Volunteers advocate for sustainable infrastructure at Oak Bay’s Cattle Point

Friends of Uplands Park Society volunteers are pictured pulling invasive carpet burweed at Cattle Point, an area with unique biodiversity that vice-president and botanist Wylie Thomas says is being negatively affected by increased foot traffic. (Courtesy of Wylie Thomas)Friends of Uplands Park Society volunteers are pictured pulling invasive carpet burweed at Cattle Point, an area with unique biodiversity that vice-president and botanist Wylie Thomas says is being negatively affected by increased foot traffic. (Courtesy of Wylie Thomas)
A coloured restoration map shows existing vegetation and park use patterns around Cattle Point and Uplands Park, with orange indicating trail and meadow areas affected by foot traffic. (Courtesy of Jacques Sirois)A coloured restoration map shows existing vegetation and park use patterns around Cattle Point and Uplands Park, with orange indicating trail and meadow areas affected by foot traffic. (Courtesy of Jacques Sirois)
A rendering shows how foot traffic at Cattle Point could be controlled with a boardwalk and viewing deck to better protect the local biodiversity but still allow pedestrians to enjoy the greenspace. (Courtesy of Jacques Sirois)A rendering shows how foot traffic at Cattle Point could be controlled with a boardwalk and viewing deck to better protect the local biodiversity but still allow pedestrians to enjoy the greenspace. (Courtesy of Jacques Sirois)

Restoration specialists are calling for infrastructure at Oak Bay’s Cattle Point that would protect vulnerable biodiversity from foot traffic as the number of visitors rises as much as threefold.

Wylie Thomas, a botanist and Friends of Uplands Park Society vice-president, said Cattle Point has suffered increased trampling from a rise in its use during the pandemic. He estimated triple the number of people are going there, and said 98 to 100 per cent of the surrounding Uplands Park is critical habitat.

“We need to protect this piece of our ecological heritage,” Thomas said, calling Cattle Point a biodiversity treasure with more than a dozen plant types at federal risk.

“You cannot walk around without stepping on a rare species.”

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He described Cattle Point as being “loved to death” and especially vulnerable to foot traffic in the winter, when the land grows soggier.

Thomas previously proposed split-rail fencing, which he said would be slick, functional and capable of keeping people out of Cattle Point’s maritime meadows, but never saw it implemented.

Another issue, he said, is that the Species at Risk Act addresses the individual at-risk plants more than the ecosystem as a whole.

Margaret Lidkea, Friends of Uplands Park president, started restoring Cattle Point 10 years ago, and said it once hosted areas “filled with rich camas and thousands of rare plant species” that aren’t there anymore due to trampling.

“Without trails, people don’t know they need to protect this area.”

Biologist and restoration specialist Jacques Sirois, in continuing efforts for the United Nations Decade of Ecosystem Restoration, crafted a concept design in April with Murdoch de Greef Inc. Landscape Architects for controlling foot traffic.

“People are walking wherever they want,” he said, noting it’s reversing 30 years of ecological restoration at the “living museum” we call Cattle Point.

Trampling also helps spread invasive species like carpet burweed and crow garlic, which Thomas said are the biggest threats to local biodiversity.

Sirois’s design proposes a boardwalk and viewing deck on the hill beside the south boat ramp, as well as composting toilets by the central parking lot. Signage, seating, fencing and the current portable toilet also need re-assessment, according to Sirois.

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He gifted the design to Friends of Uplands Park after noticing increased traffic in the area. Sirois said the reduction of vehicle access at Clover Point in 2021 has resulted in a busier Cattle Point.

“All these people who just want to look at the ocean in their car – it looks like they’re all now going to Cattle Point.”

Chris Hyde-Lay, Oak Bay’s park services manager, said it’s also “partly due to increase in population, opening up after COVID and people wanting to get out and about.”

Lidkea acknowledged it’s wonderful seeing more people outdoors, and encouraged school groups visiting the area to continue rock hopping to protect the soil.

“(But) you have to be careful you don’t kick the moss off, because it can actually take up to 50 years for the moss to grow back.”

She said the municipality and Capital Regional District also need to ensure dog owners are leashing their pets there, noting that invasive species adhere to shoes and animal fur.

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Sirois estimated $20,000 to $30,000 will be needed just to organize a detailed development plan and said it would take about $500,000 to make his design a reality – an amount Lidkea said Oak Bay council will have to finance, adding that the park services will likely be unable to contribute much financially.

Thomas said the next step is presenting the plan to council “to allow people to enjoy this beautiful place.”


 

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