Vital People: Volunteers restore the sensitive McNeill Bay bluff ecosystem

Vital People: Volunteers restore the sensitive McNeill Bay bluff ecosystem
WatchDedicated volunteers are transforming the McNeill Bay bluff and restoring the sensitive ecosystem. Tess van Straaten reports.

Volunteers clear another pile of debris from along Oak Bay’s McNeill Bay.

“We are re-wilding the McNeill Bluff so we want to bring it back to a wild state,” explains volunteer team leader Jacques Sirois.

The massive undertaking involves removing invasive species, like Himalayan blackberries and English ivy, that have invaded the area for decades — pushing out native flora and fauna.

“These coastal bluffs are now rare habitat and at this point they really need our help,” Jacques  says. “They’re are extremely degraded by invasive plants, in particular.”

Dedicated volunteers started working here two years ago, clearing dense brush at Kitty Islet and transforming the area.

The bluff is their latest project and in total, volunteers have spent thousands of hours, helping to restore the sensitive McNeill Bay ecosystem.

“They’ve done tremendous amounts of work clearing huge amounts of invasive species material to make way for the native plants so they can flourish,” says Rick Marshall of the Community Association of Oak Bay.

Beautiful, wind-blown black hawthorns are one of the native species they’ve uncovered, through often back-breaking and finger-aching work.

“It is hard work,” laughs Jacques. “It qualifies as unpleasant work! But we are on a mission.”

They were also surprised to find Pacific crab apple in the area they’re currently clearing.

“I’m just blown away by it!” says volunteer Ron Carter, who was in charge of horticulture during his long career in parks and recreation. “Just coming by and seeing. its just going to make such a difference here and it’s long overdue.”

Ron is now retired and giving back has become his job.

“Volunteering is so rewarding,” he says. “It’s not connected with a pay cheque or anything other than doing what’s good for the community.”

For Rick Marshall, who’s been volunteering since he was a child, removing truck load after truck load of brush is deeply gratifying.

“It’s a tremendous sense of accomplishing something,” Rick says. “There’s the opportunity to get some exercise, socialize with neighbours and contribute to the beautification and restoration of the area. It’s very rewarding.”

This is the United Nations’ Decade for Ecosystem Restoration and this project — in Greater Victoria’s Migratory Bird Sanctuary — is part of a world-wide effort to restore natural environments.

“We know that the municipality, and all municipalities, have limited capacity, staff, and budget to do these things so if we pitch in as citizens, we can make a big difference very quickly,” Jacques says.

McNeill Bay Bluff

A wind-blown black hawthorne uncovered by volunteers at the McNeill Bay Bluff. (CHEK News)

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Tess van StraatenTess van Straaten

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