Help restore—or just enjoy—one of the most intact Garry oak meadows on the island.
LOOKING FOR MORE nature-bathing time? Residents can now socialize while staying safe during BC’s Phase 2 reopening. Margaret Lidkea, president of the Friends of Uplands Park Society is looking for more volunteers to help restore and maintain the beauty of Cattle Point and Uplands Park in Oak Bay. A 30.6 hectare municipal park, Uplands contains 17 rare plants in its vernal, shallow and deep soil meadows, and is one of the most intact representations of a south coast Garry oak meadow ecosystem on the island. In spring and summer, wave after wave of wildflowers bloom in its meadows. It’s one of the most spectacular wild areas on the South Island.
Lidkea’s education and restoration programs came to a halt in March during BC’s COVID-19 lockdown. During the spring’s sensitive wildflower season, the society managed to get materials to rope off the most delicate and threatened areas of the park—including the main meadow—in anticipation of increased traffic from residents looking for places to escape their homes while physically distancing. Still, damage was done, as is being recorded in parks around the region.
“Camas and other plants have undergone a challenge this year. There were many new visitors, and some trampled the wildflowers on the edges of the paths” in their attempts to distance from others. “We are hoping [the plants] will recover,” says Lidkea.
Now that BC has graduated to Phase 2 of its reopening plan, Lidkea has restarted the Society’s volunteer program, as the park gives residents a perfect opportunity to physically distance while helping contribute to restoration projects. “It’s important we honour everyone’s needs,” she tells me by phone, “as some people are very anxious. We have to be cautious.” Still, Lidkea feels comfortable, given the precautions she is now taking. All materials are quarantined between events. No tarpaulins are being used, and a limited number of people can join each work party.
Lidkea’s funding comes from the Federal Habitat Stewardship Project, Trees Canada, Telus and Oak Bay municipality.
This past year, the Society began a larger restoration project in an area of the park overgrown with invasive species, including Norway maple, blackberry and Sow thistles. They removed 307 maples last year, and this August, a few more will come down. When I visited in April, the newly cleared area was already thick with new plantings of native sea blush, camas and other native species, as well as several sapling Garry oaks.
Wylie Thomas and Matt Fairbairns, two local ecologists, serve on the Friends of Uplands Park board. “I feel very, very blessed to have such expertise,” Lidkea says. Thomas is keeping a record of rare plants and their yearly numbers. “COVID is going to trigger austerity,” says Lidkea. She worries that environmental programs and protections will be the first to be cut as the country attempts to restart the economy.
Uplands has one of the greatest concentrations of rare species in all of Canada, including tall woolly-heads (Psilocarphus elatior) and Macoun’s meadowfoam (Limnanthes Macounii), and until recently was home to one of only four populations in the world of Victoria’s owl clover (Castilleja victoriae). The latter was destroyed by foot traffic in Uplands Park’s vernal pools.
Victoria’s owl clover (Castilleja victoriae). (Photo courtesy of COSEWIC)
The park has also been plagued with invasive species such as Daphne laureola, Himalayan blackberry, English ivy and carpet burweed, all of which have had special removal attention from volunteer parties since the Friend’s formation in 2009.
In June, volunteers have been working in a rare species meadow, helping to remove crow garlic. Crow garlic sends up a stalk of tiny purple flowers that emerge from a cluster of bulblets, The bulblets develop green sprouts like the tails of a meteor, then eventually fall and colonize the surrounding area. Lidkea thinks that its presence may have resulted in decreases in the number of native flowers, which compete for space in the meadows.
If you would like to help, send Margaret an email and grab some gardening gloves. “I know people are finding out the value of families and friendships during this pandemic,” she says. She hopes they also recognize the value of parks, and the volunteer hours that keep them beautiful. Events will continue every couple of weeks through the summer.
Maleea Acker is the author of Gardens Aflame: Garry Oak Meadows of BC’s South Coast, which just entered its second printing. She is still a PhD student. She’s also a lecturer in Geography, Canadian Studies, and Literature, at UVic and Camosun.