Space invaders

Wild weeds and atypical animals: we take a walk through Glenbrook Ravine with the Invasive Species Council of BC

Glenbrook Ravine is an exceptional place to go for a walk. From turtles to trees, and everything in between, it’s a great place to get outside.

Unfortunately it’s one of the spaces in New Westminster we enjoy that has a handful of invasive species in it, according to the Invasive Species Council of BC. (ISCBC) In time for Invasive Species Action Month, the ISCBC is taking us through some of the invasives you might find in the park.

One example is the fish and the turtles in the area pond. The City of New Westminster tells New West Anchor the koi and the turtles have been there since anyone can remember. The pond was constructed in 1991, and the City says the animals were likely put in there by residents.

Three turtles sunning at Glenbrook Ravine

“You can really alter the ecosystem around you if you introduce a species that’s not supposed to be where you’re letting it go,” says Ruby Banwait, who is the senior lead of community partnerships at the ISCBC. “A lot of research needs to be done into a pet that you’re bringing into your home.” Banwait says that includes ensuring you can care for it for its lifetime. If you can no longer care for it, Banwait says it’s important to find proper rehoming options for the animal.

“Introduced species really outcompete native species for resources. They can eat up all the insects, any food sources. And because they don’t have any natural predators, species that live there are not able to keep up with them altering the ecosystem.”

English Ivy at Glenbrook Ravine

English Ivy and Irish Ivy – which are difficult to tell apart – tend to choke tall trees as they grow up their trunks. Melanie Apps, who is a Youth Facilitator with the ISCBC – and also lives in New Westminster – spotted the plants right away.

“If too much [of the ivy] grows on the trees, in a really bad windstorm it could weigh that tree down, essentially, and it could be the end of that tree,” she explains. “It’s pretty quick growing. It [can also] carpet out to the ground and just excludes everything, all the other plants. It’s nearly impossible for nearly any other species to get through and get nutrients.”

The most striking invasive species in the park, however, is the hill of Himalayan blackberry. It’s a plant you can find throughout the Lower Mainland. Apps says it’s thought the plant was brought over by settlers for decorative purposes.

“Similar to English Ivy, they just crowd out everything and anything in sight,” Apps says, noting that other plants then have a tougher time accessing nutrients in the soil. “They do require a bit of sunshine, which is probably why they’re all over the hill. That means no sunshine for the other plants.”

The Himalayan blackberry has an extremely complex and stubborn root system, so it can take years of cleaning up before it’s cleared out. Leaving just one tiny root behind can spell trouble all over again.

“When an area is biodiverse, it makes it resilient to climate events,” says Tamara Slobogean, who is the group’s communications manager. “Research is still being done around the role of invasive species in climate change, but we do know that invasive species are extremely resilient, and thrive in extreme climates.”

So, how can you help stop the spread of invasives? Aside from ensuring you don’t dump animals into ponds, there are certain precautions you take on walks.

  • Make sure your shoes are clean after you take a walk through a park. One of the best ways to do that is with a boot brush. “Some people don’t realize they can bring invasives home, and into their gardens,” explains Slobogean.

  • Get involved in local events! Look for a clean-up in your area. Apps says there are different programs available for everyone, including kids and teens, and they're hoping to host a clean-up in New West at some point. “It doesn’t matter if you love the outdoors or you’re totally new to invasive species.” Apps says there is something for everyone.

  • Get to know the plants and animals in your area. You can download different apps onto your phone to get a sense of what grows in your neighbourhood. Slobogean, Apps and Banwait are all fans of iNaturalist.