Farmers wary of plans for Maber Flats

Members of Central Saanich’s agricultural community concerned about future with Nature Conservancy

Daryl Michell (left) and Dan Ireland stand on Ireland’s property overlooking Maber Flats. The two

Daryl Michell (left) and Dan Ireland stand on Ireland’s property overlooking Maber Flats. The two

After an announcement by the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) and the District of Central Saanich about a plan to turn Maber Flats into a wetland nature sanctuary, farmers in the community say they need more information.

“This project came out of nowhere, it blindsided us,” said Dan Ireland, owner of Ireland Farms which encompasses land in Maber Flats.

“We have no details or information from either the Nature Conservancy or the municipality on what the actual plans are, just statements from them that this project is meant to improve storm water management and improve agricultural potential. We want to know how they plan on doing that.”

Ireland is one of a handful of farmers who own land on or near Maber Flats who have seen the area between Wallace Drive and Keating X Road change over the last few decades.

According to Ireland, the land does have drainage issues and the current land owner (who is negotiating with the NCC to sell the land) has bermed the land resulting in more issues relating to standing water.

“We’ve also seen many of the neighbouring properties to the flats berm their land because the water level was getting worse and worse,” Ireland said.

“By them berming their land it has exacerbated the problem but you can’t fault them for it, they have the right to try and protect their land from being flooded,” Ireland said.

Ireland also noted the municipality has worked over the last few years to control the water flow through storm water ditches in the flats and that a major improvement had been seen.

Other concerns he and the other farmers have, Ireland said, relate to an increase in the number of resident Canada Geese should the wetland area be enlarged.

“We already have to control the geese from destroying crops on our properties as it is,” he said.

Ireland and others, including Daryl Michell of Michell Farms, say they are also worried about the loss of a significant tract of farmland in the Agricultural Land Reserve.

“My worry is that if the land is turned into a true wetland like Swan Lake or Rithets Bog which were both farmable land as recently as the early ‘70s, we will lose the land out of the ALR. Once land becomes non-farmable it increases the case for it being taken out of the ALR.”

According to the NCC, the area was once a bog before it was drained for agricultural use and the restoration would be turning it back into its original habitat. Swan Lake nature sanctuary and Rithets Bog are both still considered to be in the ALR.

The NCC and the district also said that by engineering a wetland in the Maber Flats area it would alleviate spring and fall inundation of neighbouring farm land.

The sale of the 68-acre plot of land has not yet been completed and the NCC and the district would have to get approval from the Agricultural Land Commission (which would confirm or deny that the project has a significant benefit to local agriculture) before proceeding with the project.

Watch for more on this story in the PNR as it develops.