Imagine a clearing, hidden deep in a forest of cedars and Douglas-fir, shadowed by surrounding hills. You might only stumble across it when lifting one of the thick branches of needles that hide it from view.
One summer day, eight-year old Flora Dunster did just that, accompanying her mother who was conducting a wetland inventory of Bowen Island. Flora floated on a bed of moss and watery earth below, charmed by the dragonflies and glistening sundews - possibly the fairies, too. And so, on the advice of Flora, the pair celebrated the magical place by calling it Fairy Fen.
That wetland inventory of Fairy Fen revealed a Bowen Island gem - a peat-forming fen that was intact and undisturbed, something rare in the islands. It's a fascinating place that floats between aquatic and terrestrial. The moss-covered ground is firm enough to walk on, but poking a walking stick into the soggy earth reveals water hiding just below. Coastal reindeer lichen, Labrador tea, bog cranberry and yellow starry feather-moss are just a sampling of the plants found at Fairy Fen.
In partnership with the BowenIsland Conservancy, the Islands Trust Conservancy protected an 18 hectare (44 acre) nature reserve around Fairy Fen through B.C.'s Sponsored Crown Grant program in 2010. The reserve protects the fen, a second wetland, and the headwaters of Huszar Creek, an important watershed.
With the retreat of the last Ice Age nearly twelve thousand years ago, a glacier left behind a small lake among the hills of Bowen Island. That lake gradually transitioned from a marsh to a fen, with a peat layer than now stands at over three meters deep.
Also known locally as Mystery Marsh, Fairy Fen has never been owned privately. Before transferring to the Islands Trust Conservancy, the fen and surrounding forest lay on Crown land. Numerous tree stumps within Fairy Fen Nature Reserve show characteristic spring-board cuts, evidence of historical logging in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Several of the older Douglas-fir trees show evidence of fire.
In the late 1980s, Fairy Fen was identified as a preferred site for the creation of a water reservoir to serve a proposed residential and golf course development on Bowen Island. The proposed dams would have flooded the fen, destroying the unique ecosystem forever. After the development project was withdrawn in the early 1990s, conservationists on the island rallied together to protect the fen. A wetland inventory of the island in 2002 recommended the fen be permanently protected because it was one of the most undisturbed, biologically diverse fens in B.C.
In 2005, the Bowen Island community engaged the Islands Trust Conservancy to apply to protect the fen as a nature reserve through the province's Sponsored Crown Grant program. After more than a decade of lobbying, the community got its wish - Fairy Fen was permanently protected in 2010 as the Islands Trust Conservancy's 20th nature reserve.
The 18-hectare Fairy Fen Nature Reserve sits inside a larger block of Crown land on the island's southwest end. The former logging roads that criss-cross through the Crown land provide access to some parts of the nature reserve. Although these roads are commonly used by off-road bike, ATV and 4x4 enthusiasts, the Islands Trust Fund and Bowen Island Conservancy ask those using mountain bikes and motorized vehicles respect the sensitive nature of the fen and the headwaters of Huszar Creek that this reserve protects. Please adhere to signs posted around the boundary of the nature reserve and refrain from using any wheeled vehicles inside the protected area.
Hikers can access the nature reserve using the same former logging roads. Please view the fen from the outskirts of the clearing. Remember, because of the sensitive nature of the peat and the unique plants it supports, footsteps in the fen can last years and degrade the health of this unique place. Fairy Fen was protected because it is one of the most undisturbed and pristine fens in B.C. Please help us keep it that way.
The Islands Trust Conservancy enlists the help of the Bowen Island Conservancy to manage Fairy Fen Nature Reserve. The reserve is monitored regularly by volunteers to keep track of the changing management needs of this sensitive area.
Our management priorities for Fairy Fen Nature Reserve centre on preserving the unique collection of plants and maintaining the health of the Huszar Creek headwaters that this incredibly fragile ecosystem supports. We hope to work with the recreational off-roading community to raise awareness about the boundaries of the nature reserve and the importance of the protected area to the health of the surrounding community. Ecological restoration will be needed in the areas already disturbed by recreational use inside the reserve.
Also, the Islands Trust Conservancy will be working to ensure the fen is not over-loved - trampled by nature enthusiasts who in good faith hope to catch a glimpse of some of the very rare plants found here. The management plan for the Fairy Fen Nature Reserve can be viewed here.