Volunteers remove invasive plants from Bose Forest Park, on 164th Street in Surrey, during a recent Nature Work Party event. (photo: City of Surrey)

‘Nature Work Parties’ don’t celebrate invasive plants that plague Surrey parks

Non-native plants are a big problem, and volunteers are needed to help prevent them from spreading

SURREY — People who don’t properly dispose of garden waste are contributing to the problem of invasive plants in Surrey’s parks.

The problem is so bad, so-called Nature Work Parties are organized in an effort to rid parks of fast-spreading plants such as Periwinkle, Scotch broom, English ivy, Himalayan blackberry and others – some deemed too nasty for the average person to remove on their own.

This summer, volunteers for these “parties” are sought for events at Bose Forest Park, Clayton Park and Surrey Nature Centre.

“There are a lot of invasive plants in many of our parks, but we’ve chosen those three parks specifically because they’re easily accessible to the public, and also because we’re trying to (establish) longer-term volunteer groups there,” said Colleen Gillespie, environmental programs co-ordinator for the City of Surrey’s Urban Forestry department.

Invasive plants are described as non-native plants that grow out of control in parks, gardens and other green spaces.

Most of these plants were introduced because they look nice and grow easily, Gillespie said, but sometimes the most popular garden plants, such as English ivy, are also most troublesome.

“It’s a pretty big problem throughout the region,” she said. “Anywhere we have people and nature coexisting together, as we do in our urban area, people who may not know about invasive plants sometimes get rid of that in their garden waste or clippings. They may dispose of them over their back fence or dump them into a park, maybe thinking they’re doing a good thing by composting. But that might be a problem, with a plant that might not be native to our area.”

Giant hogweed is particularly problematic because of its toxicity. In fact, people are asked to contact City of Surrey staff to educate themselves about the plant before attempting to remove it.

“Giant hogweed is a big problem, and that’s one we don’t have volunteers remove because it can actually cause a reaction on peoples’ skin and burn them, so we don’t want people touching that plant,” Gillespie said. “City staff come in, trained staff, and deal with that one because it’s pretty nasty. We also need to positively identify that one because it does look similar to another plant that is native and quite benign. So with giant hogweed, we encourage people to just report it if they see it, either in public property or even private property. That’s one that can cause real danger to the public.”

Invasive plants are tough and can keep growing from even the smallest parts of the plant, the City of Surrey notes on its website. Dumping garden clippings in natural areas is a sure way to spread these unwanted plants, and it’s against the law.

The problem plants can have lasting economic, social and environmental consequences, officials warn.

Accordingly, Surrey residents are encouraged to place all green waste in a bin for curbside pickup and avoid using invasive plants in their gardens – or at least work to contain them in pots to prevent them from spreading.

Also, people can help by volunteering at a Nature Work Party, three of which are planned during the month of August – at Bose Forest Park on Aug. 12, Clayton Park on Aug. 19 and Surrey Nature Centre on Aug. 26. To get involved as a volunteer, visit surrey.ca/culture-recreation/22609.aspx, email environment@surrey.ca or call 604-501-5158.

“English ivy is one plant we remove with the public, and even kids can remove that one because it’s not prickly or anything,” Gillespie noted. “And Himalayan blackberry is another we remove with the public, but it’s a little prickly so we want everyone to wear gloves for that one.”

Some of the plants require a bit more oversight by staff than others, she said, “but we invite families with kids to come out and everyone can do a job that’s appropriate for them. These aren’t jobs that require a lot of training and skill, just some knowledge, some orientation by staff, and the volunteers are told which plants to remove, not the ones we do want to keep in the parks. All people need are some good sturdy shoes and to dress for the weather.”

The event name of “Nature Work Party” was chosen to include Surrey’s tree-planting events in the fall.

“The tree-planting events we do are quite popular, and even more people show up for those,” Gillespie said. “Everybody loves to plant trees, and in the spring we remove invasive plants to prepare a site for tree-planting, so the events are connected. That’s the reward at the end of the season, in a way, that everybody gets to plant trees in the places where invasive plants have been removed. People get to see the transformation of a site.”

Looking ahead, a National Tree Day Planting Party will be held at Surrey Nature Centre on Sept. 30, and Releaf Community Tree Planting events will take place in October at Bonnie Schrenk Park, Bose Forest Park, Clayton Park and Hazelnut Meadows Community Park.

tom.zillich@surreynowleader.com

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