Oxford County wetlands on its way to being fully restored

By Bruce Chessell, Woodstock Sentinel-Review

The Thames River Wetlands Restoration Project in Beachville has been taking place for a number of years now, and the effects are now beginning to become apparent.

On Tuesday officials from Oxford County and Ducks Unlimited Canada presented a guided tour of the 260 acres of floodplain and new natural habitat in Oxford County.

Phillip Holst, director of Ducks Unlimited Canada and vice-chair of Stewardship Oxford, said they were showing off a site that had recently been excavated into a functioning wetland.

“We’re explaining how a reasonably developed wetland looks, how it functions and how quickly it will transform into a naturally functioning wetland in a short time,” he said. “It usually takes about two growing seasons. The wetland will continue to evolve beyond that but within about two growing seasons the wetland has more or less been able to naturalize into a functioning wetland.”

The land that the county and Ducks Unlimited Canada developed used to be old pastureland. Holst explained how they took that land and converted it into a wetland.

“Re-naturalization is taking an area that had been predominately one form of plant life… removing some of that plant competition, putting in wet areas, opening up the landscape so that the seed bank that is in the ground can germinate and turn it into more of a wetland habitat with the type of plants that can now grow,” he explained. “These wetland plants have a very long lifespan.”

Something like this would have naturally occurred over a longer period of time, Holst said that they are simply speeding up that process.

“What the wetland area needs is to be opened up, have access to sun, have fresh soil and plenty of water, and be deep enough so that the invasive or competitive grasses won’t grow back in, allowing opportunity for aquatic plants to grow,” he said.

Holst said that he would like to do one more phase of wetland creation.

“There are some low sections that have settled in over the years,” he said. “I would like to deepen (those areas)… to allow for wetland habitat to develop.”

Oxford County warden David Mayberry also came out to tour the floodplains, and said that in the spring, right as growth is starting to happen, the area can look a little “raw and rough.”

“I think if people came back in three months time, they would be surprised by the natural growth in the area,” he said.