Student broom removal Mt Tolmie. Shanna Baker photo

Student broom removal Mt Tolmie. Shanna Baker photo

Pulling Together: Saanich and community volunteers boost local biodiversity

The stately Garry oak, with its wide-spreading limbs and green summer canopy, is an iconic species here on Southern Vancouver Island. At its foot you’ll often find spring-blooming blue camas, a traditional food source for Indigenous peoples, shooting stars, Easter lilies, western buttercup and more.

The Garry oak ecosystem is concentrated here on the south Island, where it’s well-adapted to our dry summers and wet winters, says Nathalie Dechaine, Saanich Parks’ Manager of Community Development and Business Systems. In fact, whether you’re a newcomer or life-long resident, that ecosystem is recognized as a key feature of our small corner of the earth. “I think we live in one of the most special places in the world.”

The challenge is that due to pressures like urbanization and invasive species, less than five per cent of this unique ecosystem remains, Nathalie says.

The good news is that we can all take steps to support biodiversity, in our own yards and in our community.

Pulling Together!

What makes a plant invasive has much to do with its runaway success, rather than its lack of value. Dandelions’ cheerful yellow blooms are popular with bees, for example, and its leaves valued as salad greens, but left unchecked, can soon become a headache and displace the species unique to this area. The same goes for eager species like Himalayan blackberries, ivy, Scotch broom and Daphne.

While many of these were introduced as “garden ornamentals,” so may be attractive, their rampant, unchecked growth presents a real problem for local biodiversity, out-competing native trees, shrubs and flowers that provide food and shelter for pollinators, birds and other wildlife.

“We can all do our part to help manage species,” Nathalie says. As we move away from chemical controls, measures like deadheading seed sources or digging out roots can control their spread. Pulling ivy, broom, purple loosestrife, yellow flag iris and others at home will also limit their spread to public areas.

Saanich also offers many opportunities for those who’d like to deepen their Natural Intelligence and connection with nature. The Pulling Together program invites you to “come work your muscles and your mind,” volunteering on high rocky outcrops, creek-side forests, wetlands, wildflower meadows and waterways to remove invasive species and plant native trees and shrubs.

Growing strong since 1999, this hands-on, inclusive, ecological restoration program has worked in 55 different parks and natural areas in Saanich, and compliments Saanich Parks’ efforts to improve habitat, and educational endeavours about parks, invasive species and ecological restoration.

The program also capitalizes on the best way to control invasives at different times of year. For example, tackling blackberries in the spring can disrupt nesting birds. And while sunny weather might get people thinking about working outside, the dry ground would be extremely difficult to work without unintentionally creating collateral damage to other species, or disturbing the soil and creating ideal conditions for invasive species to prosper, Nathalie explains.

Knowledge about our unique ecosystems, combined with some educated efforts can go a long way to enhancing our local biodiversity in our parks and in our gardens. These collective efforts give us hope through our actions to help address the unsettling trends of biodiversity loss and provide resilience to our changing climate.

To learn more about Pulling Together, visit online, call 250-475-5522 or email

More ways to develop your Natural Intelligence

Others support Saanich’s ecosystems by participating in the District’s Native Plant Salvage Program and the Park Ambassador Program, which has volunteers out in locations like Mount Douglas Park to share information and raise awareness about the area.

To learn more about invasive species in Saanich, including wildlife-friendly and water-wise native options, visit the Saanich Naturescape Program online.

READ MORE: Be local + Bee happy: Incorporating native plants into the home garden