more extreme weather, maintenance of natural ecosystems plays a frontline role in ensuring the safety of those living nearby. For example, in times of heavy rain, HV’s ecosystems help to slow the passage of water as well as prevent high levels of sediment runoff, especially on the landslide-susceptible steep slopes of the escarpment.
As deforestation throughout Belize continues to exponentially grow, the genetic resources of many native species are being lost before it they are known. Hidden Valley serves as a stock of genetic resources both in its sub-montane and lowland areas for the benefit of current and future generations. For example, genetic material from tropical forests may be used to find resistant crop species in the future.
Recent evidence indicates that there may be a global decline in pollinators, which would have a significant impact on seed and fruit production. Whilst the ecology of pollinators within Belize are not understood well, Hidden Valley may play a role in maintaining populations of pollinators, thereby benefiting nearby agricultural areas.
Throughout the world removal of natural vegetation has resulted in climate change at a number of scales from local reduction in rainfall to a contribution to global climate change. By maintaining natural vegetation, effective management of HV helps to mitigate both of these.
Air Quality Maintenance:
Ecosystems such as those of Hidden Valley are able to assist in the absorption of global levels of tropospheric ozone, ammonia, Nitrous oxides, Sulphur dioxide, methane and particulates. Moreover, effective fire management also helps to reduce the number of large intense fires that ‘smoke-out’ nearby areas.
Not only does Hidden Valley provide exceptional aesthetic value to its visitors, but can be seen.
Recreation and Tourism:
The hundreds of visitors that stay at the Inn every year are attracted by the areas extraordinary vistas, waterfalls, and ecosystems.
Almost all of the visitors to Hidden Valley leave with a greater appreciation for natural landscapes then when they arrive, as a result of both information being given during. guided tours as well as being immersion in the nature of the area.
|Table 5. Ecosystems of Hidden Valley|
|Ecosystem||Unesco Class||Unesco CODE||Size - acres|
|Lowland broad leaved moist forest||Tropical evergreen seasonal broad-leaved lowland hill forest, Simarouba-Terminalia variant||IA2a(1)(a)-ST|
|Submontane pine-forest||Tropical evergreen seasonal mixed submontane forest||IA2b(1/2)|
|Submontane pine-forest||Tropical evergreen seasonal needle-leaved submontane forest||IA2b(2)|
|Submontane broad leaved moist forest||Tropical evergreen seasonal broad-leaved submontane forest, Simarouba-Terminalia variant||IA2b(1)- ST|
|Sub-montane Lake||Water body||S.A.||2.93 acres|
|Submontane headwater stream||River||S.A.1.a.|
|Lowland headwater stream||River||S.A.1.a.|
|Macadamia nuts and coffee agriculture||Woody perennial crops||SPA.(2). c.|
WWF (2001) identified three eco regions within Belize, two of which are present in Hidden Valley. Both ‘Belizean Pine Forest’ and ‘Petén-Veracruz Moist Forest’ are both listed as having a global status ‘critical/endangered’. Eco regions are large scale units of biological organization, consisting of large geographic areas which contain numerous ecosystems with similar species, dynamics and environmental conditions.
Belizean Pine Forests:
The pine forests of Belize, including those of the Mountain Pine Ridge, are one of a few examples of pre-montane forests in the Neo tropics. The eco region is characterized by the predominance of Caribbean pine (Pinus caribeae), with patches of Pinus oocarpa, as well as a number of endemics.
Peten Veracruz Moist Forests:
This eco region stretches covers Belize’s broadleaf forests and extends through to the southern border of Guatemala into southern Mexico. Comprised of tropical forest, bajo, wetland and riparian habitats, it is particularly threatened because Guatemala and Belize and have the two of the three highest deforestation rates in Central America. Indeed Belize lost an average of 2.3% annually in the 1990s (FAO, 2001).
Numerous attempts have been made to map the ecosystems of the areas. Means (1997) identified 15 different habitat types in the Mountain pine ridge. However, some of these habitats are very small (< 1 acre in total) or not found within Hidden Valley. However, the most recent and definitive one dates from 2001, (revised in 2004) by Meerman & Sabido who identified six terrestrial ecosystems in the area, a map of which is presented in Map 14 of Appendix 1 (volume 2). Similarly, Esselman et al., (2005) developed an aquatic ecosystem map for the country. Again, this is fairly coarse scale, and identified only 2 ecosystem types: for submontane and lowland streams. Based on these, and a site visit to the area, 7 major natural ecosystems are identified within Hidden Valley as listed in Table 5 and mapped out in Figure 12 plus one agricultural land-use. Detailed ecosystem profiles are included in Appendix 2 (volume 2).