A large part of Trelawny, a remote, rugged tropical forest known as the Cockpit Country, remains largely inaccessible. It has been designated a world heritage site by the UN, and was the first site selected by the USAID for its Parks in Peril Program in the year 2000. The Cockpit Country is an area of outstanding ecological and cultural significance. It contains a vast number of endemic plant and animal species. The topology forms one of the most spectacular karst landscape in the world and is the premier "type-example" of the cockpit style of polygonal karst.
The Cockpit Country covers 430 square km of evergreen seasonal forest, limestone cliffs and landslide vegetation. A rugged landscape of residual hills and cockpit depressions dominate the topology.The Karst terrain is formed from the erosion of the limestone bedrock.
The resulting caves and sinkholes serves as an integral part of an hydrological system that replenishes the aquifers of five major rivers: Black River, Great River, Montego River,Hector's River, the Martha Brae River. The Cockpit Country highlights Jamaica's spectacular endemism. Over 100 of the plant species are found no where else in the world, and even individual hilltops claim their own unique species. There are more fern species, relative to the area, than in any other rain forest in the tropics There is a large diversity of amphibians and reptiles, and the diverse vegetation is an ideal habitat for the 28 Jamaican endemic land birds.
The Cockpit Country is the stronghold for many of the Island's vulnerable species such as Black-billed Parrots, Yellow-billed parrots, the Jamaican boa snake, and the giant Swallowtail butterfly.
The difficult and sometimes inaccessible terrain has limited the large-scale clearing and permanent dwellings within the Cockpit Country. However, human alterations are evident in some clearing for agriculture, and in an extensive trail system.
In the 1700's, the Maroons used the area as a base in their military campaign again the British army and ensuing treaties gave the Maroons a degree of autonomy, and resulted in permanent settlements such as Accompong.
Some of the main communities in Trelawny include Maroon Town, Sherwood Content, Windsor, Clarkes Town, Alps, Albert Town, and Troy. The Cockpit Country has been under consideration for designation as a national park for more than 20 years. The economics of land use vs conservation, as well as an impending agreement with the Maroons are some of the difficulties that must be addressed. The failure of Government to legislate mechanisms in the interest of the environment has so far stall efforts to develop a sustained funding policy.
Much of the hydrological connectivity is based on underground passages and fissures, and the system is highly prone to damage through in-filling and siltation. More studies are required for a better understanding of the system in order to effect maintenance. Due to its remoteness and inaccessibility, most of the Cockpit Country has been insufficiently studied. The biological diversity and cultural heritage is of irreplaceable value. New species continue to be discovered. The prospect for ecotourism, and the exploration and harvesting of natural products for nutritional and medicinal purposes are immense.