By Lawrence Powell
Lawrencetown is for the birds, literally, thanks to Diana Mullings Ackroyd.
It’s also for the chipmunks, squirrels, butterflies, bees, turtles, toads, and a whole range of other wild critters.
The Annapolis County village has been declared Canada’s first Backyard Habitat Community by the Canadian Wildlife Federation.
Mullings Ackroyd may have come up with the idea, but she gives the credit to Lawrencetown residents who she says embraced the idea and allowed her into their backyards to snoop around, take pictures, ask questions, and jot down her observations. She did it almost 100 times, sent her findings off to the CWF’s Backyard Habitat Program officials, and found out at the beginning of November that each of the 96 properties surveyed had received certification. That’s roughly 30 per cent of Lawrencetown’s 300 or so properties, enough for the entire community to gain certification status.
Backyard Habitat Program
Mullings Ackroyd’s own property was certified in November 2009. She had filled out and sent in the program’s certification application form. Later, in speaking with the Backyard Habitat Program director, she asked her if any communities had sought certification. They hadn’t. If fact, the program had not developed criteria for such an idea and only came up with guidelines in response to Mullings Ackroyd’s inquiry. That’s where the 30 per cent of homeowners figure came from. Village clerk Kelly Rice supplied the 300 figure, and soon the Lawrencetown village commission was enthusiastically backing the habitat bid.
Mullings Ackroyd and the village office made application forms available. Though a handful of residents did their own surveys, Mullings Ackroyd stood up at the village’s annual general meeting this past spring and offered to take on the job herself.
“I said I’d do anything to make sure it went through,” she says in reference to village certification. “I said I would go and do it myself.”
Although the majority of properties certified are residential, businesses and institutions were also surveyed, including Riverbend Cranberries, Department of Natural Resources, COGS, the Riverside Stage area of the Annapolis Valley Exhibition grounds, Lawrencetown Restaurant, Britech, and the Village properties, consisting of the village office, Dr. Goodine's office, and the public library.
Affinity for Nature
Mullings Ackroyd admits she has an affinity for nature. And walking her property, it’s obvious nature doesn’t think too badly of Mullings Ackroyd either. Birds flit around a shrub, perching on thin branches. She walks right up to them, talking, and they aren’t frightened away. The moniker Diana Dolittle comes to mind.
She’s not jumping on a back-to-nature bandwagon. She just believes it’s easy to include nature in backyard and garden planning.
“What’s not to like?” she asked. “It’s easy to do and we’re not talking about a lot of money. It’s more expensive not to do it.”
That latter statement is in reference to the modern-day obsession for manicured lawns, and the use of pesticides, and weed killers that cost money and aren’t exactly nature-friendly.
“And really, what’s wrong with going back to nature?”
She cringes at her own use of the back-to-nature cliché and explains herself by saying people can easily incorporate nature into their lifestyles. “That’s like free beauty,” she said.
What To Do
Mullings Ackroyd says most people are already halfway to certification without doing anything. Cut out the pesticides, plant a few different plants, and something as simple as putting out a saucer with water in it will get most people the rest of the way.
The habitat program goal is to provide food, water, shelter, and space for wildlife.
Food is simple: fruit-bearing shrubs, trees, and vines; flowering trees, shrubs, and perennials for pollinators; nut or seed-bearing trees and shrubs; and seed-bearing perennials left through the winter.
Shelter is also easy: Trees and shrubs, dead trees, brush piles, logs, and rock piles.
Water can be as simple as that saucer of water or a bird bath, or as ambitious as a pond.
According to the CWF, birds view properties in three-dimensional terms. Including diverse layers of vegetation (tall and short trees, shrubs, wildflowers, and ground cover) increases the space of your habitat.
Mullings Ackroyd believes too much attention is paid to the big cities and bad news. The inspiring stories and accomplishments of small-town Canada go largely ignored in the grand scheme of things.
“I'm tired of the bad stuff,” she says.
Good news, like Lawrencetown's Backyard Habitat status, should spread like wildfire across the country, she says.
She said the habitat program also brings with it a continuing awareness among participants who will no doubt keep wildlife habitat in mind as they continue to improve their properties.
In March, she came across a downed willow tree in Middleton. She asked the property owner if she could take some cuttings from branches. Back in Lawrencetown she took those seemingly lifeless sticks, pushed them in the ground, framed them with some small logs, and walked away. Just a few short months later she had 50-foot-long leafy, four-foot-high hedge – a perfect habitat for birds. Or as she calls it, a 'fedge,' sort of a cross between a fence and a hedge.
It’s as easy as that.
To see a Google map of all certified Lawrencetown properties, go to http://bit.ly/rCS2qd
For an online Backyard Habitat Program application form go to http://bit.ly/uiwpVc