Henderson Hill Community Park is a place of great natural diversity. Vulture Ridge faces south into the unrelenting summer sun, plants clinging to thin soils subjected to an extended drought each year. A short distance downslope, conditions are very different. Here a small wetland is home to plants rooted in wet soils all year long and endangered red-legged frogs sound their underwater mating calls. Despite its small size, Henderson Hill provides suitable habitat for a remarkable number of different species that call Mayne Island home.
When the Park was donated to the Community in 2006 as part of an agreement to subdivide a larger parcel of land, the human community of Mayne Island gained a valuable place to engage in low-impact recreation activities such as hiking and wildlife viewing. However, the park and surrounding areas were logged in 2005, immediately before the land became a community park. Following the logging invasive species such as Scotch broom quickly spread on soils compacted by logging trucks and excavators, and intense pressure from deer slowed the natural recovery of native plants.
Since 2006, the Conservancy and Parks and Recreation Commission have worked together to restore natural plant communities across the park’s varied ecosystems. Over the years we have been joined by dozens of volunteers who have contributed hundreds of hours. Together we have planted hundreds of trees and protected them from the deer while they were young. In recent years we have been able to remove the individual cages protecting the young trees as we watch them grow towards the sky.
Unfortunately, deer can negatively impact tree growth in more ways than one. When we removed the protective cages in one part of the park, despite not being able to reach the tops of the trees, the deer killed them by rubbing away bark with their antlers. Watching the trees we had carefully tended for years die from antler rub was the final straw: it was time for serious measures!
In the fall of 2018, we constructed a fence in partnership with neighbours Kathy Baylis and Don Fullerton. The fence enclosed a one-acre area with some of the deepest soils in the park, along the edge of the wetland. With some minor maintenance the fence has been completely effective at keeping the deer out, and the native plants within the fenced area have responded amazingly well. Not only are the many planted trees and shrubs thriving, but there is also an increasingly abundant natural regrowth of understory species. Many native species filling in the fenced area, such as thimbleberry and black capped raspberry, are abundant in similar environments elsewhere. On Mayne these plants are rarely seen because of heavy deer browse.
Unfortunately, native plants are not the only plants whose growth was being limited by the deer. Exotic invasive species such as Himalayan blackberry and sweet-briar rose also love the sunny wet soils at the site. Following the installation of the fence these species began to take over. In recent months volunteers and staff have spent 45 hours digging up these tenacious thorny invaders, making sure the desired native plants have room to grow. Over time, conditions at the site will become shaded, favouring native understory species over Scotch broom and Himalayan blackberry.
It’s rewarding to see the regrowth of native plants following our efforts, and even more rewarding to see birds nesting and feeding, amphibians thriving, and an abundance of native insects finding homes here. Though plants are often the focus of our restoration efforts, the goal is to create habitats for all the different species that rely on these environments, including humans. To join our weekly volunteer events in the new year, send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll add you to the mailing list for event notifications.