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 Fund 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
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
Also known locally as Mystery Marsh, Fairy Fen has never been
owned privately. Before transferring to the Islands Trust
Fund, 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withdrawn in the early 1990s, conservationists on the island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
Fund 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 Fund'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 Fund 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 Fund 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.