Conservation takes step forward in Shawnigan with living mat

An enthusiastic group of volunteers was out early on a Sunday morning last month, taking advantage of a sunny day to perform riparian repair along Shawnigan Lake’s Strathcona Bay.

They had already been busy, under the direction of David Polster, carefully collecting branches of red osier dogwood and willow and they arrived with two truckloads of material at the home of Grant Price on Shawnigan Lake Road.

The idea? Take down a rock and concrete retaining wall along the shore of Price’s land and replace it with a wattle fence.

Price worked with the Shawnigan Basin Society to kickstart the project and Society member Melissa Nottingham was one of the work party Sunday, a gang that also included a number of students from Shawnigan Lake School.

She described a wattle fence, which is made of branches of certain trees woven into a free-standing mat.

"What happens is they grow up but they also grow down when you lay them horizontally. So all the branches become the trees and the roots support the soil," she said.

The project was part of a twoday workshop/workparty event, funded by the Pacific Salmon Foundation.

"We have salmon in Shawnigan Lake. And this provides more habitat for them," Nottingham said, adding, "we are so lucky to have a local restoration professional available to share his knowledge."

They spent Saturday learning about how to use natural riparian features to protect and maintain property while restoring habitat for salmon. The idea was to naturalize the lakeshore.

"Right now there is a cement wall and there is no habitat for fish or wildlife or anything. Once we put this in, not only will it be holding the bank together better than the cement but it will be a natural fence that will provide habitat while doing its work. It was David Polster’s idea," she said.

Polster is a plant ecologist, who can be found almost anywhere in the Valley where riparian concerns are being addressed. "It’s basically part of the Shawnigan dream to restore the lakeshore," he said as he began to marshall his team for work Sunday.

"I’ve been doing this kind of thing for decades. Most of these branches will grow. You can see that it’s eroding by the wall there. Grant wants it to be like the neighbours have. It will extend what’s happening on both sides of his land."

Price jumped right into the work.

"I had heard about the idea from the Basin Society. They were looking for a property to do some ecoengineering," he said. "I was thinking about the rock wall. It looks pretty but part of the problem is water backs up behind them and draws out the soil so I’m always having to backfill along there," he said.

Once everyone had transferred all the branches to Price’s lawn, Polster then explained his project.

"What we want to try and do here is make the shoreline more of a natural situation while still retaining some of the features of the beach that Mr. Price wants to retain for his cottage.

"The rock wall clearly has to go and we are going to replace it with the sticks. If we build a wattle fence across, we will probably have to build two tiers in order to get to the level of the current rock wall."

Jonathan Noakes, another volunteer, said this is not the first time he’s worked with Polster.

"We did a huge project up on Bings Creek in Duncan," he said.

Volunteer Shelagh Bell-Irving said she was excited by the idea.

"This weekend was one of learning how to grow living hedges/retaining walls on eroding shorelines, creeks and mudslides to help stop erosion and encourage moisture retention through willows and dogwoods and alder. I learned so much more about stabilizing our new lake level shoreline," she said, adding that she was so impressed that both she and Noakes took the rest of the branches home to do their own retaining walls.