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Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Meet the team of volunteers removing invasive species from local parks

Greater Victoria Green Team has been bringing community members together to restore community green spaces

By Jolene Rudisuela
August 12, 2022
Environment
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Meet the team of volunteers removing invasive species from local parks

Greater Victoria Green Team has been bringing community members together to restore community green spaces

Volunteers help remove invasive Himalayan blackberries at a Greater Victoria Green Team event in July. Photo courtesy of Greater Victoria Green Team
Volunteers help remove invasive Himalayan blackberries at a Greater Victoria Green Team event in July. Photo courtesy of Greater Victoria Green Team
Environment
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Meet the team of volunteers removing invasive species from local parks

Greater Victoria Green Team has been bringing community members together to restore community green spaces

By Jolene Rudisuela
August 12, 2022
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Meet the team of volunteers removing invasive species from local parks
Volunteers help remove invasive Himalayan blackberries at a Greater Victoria Green Team event in July. Photo courtesy of Greater Victoria Green Team

Capital Daily good news coverage is supported by the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, but the stories and journalism are produced independently by Capital Daily. Per our policy, Art Gallery of Greater Victoria has no editorial input into this story.

It may be the beginning of the prime blackberry season, but the Greater Victoria Green Team isn't planning on picking berries.

Instead, Green Team volunteers are donning leather gloves, choosing from an assortment of shovels, loppers, and hand pruners to beat back some of the thorny, invasive bushes that have become all too common in parks and empty lots, and along waterways and ditches. Despite their tasty fruit, the plants are aggressive, spreading quickly, outcompeting native flora and fauna, and increasing the potential of flooding and erosion in riparian areas. Their thorns are also viciously sharp, something that Green Team members know well.

“Yeah, they’re mean,” laughs Maria Varem, GVGT interim program manager. The leather gloves are a must while dealing with these bushes, and long sleeve shirts and thick pants are definitely recommended.

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Since Varem joined the non-profit in May, she has been continuing the work of helping organize restoration activities at parks and natural areas throughout Greater Victoria multiple times a month. Blackberries aren’t the only invasive plant the team works on removing: they’ve also tackled the poisonous and persistent Daphne shrubs, fast-growing and suffocating English ivy, adaptable red-berried English holly, and dense, enduring Scotch broom, among other plants. The team has also brought people together to replant some of these areas with native plants and trees, and sometimes organizes shoreline cleanups.

During the latest invasive species removal mission on Saturday, the Green Team and volunteers will be taking on blackberries and Daphne at the Lund Road Protection Area in View Royal.

Restoring local parks

To remove a blackberry bush, you need to get to the root of the problem, Varem explains. Using hand snips, volunteers cut off pieces of the spikey blackberry cane, until they can get close enough to the centre of the plant to dig up the root crown—the start of the root system at the base of the stem.

This is one of the more labour-intensive plants to remove; others can just be dug up, and ivy can simply be pulled off the ground or tree it's growing on.

“We always try to make sure that there’s a variety of different plants to work with, and different jobs so that no matter your ability level or what your experience level is, anybody can drop in and learn,” Varem said.

The Green Team works with mostly municipalities, but also land trust organizations and environmental organizations, to pinpoint the areas that most need their help. Having volunteers come in and help parks departments clean up invasive species relieves some of the pressure on parks staff, but also has the added benefit of growing deeper connections between community members and natural spaces.

“There are a lot of parks around Greater Victoria, and there really is, genuinely, a limit to how much staff can do,” Varem said. “Especially when it comes to invasive species removal, it’s never just a one-and-done kind of thing. Like, you have to come back over the course of many years and make sure that everything is getting done and… that it’s not just regrowing all the invasive species again.”

Invasive plants can alter the chemistry of the soil, preventing the regrowth of native plants. So if a recently cleared area is left to its own devices, it’s unlikely that native plants will return on their own. Green Team volunteers have also spent time replanting some of the cleared sites with species that match the specific ecosystem.

The Green Team isn’t the only organization that does invasive species removal in the region, either. Some municipalities have their own volunteer programs (Saanich, for example, has operated the Pulling Together program since 1999), while various smaller local organizations plan invasive species removals and native plant planting sessions with their own members.

“There’s a lot of invasive species around Vancouver Island, and an all-in effort is needed to help control them,” Varem said. “As many people as you can get on the problem is good.”

Green Team volunteer Chloe Dalquist holds up some invasive plants she had just pulled. Photo courtesy of the Greater Victoria Green Team.

Connecting to local environment

Chloe Dalquist has been volunteering with the Green Team for nearly two years. In the fall of 2020 she had just moved back to Victoria, and thought it’d be a good way to volunteer, meet new people, and get some work experience in the habitat restoration realm. The volunteering has brought her all across the region to different parks that she guesses she never would have visited on her own.

“When I’m actually doing the work and just kind of going from invasive species to invasive species… it doesn’t feel like a lot, until you see how different the forest looked from when you started,” she said. “It’s pretty astounding.”

A section of UVic's Queenswood Campus before Greater Victoria Green Team members started work. Photo courtesy of the Greater Victoria Green Team.
And after the team removed a patch of Himalayan blackberries from UVic's Queenswood Campus. Photo courtesy of the Greater Victoria Green Team.

As environmental problems grow across the globe, Varem believes the best way to help is to get more people to care about the environment by connecting them with the natural spaces in their own communities.

Part of it is education—Green Team activities focus on teaching volunteers about the plants they are removing—but it also gives community members a sense of pride and connection to the parks around them.

“Sometimes they might feel like they want to help the environment but it’s just such a huge overwhelming thing that they don’t even know where to start. And so activities like ours are really important because they give people a small thing to do that makes a tangible difference to your local environment.”

And as the park is restored to a healthier state, it becomes a nicer place for the community to spend time in as well, creating a greater desire to keep it maintained. It’s a positive feedback loop that keeps on giving.

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