Reconnecting with Nature: Wetland Construction at Morfee Elementary School

School children placing woody debris in the wetland

On June 6-7, 2019, the BC Wildlife Federation (BCWF) led a wetland construction project at Morfee Elementary school in Mackenzie, BC. With the help of over 348 students, a 130 m2 wetland was created in a modest stand of trees behind the school. One of the goals of the project was to provide students with an outdoor learning lab for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) education, which would give them unparalleled opportunities to investigate animals, plants, soils, and water through hands-on, experiential learning.  Once the wetland is established, it will represent a safe and constructive environment for students—and the community—to explore wetlands and all they have to offer.

Over the course of those two days, we converted a small portion of forest into a wetland. However, this does then beg the question: How does one create a wetland?

It is a process that requires an understanding of hydrology, different soil types and their properties, and what a wetland needs to support a diversity of species. However, once you have the necessary knowledge, the actual process itself is quite straight-forward.

Building a wetland: 101. Step 1: Select the location, which will depend on such factors such as the type of wetland you want to build. Step 2: Measure the gradient of the slope so that you can determine which way the water will flow once the wetland is filled. The best rule of thumb is if it’s too steep to pitch a tent on, it’s too steep for a wetland. Step 3: Dig a hole to determine where the water table is. If the water table is too far down to naturally fill the wetland, then a liner is required to keep water in the shallow depression that will eventually become habitat for all types of species. The composition of the soil can also help determine the history of the surrounding area, and how the area has changed over time.

Preparation of the site by the excavator

Once these first three steps are completed, you can then move on to the construction phase. Step 4: Remove soil to a specified depth to create a gently sloping depression which minimizes erosion. Step 5: The liner (if needed) is rolled out and placed in the depression, sandwiched between two pieces of geotextile fabric to prevent damage and then staked down with landscape spikes. Soil is then laid on top of the liner, which is then seeded to prevent colonization by invasive plants.

On June 6, an excavator removed the shrubs and soil within the designated area on the school property to create the shallow depression. The depression was then graded to achieve the desired slope, and then the liner was rolled out and staked into place. Using the excess soil, the excavator operator covered the liner in preparation for the next day.

The second day of the project found us recruited the help of the Morfee Elementary students. They arrived at the site on a rotating schedule, and each group was given a short talk on the importance of wetlands, and what this specific one will mean for the local environment. The first group had the honour of being present for the blessing ceremony, which was led by Vincent Chingee of the McLeod Lake Indian Band (videos of the ceremony can be found here). The students were assigned to raking the soil, seeding the area with annual rye to prevent invasive species, placing logs and woody debris in the wetland to provide wildlife perches,building toad houses as refuge for amphibians, or picking up garbage from the surrounding woods. The entire process was incredibly exciting and invigorating for the students, and helped them forge personal connections with the wetland because each of them contributed to the its construction.

Projects like this reinforce connections with nature and help foster a deep-seated respect for the services that these highly productive ecosystems provide. While the overall scope of the project was to facilitate a productive habitat for insects, birds, and amphibians, clean local runoff water, and help control mosquito populations by attracting a greater number of insectivores, the main goal was engagement with youth. We are hopeful that through collaboration and the engagement that this project facilitated, that we inspire the next generation of local land stewards.

Group photo with one of the classes and Chelsea from the FWCP


We would like to extend a special thank you to our partners, The District of Mackenzie and Morfee Elementary School who provided us with the site to build this wetland. We would also like to recognize our funders, the Fish and Wildlife Compensation Program, Environment and Climate Change Canada, and Wildlife Habitat Canada, who made this project possible.

Comments
One Response to “Reconnecting with Nature: Wetland Construction at Morfee Elementary School”
  1. Paul Berlinguette says:

    As it should be great work educating the future generations

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