Volunteers of the Month: Property Guardians Colin O’Neil, Roberta and Roy Harding
17 Mar 2022
Colin O’Neil, Roberta and Roy Harding have been volunteering as Property Guardians at the Nature Trust’s conservation easement land on the Meander River for the past three years. We’re delighted to highlight their volunteer efforts as a great example of stewardship and having the whole family get outdoors, connect with nature, and spend time making a difference together.
Colin works with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans on freshwater fisheries stock, after having worked with the Sackville Rivers Association as staff, volunteer, and board member. “As Roy can tell you, I’m pretty obsessed with water,” he jokes. But these days his work is largely desk-based, so he started to look for a volunteer opportunity that was more of a contrast to his everyday routine. With a background in public policy, biology, habitats and fish, and professional experience in river restoration and monitoring, becoming a Property Guardian for conservation land along one of Nova Scotia’s rivers was a perfect fit.
The opportunity also fit well with the whole family’s goals. “We like volunteering,” Colin explains, “but we were also looking for something kind of structured that would cover some of the other things we’re trying to fit into our lives, like getting outside and exercising.” It also gave them a ready-made outdoor destination when pandemic restrictions closed off many other options for family activities. “There were a few times we got out there when we couldn’t really go any other places,” he says.
Roy, age 9, says that visiting the land is the most fun when they bring along friends and family. “I like doing it with a group of people and hanging out. Especially with my cousins, because it’s always fun with my cousins because I have more fun with kids.” The site is not only close to their home but also is adjacent to Smiley’s Provincial Park, making access and extra recreation especially easy. Along with Roy’s mom, Roberta, they have also brought cousins and grandparents with them on stewardship visits. “This winter,” Roy remembers, “we went for a long walk and we played a game to break up the ice with rocks.”
Part of the fun of monitoring is the balance of predictability and adventure. “There’s not much to note most times, which is positive I guess,” says Colin. “It’s pretty stable, you don’t notice a lot of natural or human interference. It floods but you’d expect it to, because it’s a natural floodplain. It’s neat to see the effects of the flooding, you can see the dams, the branches. There’s quite a large beaver dam, and you see a lot of change with that over time.” There’s also old cow fencing and barbed wire to remove (“You can help a bit but that’s more a Colin job,” Colin reminds Roy). Roy adds that “if trees are growing on a steep hill that has erosion, the roots help keep the hill intact. [You can see it] on a few trees and on the riverbanks.” They also enjoy spotting wildlife, like the sleeping porcupine they recently encountered under a tree.
“I know Nova Scotia has a lot of private land, so it’s important to conserve land for the future and keep wild areas and endangered species,” says Colin. “We all believe in it strongly and want to protect animals.” In particular, he points out that “Property Guardianship is important because it means that the Nature Trust can use its resources for other priorities.”
Indeed, the Nature Trust absolutely depends on the inspiration and efforts of volunteers like Roy, Roberta, and Colin to ensure that our conservation lands are properly monitored and cared for. Please join us in thanking them for their dedication to helping us keep our promise of “forever wild”!