The history of colonial settlement in Victoria and the city’s ever expanding urban population have drastically altered the landscape and ecology of the region over the past 165 years. The few remaining patches of Garry Oak meadow in the region (including those in Beacon Hill Park) exhibit novel ecological compositions and dynamics. As stated by Thomas Munson:
For all intents and purposes, we have a novel ecosystem here. We have the remnants of the Garry oak meadow species now surrounded by any one of a number non-native plants. Depending on your definition of a novel ecosystem, this is a novel ecosystem. It’s not in any way characterizing it as a true Garry oak meadow.
Indeed, it is possible that the impacts of colonization on these ecosystems are so severe that they may have exceeded a restoration threshold (Hobbs et al, 2009) that would prevent the ecology from ever returning to something that resembles a pre-colonized state. For this reason, Munson stated that, “My objective neither short term nor long term is to make this what it was prior to the arrival of Europeans.”
For instance, the grasslands of Beacon Hill Park have virtually no remaining native grasses and are almost entirely populated by introduced grasses such as Couch grass (Elymus repens), orchard grass (Dactylis glomerata) Redtop (Agrostis gigantean) and Kentucky bluegrass (Poa pratensis) that would take a tremendous effort to eliminate, or to prevent from being reintroduced from the surrounding landscape. Many of these grasses were introduced by British settlers as pasture forage for their cattle. Whereas the native grasses were bunch grasses that provided space for native forbs to grow between their clumps, the introduced pasture grasses grew as a thick mat of turf that smothered or crowd out many wildflowers such as camas (Munson, 2015).
British settlers also introduced many plants that appealed to their aesthetic tastes and reminded them of home. For instance, Scotch Broom (Cytisus scoparius) was first introduced to southern Vancouver Island by Walter Colquhoun Grant who is said to have planted it on his estate in Sooke in 1851 because it reminded his wife of Scotland. The plant has spread very successfully throughout the region because it has no local predators. By the early 1900s, Beacon Hill Park was covered in “impenetrable broom thickets” that made acres of the park including Meegan entirely inaccessible, shading out local flora including camas (Ringuette 2004). At the time, these thickets were widely welcomed by settlers as one of the most attractive features of the park. Beginning in the 1930s, efforts to eliminate broom from the park have been made, including the application of chemical herbicides. However, because broom seed can remain dormant in the soil for decades, this persistent species will likely remain a part of the Beacon Hill Park ecology for generations to come.
Daffodils (Narcissus spp.) are another species that was introduced to Beacon Hill Park to appeal to settler aesthetics. Daffodils were planted in the park beginning in 1858. According to Ringuette “enthusiastic daffodil planting continued for the next 150 years” (Ringuette 2004). Ringuette notes that in 1957 alone, 80,000 bulbs were planted in the camas fields along the south facing hillside of Meegan. By the late 1960s there were estimated to be 400,000 daffodils on the hillside. Many thousands remain in the park today where they continue to spread through their corms, competing with camas and other wildflowers.
The hydrology of Beacon Hill Park has been altered due to settler drainage practices. These hydrological changes have been further accentuated by a hotter drier climate in recent years. The changes to landscape hydrology have impacted species distributions. For instance, the Garry oak meadows of Victoria and Beacon Hill Park were once home to over 40 species of butterflies with populations in the millions. Many of these butterflies require moist environments for part of their lifecycle. As a consequence of the hydrological alterations these butterflies populations have nearly entirely disappeared (Munson 2015; Page et al, 2015; Miskelly, 2004; Ringuette 2004).
Daffodils in Beacon Hill Park (2015)