Rare flower in decline a 'bellwether' for Brier Island's ecology
'When we were losing that plant it was telling us that we'd screwed up the environment,' says expert
An endangered plant you've likely never heard of is a harbinger that something is seriously wrong with Brier Island's ecology, says the man who is working to restore the island's Big Meadow bog.
Nick Hill is an ecological consultant and co-ordinator of the restoration of the bog where the rare Eastern mountain avens grows.
"If you weren't a botanist you could mistake it for a buttercup," Hill told CBC's Information Morning.
The plant has fan-shaped leaves and orange highlights in the petals.
"We think it's more pretty," Hill said. "But the important thing is that this is a rare plant, but that it's a specialist and it's telling us something about the environment. When we were losing that plant it was telling us that we'd screwed up the environment."
The plant is found only in a few places in the world: the peaks of New Hampshire's White Mountains, Digby Neck and Brier Island's Big Meadow bog.
Farming plan abandoned
During the 1950s, there was a plan to reclaim the land on which the bog sits for agricultural purposes. The bog, which covers about 25 per cent of Brier Island, was drained.
"That meant that the rare plants could no longer grow, the bog couldn't filter water, the bog couldn't control floods," said Hill.
But the attempts at making the bog into farmland failed and the agricultural attempt was abandoned.
A bog restoration project is underway, funded by both the federal and provincial governments. But drier conditions have allowed shrubs and other invasive vegetation to encroach on the bog.
The drainage of the bog had another unintended consequence, according to the provincial species-at-risk registry: it allowed gulls to move in, which trample the Eastern mountain avens, bring in weed seeds and alter nutrient levels in the soil.
'It's just hanging on'
Hill said a recent count showed the flower population was down 90 per cent this year in one part of the bog where seagulls and drier conditions have "bitten in."
"It's hanging on its heels but the main reduction has happened, we'll say, in the '90s, 2000s and it's just hanging on. It's a slow retreat but if we don't do anything, it's gone," said Hill.
Part of the restoration of the wetland includes the installation of a boardwalk so people can access the site.
"If you do something like this, it's an example to the nation to people of how important wetlands are and how important diversity is because diversity is … it's the bellwether. When we start losing things we start losing ecological function," said Hill.
With files from Information Morning