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A New SMWS Project Aims to Improve Biodiversity In the Conservation Area

Posted by Elizabeth on January 20, 2017


Vancouver Island Beggarticks (Bidens amplissima)

Credit: Wayne Weber

The New Year also brings new projects! The Somenos Ecosystem Stewardship Project, which will span 3 years, began in 2016 and is currently in its restoration planning phase with execution beginning in the spring.

The goals of this project are (1) to raise awareness of the important ecosystems of the Somenos Marsh Conservation Area (SMCA) and the threat that exotic invasive species pose to them, and (2) to increase biodiversity in the SMCA providing more resilience to these ecosystems in the face of human and natural disturbances. Our aim is to help stop the introduction and spread of invasive species while increasing the community’s knowledge of these ecosystems.


Most people know the marsh for its diversity of birdlife but how many know about the at-risk plant species that also call Somenos home? Two examples of these species are Tall Woolly-heads (Psilocarphus elatior), which are red-listed, and Vancouver Island Beggarticks (Bidens amplissima), which are blue-listed. Tall Woolly-heads occupy dried beds of pools and other moist, open areas, which experience seasonal flooding and have little competition from other plant species. These habitat requirements make Tall Woolly-heads especially vulnerable to exotic invasive species. Vancouver Island Beggarticks are only found in Southern Vancouver Island and the Lower Fraser Valley. They are generally limited to a very narrow band of habitat around ponds, lakes, and stream margins where water level fluctuations occur and they have a preference for silty alluvial soils. This makes population numbers dependent on annual variations in winter and spring precipitation levels. Exotic invasive species can threaten this species by taking over this limited habitat.  



Tall Woolly-heads (Psilocarphus elatior)

Credit: Ryan Batten


Vancouver Island Beggarticks (Bidens amplissima)

Credit: Wayne Weber

The SMCA currently has several exotic invasive species, but what is an invasive species? It is an introduced species which causes a negative impact on the environment. Yellow Flag Iris (Iris pseudacorus) and Purple Loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) are some examples of invasive species which have appeared in the wetland. Yellow Flag Iris is a perennial aquatic plant native to Europe, Asia, and Africa which can grow in treed and open wetlands, river and lake edges, and floodplains. It spreads by seed, fragmentation, and underground stems known as rhizomes, which sprout new shoots and roots that can develop into thick mats. These mats can displace native plants while altering the wetland, making it drier, reducing habitat for wildlife, and blocking water flow. Purple Loosestrife is also a perennial wetland plant native to Europe, which grows well in wet areas such as ditches, irrigation canals, marshes, stream and lake shorelines, and shallow ponds. It spreads by seed with a single plant able to produce 2.5 million seeds transported by wind, water, animals, and humans. It can out-compete most native species in wetland ecosystems while developing thick stands and mats. This degrades habitat, reduces the nutrient content of the soil and crowds out native species reducing biodiversity, and blocking water flow further altering the environment. 



Yellow Flag Iris (Iris pseudacorus)

Credit: Joost J. Bakker Ijmuiden


Purple Loofestrife (Lythrum salicaria)

Credit: D. Hanna

Native ecosystems evolve over long periods of time and develop complex relationships. Non-native species are often introduced without their natural predators and pathogens. This can give them an advantage while competing with native species making them invasive. If left unchecked, invasive species populations can expand and cause a large impact on the expansive biodiversity found in the Somenos Marsh Conservation Area. This biodiversity is crucial as native species occupy ecological niches which maintain a healthy ecosystem through a variety of functions. These functions include: providing energy to other organisms in the form of nutrition, breaking down nutrients to compounds usable by other organisms, providing habitat requirements for other organisms, and maintaining balance in populations of species. Invasive species can out-compete native species and interrupt these ecological niches, causing an imbalance in the ecosystem as these functions become affected. Invasive species are listed as the 2nd leading cause of biodiversity loss worldwide (IUCN) after land-use change. 

Article by Jared Bates, biologist 

In this project, three sites will be selected to carry out ecological restoration work with volunteers and school groups. Restoration work will include invasive species removal on at least 2 hectares of land and the planting of at least 2000 native plants.


There are several ways to get involved!


  • Become a Society Member; A great way to provide core support for our work and objectives. Membership numbers are always valuable when lobbying for the Marsh.       
  • Volunteer
    • Work Parties: Meet new people and learn new skills while making a difference. Contact the program manager Elizabeth Bailey at c.e.p.bailey@gmail.com to get on our volunteer list or to get more information about volunteer opportunities. Volunteer opportunities will be emailed to all members on the volunteer list. 
    • Volunteer within the Society: Help with the core functioning of the society. Contact the society president Paul Fletcher at paul@fletcherfoto.ca for more information about opportunities.
  • Donate to the Somenos Marsh Wildlife Society to support the Societies operation and projects. You can choose a variety of donation options for activities such as operating expenses, restoration work, WildWings Nature and Arts Festival, research projects, land acquisition, and the viewing tower project. Donations over $100 will be rewarded with a copy of the Somenos book!


Be sure to check out our Facebook page for frequent updates and information!


Big thanks to our funders and partners. 


BC Wildlife Federation Wetlands Education Program, Vancouver Island Conservation Land Management Program, Cowichan Tribes, Cowichan Valley Regional District, Municipality of North Cowichan, Cowichan Valley Naturalists Society, Cowichan Land Trust, Saanich Native Plants, Nature Conservancy of Canada, Volunteers.


Before and After Scotch Broom (Cytisus scoparius) removal in the SMCA 

Credit: Elizabeth Bailey