Goodbye birdies, hello birds!

Until recently, visitors to the Blackburn Lake Nature Reserve on B.C.’s Salt Spring Island were more likely to see golf balls flying overhead than a peregrine falcon. That’s because years ago, wetlands throughout the 45-acre area had been drained and flattened to make way for a golf course.

Bald eagle, also called American bald eagle, Canada. © J. D. Taylor / WWF-Canada

Today, the reserve is becoming better known for its sandpipers than its sand traps. The golf course is gone, and in its place are restored wetlands where you’ll find otters splashing in ponds, dragonflies perched on bulrushes and great blue herons taking flight. “This is just a paradise of habitat,” says wetland expert Tom Biebighauser.
Close up of a North American river otter (Lutra canadensis) sitting on a rock in British Columbia, Canada (c) Tim Irvin WWF

Since 2014, the Salt Spring Island Conservancy has been working on restoration projects in the area. And last fall, funding from WWF’s Restoration Fund, established in partnership with Coca-Cola Canada, allowed the group to set their sights on the 8th hole and restored another 1.5 acres of former fairway.

Historic golf course before restoration (c) Salt Spring Island Conservancy / WWF

With support from two-dozen shovel-wielding volunteers, an excavator, a bulldozer and Biebighauser — who has helped restore more than 1,800 wetlands across North America — they got to work reshaping the land.
The crew removed invasive grasses and pulled up drainage and irrigation lines, while heavy machines re-contoured the once-level fairway. They scattered seeds collected from nearby rushes and sedges and planted over 10 thousand native flowers, shrubs, and trees. They added downed logs, boulders and woody debris to provide hiding spots for frogs, perches for birds, resting sites for dragonflies, and more.
Reshaping land to restore natural wetlands (c) Simon Henson

Restoration on this scale is a huge undertaking: At the Salt Spring Island Conservancy, on-the-ground projects demand more than 6,000 hours of volunteer time. But the work is hugely important.
Volunteers planting native species (c) Laura Matthias

The highly stressed Blackburn Lake watershed is home to 21 species at risk, including little brown bats, nighthawks, duskywing butterflies and northern red-legged frogs. In addition, the area provides vital habitat to over 100 species of waterfowl, migrating shorebirds and other birds, as well as an impressive assortment of other creatures large and small.
Native hardhack in restored wetlands (c) Simon Henson / WWF

By restoring historic wetlands, the Conservancy is increasing biodiversity and supporting native plants and animals. What’s more, the wetlands act as natural filters, improving water quality for wildlife and downstream communities, helping control the flow of water into nearby creeks and preventing soil from being washed downstream to Blackburn Lake.
For Biebighauser, the entire project has proved to be a hole-in-one. “It’s been really great to see what can be done in a restoration program when so many people work together.”
WWF’s Restoration Fund was established in partnership with Coca-Cola to fund on-the-ground projects like these in some of Canada’s most threatened watersheds.