Saturday, November 7, 2015

Urban park ecological restoration in Vancouver

New Brighton Park showing some key wildlife habitats in black and the proposed site of the Salt Marsh Restoration.(This composite sat-photo I found on the Internet and I entered the names of habitats in black and blue).

End of October 2015 
New Brighton Park: Ecological restoration proposal and some ideas for future management

I was intrigued to see that there is an effort and a plan for the restoration of salt marsh and stream habitat at New Brighton Park in Vancouver Canada. This is a 10 ha park on the south shore of Burrard Inlet in East Vancouver. Since I have studied the birds of the park on and off for many years (especially when I lived in the neighborhood between '86 and '95), I do have some thoughts about this and will share some here as well as photos from my recent visit in mid October 2015.

  • The neighbourhood and park was different 20 years ago; there where some vacant lots, even open areas on Burrard inlet that have since been paved and built on; so the existing value to wildlife - as an open space and unbuilt shoreline- at least - has risen.
  • The park does have a serious biodiversity value today and the potential to become an important wildlife area inside Vancouver city proper. Much of the wildlife in the park is now mostly of marine-species on the coastline. The lawn-like features of the park dominate. Dogs and dog-owners need these open spaces and I respect that. However it could be rather easy to incorporate some "high nature value" features in this park in order to make it a success both for people and wildlife.
  • The park needs a face-lift! It is so "lawny", so 20th Century, as are so many city parks! And the potential is great for a real "nature rejuvenation" and re-wilding since the location chosen by the restoration planners is an excellent area (the eastern end of the park). Everything should be done to make New Brighton a New wildlife-friendly nature interpretation experience for people and a great sanctuary for biodiveristy in the city.


1. Already the wildlife, biodiversity and nature interpretation values of the park have been "discovered" by the City Planners who documented it in their reports. Wildlife values should be better documented and displayed openly. In the map above I provide some of the key "generic habitats" that the park currently offers to wildlife. Some of these are new creations, landscaped in very recently. "Tree grove and rough grassland fringe" is important for birds, this year we spotted Western Meadowlarks here for the first time - a rare sighting within Vancouver city limits. The tall deciduous trees (eastern maples, eastern oaks, poplars) are fantastic feeding-resting areas for migrant birds and important perches for raptors (including: peregrine, hawks etc) and they line the inland margin of the park along the railway and near the wheat-pools at the eastern end - perfect boundary features. The newly incorporated "terraced scrub feature" near the road over-pass is really quite a good idea; the bramble thicket and scattered tree-lets are good for wildlife despite being alien plants (most people don't realize how important some alien species can be for native butterflies, other insects, song birds etc). Other older anthropogenic elements such as the "dolfins" (i.e. pilings, in this case, old log jetty support features). This element exists in the marine environment just west of the park boundary and is extremely important for Bald Eagles and for many birds on the foreshore. Some "new" mini-coves have been created that give a gentle slope and beach-like inter-tidal conditions where there used to be just an in-filled shore (full of construction-site debris etc...). Finally, the marine waters are teaming with life and offer great opportunities to see fishes, seals, sea lions, sea birds, waterfowl etc - often in spectacular wildlife scenes. So the place is as a whole on a good road to recovery. 

2. We should take note that many "incremental" changes have been degrading and destroying biodiversty and wildlife "micro-habitats" all around the Hasting sunrise neighborhood area, even immediately around this park. The two Google Earth images below show that immediately west of the park important habitats have been lost in just the last 13 years.In-filled regenerating meadows, foreshore riparian and rough-grassland/secondary woodlands have been lost.

These to images captured from Google Earth  show incremental habitat destruction at the western edge of New Brighton Park. Road expansion, parking lot creation, new subdivision development have all had detrimental effects to biodiversity at the local scale. Hopefully the new restoration work in the park will help compensate. In fact we owe it to wildlife and to quality of life to rejuvenate nature in city parks where significant potential exists.  
3. New Brighton is a multiple-use park not a nature park. We don't want to take anything away or restrict people's use. On the contrary, some really small-scale strategic management actions will enhance all visitor's experience. One example is the idea of a "rough grassland fringe". This is really important for wildlife and increases aesthetic values. Just changing the mowing regime a bit makes a great difference - otherwise all uses remain more-or-less the same.

4. Human and dog disturbance to wildlife can be regulated. The area does have some important wildlife populations certain times of the year. Raptors, waterfowl, owls, seals, otters do need space and they will be displaced by poorly planned trails and unforeseen people-wildlife interfaces. So planners should be extra careful to provide cover when landscaping in the habitat restoration features. The idea of an "island" in the salt marsh restoration is a good idea. Wildlife experts must be consulted.

5. This salt marsh restoration project is very important for Vancouver and as an exemplar project for urban parks everywhere. The project supports the direction of the Vancouver Park Board’s Strategic Plan and Re-wilding Action Plan. It also implements the vision of the 2010 Hastings Park/PNE Master Plan and the 1997 New Brighton Park Master Plan. The possible creation of a salt marsh in New Brighton Park is a critical component of the long-term restoration of Renfrew Creek. New Brighton Park is one of the only important remaining opportunities to restore coastal wetland habitat on the south shore of Burrard Inlet. The industrialization of the shoreline from Stanley Park to Second Narrows and beyond has impaired the inlet's ability to support rich natural communities of fish and wildlife. Habitat for juvenile fish is lacking. Juvenile fish from the Seymour and other rivers in the inlet have been known to experience high mortality as they migrate through Burrard Inlet. A restored salt marsh would provide productive habitat for juvenile fish, shorebirds, and waterfowl. The site will be of increased value for terrestrial biodiversity as well if the park management includes micro-measures to enhance rough-grassland fringes and take care to enhance other micro-habitats.


The bramble thicket from the bridge-overpass looking East over the park (Second Narrows Bridge in the distance). The bramble area punctuated by a few willows, big-leaf maple saplings and other trees is great for passerine birds. 

From the bramble thicket: The Fig (Ficus carica) a tree that I know well from Greece. It is making a presence in Vancouver and will grow better as the climate warms. I don't think its an especially invasive alien species. Although I am all for getting rid of alien invasive weeds, we shouldn't be over-sensitive in urban areas since urban wildlife finds resources, cover and comfort in many many of these. 

Burrard Inlet waters are were crystal clear in mid October.

Lonely fisher on Burrard Inlet. Harbour seals easily seen here everyday. This cove is man-made - it is natural looking and really wonderful for people and wildlife.

Most of the wildlife action takes place on the Inlet. The variety of birds is remarkable but I was able to catch only a few Canada Geese on our cheap digital insta-camera.

Juxtaposition of nature and industry defines New Brighton's scenes.

Canadas. But seriously the park is a great birding area: I saw 20 species on a brief walk in one morning this October.

These are the "dolfins" immediately west of the Park boundary - they was a small steel jetty here in the early '80s. Now they are a regular perching area for Bald Eagles. This one is feeding on a young G-W Gull. (The term "dolfins" on the BC coast relates to wooden pilings if I recall correctly).

The western edge of the Park Boundary. Beyond this fence was vacant lot  that had a variety of birdlife in the '80s (I have even spotted short-eared owl, snow goose, etc in this lot. It is now a big black-topped tarmac parking lot for trucks to park and load-unload on. 

Rock weed and various underwater surprises at low tide. I watched stickleback schools and other fishes through the clear waters. 
Most of the park is like this. The open space is great. Gives a feeling of safety and great for dog running. Some birds like the Geese love it too. However creating a rough grassland fringe at some places will increase wildlife and aesthetic values. 

This is the tennis court (rarely used) at the eastern side of the pare where the salt marsh restoration is planned. I hope some of these trees are felled to bring in a open feel to the salt marsh. Salt marshes on Pacific estuaries have an openness so its important to not clog-it in full of trees. Also most large waders and waterfowl and many raptors need openness for a kind of "cover" and safety (they do not want to feel surprised by other predators or "enclosed").

Two Western Medowlarks, this one photographed at New Brighton on Oct 9th, a rare sighting for the Vancouver Area. Proof that the park is important for wildlife. The park has a long list of birds, including many rarities.
Nice bright early morning at the western end of the park were some trees have recently been planted. Most survived and are doing well in to an open grove like habitat. The Western Meadowlarks were spotted near the rough grasses near shore at this area.

Architect's proposal for New Brighton Park circa 1960; exhibited at the PNE (Pacific National Exhibition). Note the anthropocentric and space-age look to the place. Open spaces dominate - so...20th Century don't you think? 

Location of New Brighton Park in East Vancouver near Canada's Highway 1 within the fjord known as Burrard Inlet.

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