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Small Species Sanctuary

Song Sparrow. Photo by Jean Wyenberg.

Out of increasing necessity, there are many wildlife/nature sanctuaries to be found around our ailing planet - sanctuaries for grizzly bears, for buffalo, for bird life and even an elephant sanctuary to be found in Tennessee. It is pretty hard to miss a grizzly or an elephant. They are big, and they are spectacular. But just as at risk are the small ones that inhabit the earth – the frogs, snakes, salamanders and perching birds.  One of the main reasons for their disappearance is loss of habitat. Logging, draining of seasonal wetlands, destruction of native plants (to be replaced by non-native species), and the unnecessary fencing that is commonly seen – the fencing of wilderness (just because we can?).

The Small Species Sanctuary on Gabriola is a beautiful example of how we can live in harmony with nature and  protect it, rather than bulldozing it over without any consideration for the effect we are having.

The Small Species Sanctuary is composed of two properties side by side, totaling 30 acres. The land (which was logged about 15 years ago) was heavily overgrown with Scotch Broom. It took about two years using hand tools to cut or pull the adult broom, and it is an ongoing process to keep the new growth from taking hold.

Walking the trails of the sanctuary, I come across grassy ditches linking carved out water holes, berms, beautiful rock landscapes, natural seasonal wetlands and yes, lots of very healthy Garry Oak. The drama of the forest and rockland is obvious, but the beauty is in the details in this special place. It has been lovingly massaged back into a superb habitat for small creatures (that are so often overlooked) by years of manual labour and an intense desire to save this little corner of our fragile planet.

Everywhere I pulled broom, I sowed various pasture grasses to compete with the broom. The value of the grasses is that they provide food for the birds and rodents, break down during the rainy season to provide more biomass for the land, and help keep the bare land cool during the hot season. Wherever I saw water was being retained in small dips in the shallow soil, I dug by hand small water catchments to create temporal ponds .

I hear frogs calling everywhere I walk. I see dragonflies darting and hovering around the water holes (and even watched one depositing it’s eggs on a waterlogged branch).  I crouch down to look closely at the gorgeous mosses given a new lease on life by the recent rains and delight in the tiny perfect mushrooms pushing through. I see a Song Sparrow devouring red berries, Red Crossbills high up in the tree tops working on the cones, a Killdeer scampering over the rocks and then taking off with scolding vocalizations directed at me, and finally hear the welcome back bugle of  Bald Eagles recently returned to their Gabriola homes from the salmon spawning streams. There is a beautiful and heavily laden apple tree toward the back of the property, which Lawrence tells me is left entirely for the wildlife – as is all the other plant life on the sanctuary.

The owner shall be the Land itself…the wind that wanders here…the rain that falls…the trees, rocks, birds, bees, butterflies…the frogs, snakes, raccoons, deer, eagles, owls, salamanders…all the non-humans.

Lawrence’s dream is to place ecological covenants on the land to protect it forever as a “wildlife refuge nature garden ecological reserve” so that once it leaves his hands, no individual shall own it again. He envisions a very small community of caretakers living very simply in ecologically sensitive dwellings and with some guest accommodation. The land would be cared for and education would be provided for those wishing to learn about stewardship of our natural world. Quite a dream, and what a wonderful gift to our island community. I wonder how this dream could be realized.

One person cannot take care of the whole planet, but if each person would take care of one place, with conscious compassion - rather than taking from - then this whole planet would be taken care of.

For a tour of the Small Species Sanctuary call Lawrence at 250-247-9412 or contact him by email here or through his website,

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