A man feeds hen scratch to birds at Esquimalt Lagoon. He says feeding the birds bread is bad for them

A man feeds hen scratch to birds at Esquimalt Lagoon. He says feeding the birds bread is bad for them

Feeding the birds not a great idea at popular lagoon in Colwood

Protection group helping to educate the public about perils of spreading processed food at Esquimalt Lagoon

A young girl throws pieces of bread into a flock of birds gathered around her.

It is a crisp but beautiful afternoon, and another woman’s dog runs along the beach with a wet stick hanging from his mouth and a wetter tail spraying water to and fro.

Esquimalt Lagoon is rife with this activity, but former Colwood councillor Judith Cullington says both activities can be harmful to one of the West Shore’s treasures.

“Kids feeding birds; it is not healthy for them,” she said. “Some feed grain, which is better, but what happens is it habituates the birds to people and it is a wildlife sanctuary. It’s good for birds to have some caution around people and what we start to see now is geese staying year-round when they used to be a migratory species. The message is ‘please don’t feed the birds.’”

Another problem, Cullington said, is dogs off-leash scaring the birds in the sanctuary.

The Esquimalt Lagoon Stewardship Initiative (ELSI), a broad coalition of community and environmental groups, government and First Nations, discourages such human actions on the road to protecting and enhancing the lagoon, the wildlife living there and the Coburg Peninsula, for future generations.

“ELSI is an important place to pull together those diverse interests … It doesn’t have authority in itself, but includes many voices around the table,” said Cullington, a citizen member of the protectionist group. “It’s a very good place to have conversations. The Esquimalt Lagoon is an important area because it has national and international significance. We are a migratory part of the Pacific flyway and important for the whole belt for how those birds move – and it’s a place for birds to rest and refuel.”

The group meets every two months and includes representatives from Colwood, Langford, the B.C. Ministry of Environment, Canadian Wildlife Service, Capital Regional District, Songhees Nation and citizen members.

(Colwood) forwards any issues that would affect the lagoon and we watch for issues that come up there and try to address them,” said Colwood Coun. Jason Nault. “(But) it is very difficult to police on a 24-7 basis.”

Cullington hopes the initiative grows, with the community pointing to public engagement and communication as a catalyst for the self-enforcement that can make a difference.

“I think it is wonderful the community has stepped up to say this is a place of value,” she said.

“We need to work together to look after its best interests and that is why you see folks volunteering to help. It is something that operates on a pretty tiny budget and a lot of good will.”