Environmental groups are giving a thumbs up to an innovative South Surrey nature preserve planned by the City of Surrey.
The Fergus Watershed Biodiversity Preserve, a 67-acre rural area between 168 Street and Highway 99 – bounded on the north by 15 Avenue and on the south by 12 Avenue – has been earmarked as an area where sensitive ecosystems and critical wildlife habitat will be both protected and enhanced.
A management plan for the preserve was approved by council in March, as a preliminary to staff bringing forward a draft park-dedication bylaw.
According to the plan, the emphasis on biodiversity is a first for the city, enshrining the notion of preserving and promoting diverse habitats as part of a broader intention.
Among groups expressing approval of the direction taken by Surrey Parks staff are the Friends of Semiahmoo Bay Society, the Little Campbell Watershed Society, the Semiahmoo Fish and Game Club, Surrey Environmental Partners and A Rocha Canada, all of whom have partnered through representation on the preserve’s advisory committee.
While the groups say there is more work to be done – they’re concerned about how a necessary access road and parking lot will be constructed, how buffer zones will be established and whether bylaw monitoring will be adequate to discourage public abuse of the area – they recognize the plan as a significant step in environmental protection in the city.
It’s even more significant, they say, since it’s a turnaround in staff thinking since council adopted the name Fergus Watershed Park in 2010 and started holding open houses and workshops in 2013.
Initial discussion seemed to suggest the sensitive area was being considered for multiple recreational uses – including extensive trails, picnic areas and a disc-golf facility, all of which environmentalists feel would have defeated the purpose of a preserve.
But Margaret Cuthbert, president of the Friends of Semiahmoo Bay Society, said the united voice of environmental groups has clearly been heeded by Surrey Parks staff.
“They really listened,” she said. “This is a real opportunity to do something different – this is going to be a first.”
The ecosystem provided by the watershed is home to precious natural habitat for many species, including migratory birds, she added.
“I’d like to see more parks like this,” she said, noting that preserving a biodiverse environment of native species is more beneficial for wildlife than the common approach – neatly manicured and landscaped parks planted with tulips and marigolds.
“I’d like to see more of the boulevards planted with native plants to feed the birds – you’d be surprised what even a network of small areas like that can do.”
The environmental groups involved in the advisory committee for the preserve will also be stepping up to make the area even more meaningful to the general public.
“We’ve committed to doing interpretation,” Cuthbert said. “We’ll be offering walks for people through the preserve, and if they want to do even more native-species planting, we can help.”