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Bird-watching couple tout benefit of native plants to biodiversity in Saanich green spaces

Both native and non-native plant eco-systems have a place, biologist points out
Siobhan Powlowski and Jeffrey Nicholls watch birds in Swan Lake Nature Sanctuary. The couple are avid birders and have become well-versed on the various species and plant life in the area. (Megan Atkins-Baker/News Staff)

One Saanich bird-watching couple has learned about the importance of protecting native plant life habitats through their love of winged creatures.

Siobhan Powlowski and Jeffrey Nicholls frequent Swan Lake Nature Sanctuary and other Saanich parks, equipped with binoculars and a telescope.

Their interest in bird watching developed from a love of nature, Nicholls said, which then led to their continued interest in researching the many different kinds of species in the region and the spaces that contribute to their well-being.

“You have these birds that migrate from the very highest reaches of the Arctic, and they will fly down and return back to the same beach or habitat year after year,” Powlowski said, adding this is why it is so important to ensure natural spaces are safeguarded.

ALSO READ: Swan Lake Nature Sanctuary expansion to further preservation of area

Further protecting areas with native trees and plant life is also important because that’s where insects, birds, and other wildlife thrive, she added.

On an occasion when the couple visited an area with an abundance of non-native plant life, they wondered why they weren’t seeing as many birds or insects. They found through later research it’s because the plants and flowers there were not as conducive to supporting wildlife.

Although native plants best support insects and other life, said Cara Gibson, the sanctuary’s executive director and an expert biologist, she would not necessarily discourage the planting of non-native plant species.

“Non-native roses are better than having pavement or a swimming pool,” she said. “I’d instead try to help people see some of the nuances about what best supports the kinds of nature that live in this region, and to cultivate and rehabilitate areas where native plant life can thrive.”

As part of this effort, the sanctuary is launching a new program called Adopt A Patch. The opportunity will allow volunteers to embrace and rehabilitate designated plots on the sanctuary grounds or waterways.

For more information on the new program, contact

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