Greater Victoria Green Team cleans up Cunningham Woods

Campus Environmental Local News

Removal of invasive species undertaken in preparation for expansion of Engineering and Computer Science Building

Cunningham Woods clean up, photo provided by GVGT.
Photo provided by GVGT.

On a crisp, cold Saturday in late November, members of the Greater Victoria Green Team (GVGT) along with 28 volunteers set to work clearing Cunningham Woods, a 1-acre forested area inside Ring Road, of invasive species. 

The removal, done in collaboration with UVic’s office of Campus Planning and Sustainability, is being carried out in preparation for an expansion of the Engineering Computer Science Building. Construction on the expansion is scheduled to begin in 2022. The trees removed during construction will be replaced in Cunningham Woods.

GVGT Project Manager Karlis Hawkins told the Martlet that removing invasive species and replacing them with native trees is an important form of climate action.

“There’s a biodiversity crisis,” said Hawkins. “We have a lot of rare species that won’t exist beyond the Gulf Islands, and some beyond this little slice of the South Island. So it’s really important what we’re doing here to preserve that biodiversity.”

Although not currently in the firing line of development, Cunningham Woods has a contentious history at UVic. In 2000, the university planned to develop the land into a brand new class building. But a lobbying effort by UVic students stopped the development. However, campus plans in the years since have consistently called for the land to be developed. Continued lobbying efforts by students have worked to prevent this.

In recent years, Cunningham Woods has been taken over by invasive species such as English Holly and English Ivy. If new trees are going to thrive in the woods, these plant species need to be removed first.

“This forest has gotten a little sparse for native trees,” Hawkins told the assembled volunteers. “Because of all the invasive species, a lot of seeds dropped. They don’t get to the ground, or they get overtaken before they’re able to grow into trees.”

Besides serving as necessary climate action, Hawkins says events such as tree planting or removing invasive species serve as an opportunity for members of the community to meet one another and make new friendships. 

“I’ve only been here two years myself and this has been a good way to meet people,” said Hawkins. “You know, around my age, we got a younger demographic to come out to volunteer more than a lot of groups, oftentimes.”

For friends Carolyn, Chelsea, and Jeremy, volunteering with GVGT simply seemed like a worthwhile way to spend a Saturday.

“I’m new to Victoria, and there was an event that seemed interesting, getting up in the forest, and removing invasive species,” Jeremy said. “I thought this would be a fun way to spend a Saturday. Maybe I’ll return more.”

While they were happy to see people caring about the environment, they were also pleasantly surprised to discover how much the work they were doing played into reconciliation. 

“We were also talking about how neat it is that they tied it into reconciliation,” said Carolyn. “That wasn’t something that was advertised, but something that people who come out care a lot about.”  

While many of the volunteers were on the younger side, a number of seniors, like Roy Fletcher, joined for the sake of getting out for some fresh air. Fletcher is the chair of the Friends of Beacon Hill Park and has been involved with GVGT since it was founded in 2014. He says keeping things in order is his main goal.

“I’m an engineer,” Fletcher told the Martlet. “For me, it’s not so much species diversity, it’s chaos.” 

Besides invasive species removal, GVGT engages in tree planting and education on sustainability. They are part of the wider non-profit organization Green Teams of Canada. Hawkins hopes to continue expanding the services the organization offers in the future.

“We’re expanding our programs to be more than just an invasive species removal,” he said. “We also want to do a lot of education around environmental stewardship, so we’ve done some interpretive walks on the mainland with the Lower Mainland Green Team.”

For Hawkins, all the hard work is worth it when he sees people come out to protect the environment and make a difference in the community. 

“We really want to encourage everyone to come out to meet new people,” said Hawkins. “These are great events to meet new friends and meet your neighbors and get involved in something and take climate action that is physical and you feel good about at the end of the day.”

To get involved with GVGT, you can visit their website or look for upcoming events on Meetup.