(From left) Friends of North Saanich Parks executive director Sharon Hope, with volunteers Joy Douglas and Tom Richards. (Nick Murray/News Staff)

Island man battling invasive horde with a set of shears

Former around-the-world sailor relentless in his battle against invasive plants

In the battle against invasive species, the Friends of North Saanich Parks (FNSP) have found a useful recruit in Tom Richards, a former around-the-world sailor who now cuts a swathe through unwelcome plants.

Richards, 63, moved to North Saanich last year from the Mainland, after six years at sea. His house backs out on to Lillian Hoffar Park, one of the areas the group works on. He saw the great work the FNSP did and joined up, helping clear unwanted plant species from the 24 out of 35 parks they have targeted.

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Centuries of ivy, Daphne, Himalayan blackberry and other alien greenery had largely been left unchecked, swamping the local flora and choking many of the native trees. Some of the species are also poisonous to humans and animals.

The soft-spoken Richards has lost 25 pounds since starting his mission and describes clearing plants as a form of mindfulness as he hunts and digs. Although he modestly lauds his colleagues, he appears to be the star performer often spending an extra 12 hours each week clearing plants on his own. In Lillian Hoffar Park alone, he has cleared three truck loads of weeds in just a few weeks.

“In this day and age when climate change and man’s impact on the whole planet is obvious, it occurred to me that you can also go back and restore. All the Ivy and Daphne that comes off the ground allows the native stuff to grow, all the herbs and different beautiful native plants, so you actually get a feeling in a small way, in a microcosm, of doing what human beings should be able to do.”

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Richards says he enjoys the social aspect of the work groups the most. He also says he read that if a person plants 11 trees that live for 80 years, that will cover their life’s carbon footprint.

He’s unsure if that’s true but if it is, wonders if saving 11 trees can have the same positive effect. So far, he’s saved far more than 11 trees.

The FNSP was founded by Ashlee Scanlon and Sharon Hope, who has been described as the “driving force,” and aims to restore the parks back to their former glory. They run regular clearing sessions, helped by key allies Jarrett Teague, Amanda Evans and Jim Nelson. The group relies on members of the public, school groups and scout troops to volunteer, with work parties of up to 20 on some occasions. Help is in short supply and they appreciate every person who shows up to assist. Due to the big nature of the task, to clear a 20 metre square area often takes many months and the group hope to clear 90 per cent of unwanted plants in targeted parks.

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“It’s resetting the succession clock back to native,” says volunteer Joy Douglas, adding, “Plus you meet some great people.”

If you would like to help restore the District’s parks, visit fnsp.ca. The next scheduled clearing dates are Aug. 10 at Quarry Park and Aug. 24 at Denham Till Park. Both from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The Friends will also join with the Greater Victoria Green Team, Saturday, Sept. 7 at 9:45 a.m. at Lillian Hoffar Park.



nick.murray@peninsulanewsreview.com

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