Oak Bay Parks will close the central meadow of Uplands Park from visitors during the wet season to protect the endangered ecosystem. (Wylie Thomas Photo)

Sensitive meadow ecosystem in Oak Bay park closed for second winter

Closure works to protect Uplands Park’s central meadow

For the second straight winter season Oak Bay Parks is closing off the central meadow in Uplands Park.

No people, nor dogs, will be permitted within the meadow as foot traffic in wet season damages the park’s rare and sensitive ecosystem.

While it is the second straight season closing the meadow, it is part of a restoration process that’s been running for years.

READ MORE: Oak Bay closes parts of Uplands for preservation

Dogs and invasive plants are the two greatest threats to the ecosystem and thanks to volunteer efforts the invasive species are on the decline. Last year the Friends of Uplands Park held more than 169 events and contributed more than 1,600 hours of volunteer labour that removed invasive plants from the park. Oak Bay Parks Department has also made a considerable investment, as has the federal government’s Habitat Stewardship Program.

“Uplands Park is an ecological treasure of national significance,” said Wylie Thomas, advocate for the park’s restoration.

It boasts one the highest concentrations of endangered plant species in Canada, Thomas noted.

“The park is also home to a rare complex of Garry oak meadows and woodlands, maritime meadows and vernal pools, which once covered a much greater part of our region,” he said.

Garry oak ecosystems have shrunk by more than 95 per cent since settlers arrived on the West Coast. Uplands Park contains a sizeable piece of the only remaining Garry oak ecosytems.

READ MORE: Uplands Park champion wins provincial award

The park itself features native plants such as yarrow, California brome, common camas, long-stoloned sedge, field chickweed, California oatgrass, blue wildrye, wild strawberry, Western rush, junegrass, barestem desert-parsley, spring gold, many-flowered wood-rush, graceful cinquefoil, Western buttercup, Pacific sanicle, fool’s onion, Garry oak, black hawthorn and Hooker’s onion.

The Central Meadow has the greatest diversity of flowering plants and is home to 17 endangered species of plant, Thomas said.

The closure runs from November to mid-April “a time when the meadow is at its wettest, its soils most vulnerable to damage and its native plants most susceptible to trampling.”

The results have been successful, parks manager Chris Hyde-Lay said.

“A lot of native plants took advantage and came back this year,” he said.

The trial closure showed a significant reduction in damage to soil and native plants, allowing more meadow flowers to reach maturity and set seed.

“It is important to note the impact of dog runs on meadows,” Thomas said. “Running dogs churn up soil and destroy emerging native wildflowers, creating conditions that favour the establishment and spread of non-native invasive grasses which, over time, will replace the park’s Garry oak meadows.”

Oak Bay Parks also request park goers refrain from throwing balls for dogs anywhere in the park.

Thomas noted Beacon Hill and Finlayson Point as examples of how soon camas fields, which are thousands of years old, can turn into grass fields through overuse as an off-leash dog area.

Beacon Hill had a camas-filled field just 50 years ago. Restoration therefore relies not only on Uplands Park volunteers but on the care of visitors.

Thomas pointed to the work of former Victoria botanist Chris Brayshaw, who was a proponent of protecting meadows from human destruction beofre he died in 2015.

“We should not confuse the right of use with the right to cause damage,” Brayshaw said.

Anyone interested volunteering can email Friends of Uplands Park’s president Margaret Lidkea at mlidkea@shaw.ca or visit friendsofuplandspark.org.

Central meadow is one of several meadows being restored in the park.

– With files from Christine van Reeuwyk

reporter@oakbaynews.com

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