Back to the land – with less buckthorn!
Volunteers walking through a corn field (Photo by NCC)
Signing up for a mid-July conservation volunteer event was one of my best decisions this summer! I work at the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC), but indoors, and rarely get to visit our NCC properties.
I decided to lend a hand as a volunteer so I could be outside in nature. This was also a good opportunity to walk on land we are protecting at the Venise-Ouest peatland in the municipalities of Venise-en-Québec and Saint-Georges-de-Clarenceville. I also wanted to meet some of our partners/donors, learn about an invasive species — buckthorn — and how to help reduce its invasion.
We, the volunteers, met in a quaint little chalet and received clear instructions on how the day would unfold while sipping a coffee with croissant kindly offered by the local mayor! We put on bug spray before heading into a small opening along a corn field, which eventually led us to the woods. I realized I had never seen corn from that close; it truly looked tropical to me.
Once in the forest, we were shown how to identify common buckthorn. In July, the plant has no flower or fruit — just green leaves with prominent curved veins arching toward the tip of the leaf, and finely toothed margins. We were given demonstrations on how to pull, cut, mechanically remove and girdle the buckthorn.
Some strong folks took on the weed wrench tools. I lugged a garbage bag with cuttings, while we all chatted and worked. I enjoyed listening to the caring nature enthusiasts share enthusiastic stories from other NCC Conservation Volunteers events and how they got to hear about us. I witnessed the deep connection and commitment to nature by all involved.
Girdled buckthorn tree (Photo by NCC)
I later tried girdling, which is removing the tree bark all the way around, creating a wide band of exposed wood. This can weaken larger buckthorn shrubs that can’t be pulled by hand or mechanical means. The job was easier than I thought, and the smell of the tree was a pleasant surprise. It curiously felt like I was undressing the tree. We managed to girdle the complete patch of buckthorn trees!
I have learned to identify buckthorn so well that I am now seeing these leaves everywhere, on all of my daily walks in Montreal. Wherever there are natural weeds growing, I can spot the buckthorn and see how it’s truly a rural and urban invader.
Here is a video (in French only) produced by Renée Rouleau, Mayor of St-Georges de Clarenceville, that outlines the day.
By Lyne Vandenplas, NCC major gifts assistant in the Quebec Region.
This activity was made possible thanks to financial support from Environment and Climate Change Canada.