Manufacturing our local landscapes

Published: August 03, 2010 1:00 PM

A native black-cap bush used to grow beside the road just along from my place. It yielded tasty berries unlike anything you can buy.

To me the bush seemed such a treasure that in a dry August I carried buckets to water it. So I was shocked to see one summer morning that a neighbourhood-improver had tidied the road margin by leveling the ground and rooting out all vegetation, including my valued black-cap, for a couple of square metres.

Walking past the patch of brown goat pasture where the black-cap used to grow, I am troubled by the sense of loss that bites me when someone spoils the local mini-landscape.

I felt that kind of dismay on a larger scale when I looked out the window of the No. 58 Langford Meadows bus and saw a tract of seasonal wetland at the foot of Langford Lake advertised for sale or lease — presumably to be developed and paved over, like other wetlands in this lake’s tiny watershed and flood plain.

The advertised stretch of land includes a trail bordered by a thick hedge of blackberry bushes — a trail which some of us simple-minded, unwary people imagined was public property. Linked to the trail that skirts the lake is a thin fringe of woodland screening off the general expanse of concrete.

People gather hundreds of pounds of blackberries on the auxiliary trail that lies on the land now advertised for sale. Couldn’t something be done to save this source of food close to home? Buy and keep the land as a public trust, maybe?

I know other people who feel a sense of loss in a variety of contexts. Along the stretch of Wishart Road that fronts on the federal woodland adjoining Royal Roads University, for example, some people are seriously bothered because Colwood municipality has filled in a grassy ditch or small valley which used to be the perfect place to walk a small dog.

Now it is just a flat, sterile stretch of gravel. Did the municipality really save money on cutting the grass within that miniature valley, by filling it in? Several residents of Wishart have been unable to get city hall to answer that question, or pay any attention to their complaints.

This issue may seem trivial. But it is a sign of the coarse texture of local politics, the insensitivity of local government to the feelings of citizens. This blurred connection is especially troublesome on the boundary between human settlement and wild nature — if those realms really are separate from one another.

One trend of thought suggests that wild areas are no longer truly wild, and the whole planet has become one zoological garden, destructively mismanaged by its human keepers.

The high fence that used to enclose that stretch of woodland on Wishart — too high for deer to jump over — has been replaced by a low barrier. It’s an easy jump, so deer routinely cross over and browse on the neighbourhood gardens.

Deer have become halfway domestic animals, as expanding residential development invades their habitat, and there are no cougars to thin their numbers. They are a pretty sight, grazing along the edges of golf courses and in our remaining tracts of woodland.

But they make trouble for themselves and humans when they crowd across roads and cause traffic crashes. What are we supposed to do about all that? Humane birth control may be the answer. For deer and rabbits you do it by capture; for people, by persuasion.

Zero growth — the steady-state economy — is strongly argued in the current issue of New Internationalist magazine. Population control is part of the design for reducing world poverty while cooling and reversing the doctrine of growth which, ecologists contend, is killing the planet.

—G.E. Mortimore is a Langford-based writer. Think About It runs every second week in the Gazette.

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