Fairy Fen reveals its magic to scientists

Named by a little girl who, upon seeing the fen, believed it fit for fairies, Fairy Fen Nature Reserve is one of Bowen's most magical and best kept, secrets.

It is an undisturbed wetland filled with plant species rare to this type of terrain.Plants such as Labrador Tea, bog St. John's-wort, bog cranberry, and a wide variety of Cyperaceae and mosses can all be found here. Singularly, these plants may not seem unique but their existence together within this ecosystem is what makes the fen so unusual.

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On November 14, Fairy Fen saw important visitors. Armed with a corer, Dr. Karen Golinski, a research consultant, who back in 2000 recommended the fen to be designated as an ecological reserve, teamed up with Dr. Kendrick Brown, a paleoecologist at the Canadian Forest Service in Victoria, and hiked in to collect soil samples for radiocarbon dating and further investigations.

"We are using a Russian peat sampler to extract long wetland records that contain abundant information about the origin, evolution and dynamics of the surrounding ecosystems. Consequently, these records are well suited to examine the origin of Sphagnum subnitens in our region" says Dr. Brown.

Sphagnum subnitens is a peat moss that occurs in Europe, Asia, New Zealand and coastal western North America, where it ranges from Alaska to Oregon. It typically occurs in fens and bogs in western North America.

Dr. Golinski is focusing on the ecology of peatlands of coastal BC and is challenging a hypothesis put forth by geneticists. It has been proposed that the low genetic diversity detected in western North America (with only a single multilocus haploid genotype identified in coastal western North America), may have resulted from a single founder event, when the plant was introduced to North America during colonization by Russians and Europeans (i.e., post 1700s), "To me it seemed incredulous that over the past 300 years this species could have been brought to the coast of western North America and then through dispersal by spores, have become established in peatlands extending from the Aleutians to Oregon."

With the help of Bowen Island Conservancy chairman Peter Drake, Chris Drake, and Conservancy director Alan Whitehead, the scientists dug down to a depth of 21.5 feet, where, Golinski says, Sphagnum stems are generally well preserved and can easily be dated.These samples will be screened for their fossil remains, and the data analyzed showing how the wetlands have developed over time, specifically during the post-glacial Holocene interval which covers the last 11,700 years of earth history.

So what does the future hold for Fairy Fen? Whitehead was hired by the Islands Trust Fund to create and implement the reserve's management plan. Within it are recommendations for the protection of its plants and animals, which include limiting human interference and helping to develop the public's appreciation ofnature via education and scientific research. Permission is currently required to enter into this sensitive area.

If you are interested in becoming a member of the Bowen Island Conservancy, and making a difference to special Bowen places such as Fairy Fen, visit www.bowenislandconservancy.org.

Debra Stringfellow

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