Striking a Balance

With Mayne Island property owners aware that 30% of the land here is dedicated to human use, they are motivated to look for ways to strike a balance between nature conservation and development. This leads to all kinds of practical questions, such as: How do we build and maintain a house, septic, and food garden while leaving space for nature? How do we identify invasive plants and remove them? And how do we restore natural habitats on our property? Being a good land steward is not easy with the persistent realities of habitat loss and fragmentation, invasive species, hyperabundant deer, and climate change. However, it is possible to address these issues with a thoughtful approach that includes design and building consultants, and support from the Mayne Island Conservancy. 

Photo: Michael Dunn

Placing a Home

When building a new home or cottage one of the first considerations is its placement on the site and resulting changes to the topography, for the differences it makes aesthetically, environmentally, and economically. This analysis can be done with your architect, builder, landscape architect and/or garden designer before the site plan is finalized. A thoughtful plan will locate the septic system to ensure the least impact, preserving the existing hydrology and groundwater recharge and maintaining a natural pattern of slopes from one property to the next. This in turn can minimize the need for retaining walls and removal of existing vegetation. This in turn preserves privacy. Avoiding impermeable surfaces reduces runoff while reducing construction costs.

Retaining Trees

Once the location of the house is set, the other important matter is deciding how to retain and/or plant the “right” trees in the “right” places. These trees moderate the microclimate, so homes and cottages are warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer. The comfort is real and cost savings are well established. They also absorb water from the soil and release it into the air, which increases oxygen levels and local humidity, cooling the air while reducing surface run-off and erosion. At the same time, trees absorb carbon dioxide, thus contributing to the fight against global warming and climate change. By retaining existing trees, we prevent warming of the soil, and the loss of moisture and biodiversity that happens when land is cleared. Well placed trees screen views into and through properties, providing invaluable privacy in garden spaces and within homes. At the same time, they offer shelter and habitat for birds, small mammals, insects, and soil organisms. And there are few investments we make in our homes that become more valuable over time thus increasing property values. Trees accomplish this while offering everchanging beauty from one season to the next. 

By nurturing healthy trees native to the Coastal Douglas fir forest, you are protecting one of the rarest ecosystems in the world. So, once you’ve decided to save a group of existing trees, it’s important to establish and defend protection zones around them during construction. This is because the root zone of most trees is shallow and extensive (like a wine glass on a tray), and damage to roots can take months or years to become visible. Preventing compaction in the root zone, and access to air and moisture is much easier to prevent than to undo! The first step is to determine locations for loading sites and material / machine storage before any work begins, and to insist that these be respected by all trades on site. It is also important to minimize paved driveways, patios and paths. An architect or experienced builder with a landscape architect and civil engineer can help a property owner find the best position for a home or cottage. And a landscape architect, garden designer and/or arborist can help with tree selection and placement.


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