Herons on Roberts Bay need the protection of the Town of Sidney, say the Friends of Shoal Harbour. (photo contributed)

Herons on Roberts Bay need the protection of the Town of Sidney, say the Friends of Shoal Harbour. (photo contributed)

South Vancouver Island herons need help

Friends of Shoal Harbour call for changes to help elegant shorebird.

A south Vancouver Island conservation group is sounding the alarm that, unless authorities take action to protect the migratory birds in the region, a magnificent natural resource and tourist attraction may be damaged or lost.

The town of Sidney-by-the-Sea has amazing natural biodiversity – so much so that it was the first location in BC to be deemed a “NatureHood”, a Nature Canada designation announced by the former Lieutenant Governor Judith Guichon in 2015.

It is also home to the Shoal Harbour Migratory Bird Sanctuary, part of the ancestral home of the Salish (Wsi-i-kem) people and the Sidney Channel International Bird Area (IBA), recognized for its critical habitat for migrating birds. It was created in 1931 under the authority of the Migratory Bird Convention Act and is an area that supports migratory birds, a multitude of plant and animals species and has cultural and historical value.

But for all that, the area is not currently protected under Sidney’s Official Community Plan (OCP) or within the Urban Forest Strategy.

“Last spring and early summer there was a construction project on Allbay Road where the construction company dumped material at the base of nesting trees of blue herons. Thee wee two Great Blue Heron rookeries in those trees, and they harboured chicks,” said Sue Staniforth, chairwoman of The Friends of Shoal Harbour (FOSH).

“We went to the developer and they told us they had the town’s okay, and the town said that there were no restriction in place within the OCP and that it was something they would look at when that plan was reviewed in 2019. It was very frustrating.”

Over the past few years, said Staniforth, FOSH has had growing concern at the increased development pressures in town and the gradual decrease in mature trees and natural shoreline areas.

Presently, neither the Roberts Bay Environmentally Sensitive Areas guidelines nor the Town’s Official Community Plan (OCP) include any protection for great blue heron nests and this summer’s disruption will probably result in those herons not returning to their nests on Allbay Road.

“Basically, we are calling for people to become aware of the situation and to become involved in the review of the OCP and the Urban Forest Strategy so that protections are put into place to prevent a repeat of what happened in 2018,” said Staniforth.

“It is citizens’ voices that will help to safeguard habitat and protect our priceless wildlife and habitat in the Migratory Bird Sanctuary and throughout the Town.”

She hopes that people who are concerned about and appreciate the natural wonders of the area will get involved and that they visit the FOSH website at shoalharbour.com.

“Three’s an election coming up and maybe if people let the candidates know that this is a concern, they’ll remember to do something when they get on Council”

FOSH’s principal effort is to promote an integrated management plan for the Shoal Harbour area jointly directed by the Municipalities of Sidney and North Saanich, a plan that includes adequate protection for the Migratory Bird Sanctuary. Ultimately it will be public support and volunteer effort along with the support/endorsement of the local, provincial and federal governments that will lead to the development and implementation of such a plan.