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Campus wetland restoration receives funding

February 19, 2011
By: 
Amy Dove

Water is returning to the wetlands at Royal Roads University. As it does, visitors can expect to cross paths with a diverse spectrum of song birds and water fowl, amphibians and other two legged creatures.

"It could be covered with bird watchers and children mucking about on the site," says Nancy Wilkin with a smile as she describes the future of the site. "The potential to bring back the streams are the interest of the Pacific Salmon Foundation - there are coho and cutthroat trout."

As director of the Office of Sustainability at Royal Roads, Wilkin is facilitating the Wetland Ecosystem Restoration Project. The plan has been on the books for several years, and Wilkin is happy to announce its first significant funding. The Pacific Salmon Foundation and the Vancouver Foundation - for $11,000 and $19,000 respectively - have ensured Phase 1 can move forward.

"So far (the Vancouver Foundation is) the only granting organization we have found that will fund the assessment and planning. Most want to fund the building part of it," she says. "It's just fabulous that (they) have come to the table with planning money."

Royal Roads and the many partners involved with the project can now undertake an assessment of the 10-acre wetland, once a vibrant natural ecosystem. The area was drained of water roughly a century ago to create pasture for the Dunsmuir family. There are archival images of the daughters riding there, Wilkin says.

In more recent history, the land has been left untouched. Water is returning, but invasive species have taken a strong hold and alder trees dominate it. That environment isn't supporting as many or the diversity of species that it could, Wilkin says.

Increasing the biodiversity of the area is vital, and the benefits of a healthy wetland extend beyond the creatures that live in it, says Jody Watson, harbours and watershed co-ordinator with the Capital Regional District. Wetlands store and filter water, improving the overall water quality of the area, she says. That directly impacts the wildlife in Esquimalt Lagoon, a federal migratory bird sanctuary that borders Royal Roads University. 

"The wetlands restoration is really going to help get back some of the watershed function we used to have there," she adds.

Phase 1 includes a technical assessment to provide baseline data on soils, hydrology, plants and birds. That work will include a photo display of the site and GIS mapping of the wetland ecosystem.
It is clear the land can support several types of habitats, from open wetland to cedar forest, Wilkin says. With the help of experts, the community and world renowned naturalist and artist Robert Bateman, Royal Roads will develop a site plan for the area and set about restoring it in parcels, ideally three acres at a time.

"(That approach) gives us adaptive management," she says. "We can evaluate the first three acres and modify our approach as needed."

In order to help the land return to its natural state, the streams need to be addressed first. There is adequate water flow on site, but native plant species will be added to enhance the system. That means taking out blackberry, ivy, Daphne, thistle, broom and other plants that have taken root, she adds.

"Once you have the right species and you have them established... you then attract back the species that should be on the site," she says. "We are going to immediately improve habitat for fish and migratory water fowl, we are going to attract song birds back to the site. We are going to attract amphibians and there may well be some bat species that should be there."

In addition to the technical assessment of the site, the public will be engaged through a series of community workshops, tours of the site and chances to provide feedback on the overall vision. Technical experts and local artists, will work with the community through these programs, helping inform people about the diversity and complexity of the site.

The wetlands will provide a learning opportunity to students as well, Wilkin says. Bachelor of Science students may be able to focus their major research projects there for example. "The story is still out on carbon and wetlands, so it could potentially provide an ideal research location," she adds.

Although Phase 1 is fully funded, it will require the necessary approvals from the landowner Department of National Defence and an environmental assessment process, before it can be constructed.

Anyone interested in learning more about the project or getting involved can email Nancy Wilkin. Also be sure to check us out at sustainability.royalroads.ca.