Visitors explore and help children find aquatic creatures during the annual Hamilton Marsh tour hosted by Arrowsmith Naturalists April 23, 2017. — NEWS file photo

Visitors explore and help children find aquatic creatures during the annual Hamilton Marsh tour hosted by Arrowsmith Naturalists April 23, 2017. — NEWS file photo

Society urging local governments to preserve Hamilton Marsh

New video highlights residents desire to maintain 360 hectares for watershed, wildlife, and community values

The Friends of French Creek Conservation Society wants the Hamilton Marsh and 360 hectare parcels that surrounds it preserved for watershed, wildlife, and community values

The chair of the society, Ceri Peacey, has been raising awareness about the value of the marsh. She appeared with Lynne Brookes as a delegation at the City of Parksville’s Oct. 16 council meeting and also at the Regional District of Nanaimo’s Regional Parks and Trails Committee meeting. In both meetings, Peacey presented the video, “Hamilton Marsh The Whole 360,” that highlights area residents’ desire to preserve the entire 360 hectares.

The society has been advocating for almost 40 years to protect and preserve the marsh and surrounding wetlands, which are located just five minutes away from Qualicum Beach. It is currently owned by Island Timberlands. It is surrounded by 360 hectares of woodland and the wetlands is 36 hectares in size.

The message Peacey is relaying to local governments is Hamilton Marsh is a valuable asset to the region’s watershed and is also of vital importance to the different plants, species and wildlife that rely on the wetland for nesting, breeding and for food.

“It is the largest body of water in the French Creek watershed,” said Peacey in the society’s video. She stressed the importance of the wetlands in the French Creek watershed because “in times of drought it holds water and in times of flood it equalizes water. It’s a huge deal.”

Marsh lands absorb and filter sediments, pollutants, and excess nutrients; recharge groundwater; maintain stream flows; control runoff; store flood waters; reduce erosion; stabilize shorelines; and help regulate atmospheric gases and climate cycles. Peacey also stated that, globally, wetlands are disappearing at an alarming rate. In B.C., the Ministry of Environment has indicated there is a growing concern over the escalating rate of wetland losses. In the Fraser Valley, it is estimated that 50 to 70 per cent of the original wetland habitat has disappeared. In the ecologically critical South Okanagan, wetland losses have reached 85 per cent.

Peacey and Brookes urged Parksville council and the RDN to help preserve the entire 360 hectares surrounding Hamilton Marsh.

“It was a stroke of genius that you protected the Ermineskin wetlands as a park,” Brookes told Parksville council, referring to the city’s Sept. 18 approval of acquisition of the land from the Ermineskin Cree Nation. “We know you folks are aware of and concerned with wetlands.”

The RDN Parks Plan in 1995 included Hamilton Marsh as a target acquisition. Approximately four offers have been made to purchase and preserve the land from the various owners. In 2008, Island Timberlands rejected a joint effort by Ducks Unlimited and the RDN to purchase the wetland, with a buffer, and it was hoped there would be a progressive purchase option for the rest of the 360 forested hectares.

“We just need a willing seller,” Brookes said in Parksville council chambers Oct. 16. “In the meantime, it’s a matter of keeping up awareness.”

The Hamilton Marsh Committee, as part of the society, is working with Arrowsmith Naturalists and continues to raise awareness of the wetland with annual April tours during the Brant Wildlife Festival with Island Timberland’s permission.

— With files from J.R. Rardon