Natural Areas, Habitat & Biodiversity
- The term biological diversity or “biodiversity” describes the variety of life found in an ecosystem or habitat. When many forms of life have the habitat and resources they need to survive, this often coincides with an increase in biodiversity.Biodiversity provides us with clean air, fresh water, good quality soil and crop pollination. It helps us fight climate change and adapt to it as well. According to a UN report in 2019, biodiversity is declining at a unprecedented rate. This loss is a direct result of human activity. It is not too late to reverse this trend but taking significant action is needed from local to world-wide scales.The development of a Biodiversity and Natural Areas Strategy is a priority action from the City’s 2018 Environment Strategy and Action Plan and the City’s first key step to outline a variety of actions that can be taken to halt further biodiversity loss.
The City engaged members of the public to discuss biodiversity and natural areas at a public information session held online on September 16th, 2020. Fifteen members of the public participated in the information session. Members of the public also had the opportunity to highlight important places for biodiversity on an interactive online map. A total of 19 important locations were submitted by the public through the online map.
View the Presentation: Biodiversity and Natural Areas Strategy - Public Information Session (September 16, 2020)
Several themes emerged from these engagement events. Many participants highlighted the importance of natural and semi-natural areas found in the City’s parks to support biodiversity and the broader benefits they provide to residents. The importance of enhancing other areas in the city on public and private land to increase habitat was also discussed.
Ideas to enhance biodiversity range from planting more grassy areas with diverse shrubs and plants that support habitat for wildlife and pollinators, to providing more continuous habitat connections between green spaces across the city. Participants also indicated great interest in seeing the community more involved in initiatives to restore natural areas. Findings from the public engagement will be summarized in the Biodiversity and Natural Areas Strategy.
The Draft Biodiversity & Natural Areas Strategy was reviewed with the Environment & Climate Advisory Committee (May & September 2021) and the Environment & Climate Task Force (October 2021). The City also engaged First Nations in the development of the Strategy. The consultation process mirrored the City's Reconciliation Framework. The valuable feedback from the First Nations have been incorporated into the final document.
The Final Biodiversity & Natural Areas Strategy was presented to City Council on April 25, 2022 and subsequently approved.
Glenbrook Ravine Park has been identified as one of the City’s key natural areas and is considered important in terms of its ecological significance and contribution to biodiversity. It is cherished by the local community as one of relatively few intact natural areas in New Westminster. Over the years it has become heavily occupied by invasive plant species which jeopardize the future health and function of the native vegetation community as well as the enjoyment and safety of park users.
Through dedicated stewardship efforts of community volunteers since 2017, invasive species (e.g., blackberry, English ivy) have been removed and native plant species have been reestablished. Restoration events are held from spring to fall. Events are open to all ages and abilities. A list of upcoming events are posted on the City's event calendar.
Glenbrook Ravine Park Invasive Plant Management Plan (PDF) - Provides a framework to guide invasive plant management and restoration activities from now and into the future.
Biodiversity Improvement TypesCommon biodiversity improvements made in New Westminster parks as part of the New Westminster Biodiversity and Natural Areas Strategy.
Soil is de-compacted by tilling, to help with water absorption and provides air to the surrounding trees roots. A thick layer of mulch is then applied to protect the bare soil from weeds, aid in water retention during the dryer months. Mulch also helps keep soil cool, which is necessary for beneficial organisms to thrive and leads to improved soil nutrition.
Compacted areas with high clay content, such as those found in Lower Hume Park, flood annually and are commonly used by a variety of bird species for feeding, bathing, and socializing. To coincide field soil improvements, a vernal pond can be installed to provide habitat area for birds and other species.
Dead and decayed trees provide high value forage and nesting habitat that is often missing from urban parks. Where possible, dead standing trees are retained in park areas when they do not pose a risk to people or property.
Young forests are dense with little structural diversity and low ground vegetation cover. Small canopy openings can be created to allow light to reach the forest floor. This promotes ground vegetation growth. These openings also create forest edges that are favoured by many bird species.
In many urban parks there are canopy openings and no ground cover or young trees to benefit from the light reaching the forest floor. Delineating walking paths and planting new young trees, provides the forest with an understory that can thrive and one day replace the gaps in the canopy. Newly planted trees will eventually become the canopy of the future forest as the mature age and die in the natural cycle of life.
Invasive plants generally overtake and dominate open areas. They provide low quality habitat and generally do not support high levels of biodiversity. Removal of invasive species such as blackberry, lamium, ivy, mint, policemans helmet, clematis, vine-weed and holly is necessary to avoid new plantings having to compete for resources.
Human activity along unsanctioned trails degrade the forest floor. Some areas will be restored back to their natural state for forest health, longevity, and biodiversity. Some trails will remain open for public access and enjoyment.
Insects, small mammals, amphibians and snakes will use nooks and crannies to nest and hide from predators. Rocks will heat up during the day and provide warmth for coldblooded species and insects.
Rock Pile in Lower Hume Park
Mulch combines with fallen leaves to decompose, recycle nutrients and provides important organic matter. This organic matter will be used by microbes, insects, small mammals and amphibians. Many species of insects use organic materials in garden spaces to overwinter.
The City’s tree crews produce chip to mulch natural areas. Leaves gathered by parks maintenance crews are also spread through the planting sites.
Mulch in Lower Hume Park
Many urban parks provide mature tree cover with few understory or regenerating trees. To provide an optimal age range of understory, an age range of trees are planted in sizes from 10 cm to 3 metres tall. Both deciduous and coniferous native species are planted increase diversity and improve vertical structure.
Ground cover vegetation provides an unlimited source of mulch that drops every fall; can provide valuable food sources for wildlife such as berries, roots, leaves and pollen; and provides shelter for insects and small mammals. Species planted in each park are chosen based on light and moisture availability, and soil conditions.
Vernal Ponds are wetland habitats, typically small, shallow, ephemeral water bodies that have no permanent inlet or outlet. They are filled each winter and spring by rain and snow melt, and dry up during the summer.
Vernal ponds create an ideal habitat for species of animals that require temporary wetland habitats for survival, such as birds and amphibians. Native flowers, hedges, and shrubs species will tolerate dry to wet soil, and require full sun to part shade, including: Yarrow, Pearly everlasting, Cut-leaf Anemone, Red Columbine, Mertens Sedge, Slough Sedge, Beaked Sedge, Red Osier Dogwood, Salal, Goldenrod, Hardhack, Cattail.
Pathways are not created near vernal ponds as public access and pets can disturb these sensitive ecological areas.
Vernal Pond in Lower Hume Park
Thriving ecosystems require limited public and pet access to watercourses, wetlands and their riparian areas, as well as sensitive plant communities. This prevents trampling of high value habitat and reduces wildlife conflicts. Restricted access is achieve through a combination of light fencing (i.e. split rail), natural fencing (i.e logs and boulders), installation of thorny vegetation, and educational signage.