Split-rail fence protecting sensitive area destroyed on Christmas Hill

Staff at Swan Lake Christmas Hill Nature Sanctuary were left to pick up the pieces this week after someone destroyed a split-rail fence designed to protect a sensitive ecosystem on Christmas Hill.

Staff believe the damage was done over the weekend and notified Saanich police, who are investigating.

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Cara Gibson, the sanctuary’s executive director, said about 200 feet of split-rail fencing, which had been held together by foot-long spikes, was pried apart and tossed around the area. The wooden rails were thrown over the side of the hill and down an embankment.

Along the fence were signs pointing out it was there so the ecosystem could be restored.

“There are sensitive species at the top of Christmas Hill and we are trying to prevent trampling,” said Gibson.

“We are a non-profit and a lot of the materials we use come from community donations, and so it feels sort of devastating to see such goodwill and wonderful work to support the environment just ripped apart for no really obvious reason.”

Gibson said it would have taken a lot of time to pry the fence apart. “It would have been an arduous task that would have taken several hours,” she said.

“And they would have needed great leverage to rip apart those spiked-together pieces of wood. Someone really had the will to do this and we don’t know why.”

While Gibson acknowledged there are people who would love to be able to walk their dogs on the sanctuary’s grounds — pets are not permitted due to the risk of affecting migrating birds that use the space as a stopover and breeding ground — she doesn’t believe that would motivate anyone to destroy a fence.

“We just can’t see that being the reason,” she said. “We have had other vandalism on site that has been equally puzzling.”

There was a period in October when people were daily setting off firecrackers at midday.

Saanich police are looking for any witnesses or information about the destruction of the fence.

The sanctuary intends to rebuild the fence as soon as possible, but it will depend on salvaging the material, rounding up volunteer help and fitting it into the work schedule.

“Replacing the fencing is critical for the protection of that habitat and keeping the ­trampling off these plants,” Gibson said.

“We are trying to cultivate a particular type of ecosystem here and it’s not one that includes a lot of invasive species.

“It takes a lot of careful, diligent, skilled labour to promote some plants and exclude others.”

aduffy@timescolonist.com

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