Guest Blog: Connecting kids with nature

Peninsula Streams Society recently established a legacy fund hosted and managed by the Victoria Foundation. The Peninsula Streams Society Fund will provide a source of long-term income from donors interested in supporting the society’s environmental education, restoration and stewardship programs.

One of our society’s most successful – and longest running – programs is Creatures of Habitat – Days of Action. This environmental education program connects middle school students with their local environment.

The story of how Creatures of Habitat was established always brings a smile to my face.

Three women came together in 2008 to brainstorm ways to educate and inspire youth who were in danger of becoming disillusioned by the environmental challenges of our times. The women wanted to inspire youth to action, leadership and stewardship. Little did they know that their initiative would lead to an environmental education program that has reached more than 6,000 students on the Saanich Peninsula.

Known for its stream restoration and conservation projects, the Peninsula Streams Society was approached to develop and deliver Creatures of Habitat in partnership with concerned community members. Today, the program is offered to all Grade 6/7 students at four middle schools: North Saanich, Bayside, Royal Oak and Colquitz.

“We try to educate students about native species and invasive species, and give them an opportunity to work outside and see things in nature,” explains Ian Bruce, Peninsula Streams Executive Coordinator.

The full-day program engages students in indoor and outdoor activities. Indoor activities include EnviroJeopardy, a presentation modeled after the television game show Jeopardy, with questions about the environment. We deliver the workshops in partnership with organizations such as LifeCycles, CRD Parks, World Fisheries Trust, Parks Canada and Victoria Compost Education Centre.

The outdoor component involves the students directly in restoration activities on or near school property. The activities depend on the school, but often include invasive plant species removal, salmon fry releases, weeding and native species plantings.

Students enjoy the experience, and teachers like Charlene Rozon at Bayside Middle School in Saanich are especially appreciative.

“I look forward to this day every year. We appreciate your organization, your hard work, your enthusiasm and your willingness to work with us. The volunteers were so encouraging, knowledgeable, helpful and patient. Thank you for making a difference in our students lives.”

We also deliver two annual environmental education programs at several elementary schools. Watershed and Salmon Lifecycle (Grades 2-3) and Cool Carbon Connections and Nature Exploration (Grade 5) engage around 700 students in hands-on learning at their schools and nearby green spaces.

Our education programs are offered at no or low cost and supported by more than 50 volunteers.

Peninsula Streams Society, a registered charity, has been actively restoring streams and protecting aquatic habitats throughout Greater Victoria since 2002.

Our activities in 2018 included organizing seven clean-up events on the Saanich Peninsula. Our volunteers cleaned over 11 linear kilometers of habitat, removing more than 400 kilograms of material, about half of which was recycled. We also maintained regular water quality monitoring in streams in Greater Victoria.

We continue to work to re-establish a self-sustaining coho salmon population in Tod Watershed. In January 2019, we released 500 juvenile coho, each implanted with a passive integrated transponder (PIT) tag, at two locations in the watershed. The PIT tags enable us to track the fish and test survival rates at each location.

In 2020 we plan to construct a fishway on Millstream Creek below an impassable culvert under Atkins Road, providing cutthroat and coho salmon access to eight kilometres of upstream spawning and rearing habitat.

The new Peninsula Streams Society Fund gives us an opportunity to build the financial resources needed t o maintain our education programs and continue to restore and protect healthy ecosystems throughout the Capital Regional District.

Francesca Loro is the Education and Stewardship Coordinator at Peninsula Streams Society. Please contact her for more information. You can also learn more at our website and on Facebook.