Restoration of Uplands Park’s Garry Oak ecosystem pays off

The park is now home to about 25 species of rare plants

Friends of Uplands Park volunteers work to remove invasive species on Oct. 14. Shown here are Barb Currie, left, Anna Graham and Chris Graham. Seen in background is Sandy Currie. (Ron Carter)

Work to restore the Garry oak ecosystem at Uplands Park over the past 25 years has paid off, according to a University of Victoria professor.

Brian Starzomski, Ian McTaggart Cowan professor of biodiversity conservation and ecological restoration, says that about 95 per cent of Canada’s Garry oak habitat – a very rare habitat type – has been utterly destroyed or heavily degraded. Threats include habitat loss and invasive species.

“Garry oak ecosystems are filled with all kinds of very threatened plant species, so when people do restoration like it’s been done at Uplands Park, it really improves the health of the ecosystem and removes invasive species that change the chemistry of the soil and causes of a lot of [plant] species to decline in numbers,” he said.

“And so because so much Garry oak habitat – more than 95 per cent – has been destroyed or degraded, the remaining habitat like Uplands Park is really important,” he added.

Uplands Park is currently home to 25 species of rare plants. The park also attracts avid birders hoping to catch a glimpse of the many rare birds that have been spotted over the past few years.

The most significant of these rare bird sightings, which occurred earlier this month, was a female pine bunting. This is considered the first sighting of the bird south of Alaska.

READ MORE: Rare bird sightings drawing avid birders to Uplands Park in Oak Bay

READ MORE: Climate change not a huge factor in Oak Bay’s rare bird sightings: UVic professor

Work to restore the park’s Garry oak ecosystem began in 1992 when Margaret Lidkea, now Friends of Uplands Park chair, received permission to take Girl Guides into the park to remove invasive scotch broom.

Every year since then she has run an annual weekend blitz to remove the park’s invasive species.

“The Garry oak ecosystem has the greatest diversity of all the ecosystems in Canada and is the second most endangered,” she told Oak Bay News.

Lidkea co-founded Friends of Uplands Park in 2010 with a mission to provide opportunities for stewardship, education and inspiration.

In 2017 alone, the group organized 152 events, including 103 school programs, 10 bird walks, several public education events with partnerships, and many public opportunities for volunteers to help restore the Garry oak ecosystem.

Every year the District of Oak Bay’s Parks and Recreation department applies for a federal grant to support the park’s restoration work. This grant pays for an expert to develop an invasive management plan, and a crew on contract to remove invasive plants in sensitive areas. However, most of the restoration work is done by volunteers and students.

“It’s remarkable that Friends of Uplands Park have done such a wonderful job with their partners of doing restoration there,” said Starzomski. “It’s also amazing the number of young people, especially birders, reminding us of just how important these relatively intact ecosystems are on Vancouver Island.”

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