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In 2013, a multidisciplinary group of Government NGOs, idealists and the community of Westport, Nova Scotia started a campaign to restore Big Meadow Bog. They are still at work today. This is their story.

Duration: 23:26


Birds of the Big Meadow Bog

Brair Island Birds - English sign
Herring Gull

Herring Gull    Photo by June Farnsworth

Savannah Sparrow

Savannah Sparrow   Photo by Kim Walker

Northern Harrier

Northern Harrier     Photo by Dr. Richard Stern

Great Blue Heron

The birds of the Big Meadow Bog are not very well known, largely because access to the Meadow became increasingly difficult after the ditches were dug and heavy impassable vegetation invaded the drying areas. With the recent restoration, the rise of the water table, and the building of the boardwalk, we can expect more birding and greater knowledge, but also changes of the resident birds. 

During summer, the main birds likely to be seen along the trail include residents such as Swamp Sparrows and Common Yellowthroats in the wetter areas, Savannah Sparrows in the drier grassy areas, and Song Sparrows and Alder Flycatchers in shrubby vegetation. It is an open question if Nelson’s Sparrows are summer residents, although as the area becomes wetter, they may colonize the Big Meadow Bog. Many nesting Herring Gulls, and a few Great Black-backed Gulls are still present in a long-standing colony in the central region. At least one pair of Northern Harriers has nested in or very close to the Big Meadow Bog and adults regularly forage over the bog. After mid-summer, immature Harriers are frequent in the area.  Flocks of Common Grackles, frequently with a few Red-winged Blackbirds, make feeding sorties into the bog from the higher land on each side. Swallows find the marshy areas, especially near Westport, good for feeding. Most of them are Tree Swallows, but the Island’s few Barn Swallows are usually there too, and occasionally a Cliff Swallow or Bank Swallow will join the feeding birds. Turkey Vultures are common overhead from mid-summer into the autumn, less common at other times.

The ponds are favoured by waterfowl, especially Black Ducks and the occasional Mallard, but Green-winged Teal and American Wigeon likely nest in the bog or adjacent to it, possibly also Northern Pintail and occasionally Gadwall. Nearly every heron species on the Nova Scotia list has occurred in the ponds at one time or the other. Great Blue Herons do not nest on Brier Island, but immature birds arrive to feed in the bog ponds after mid-summer. More rare southern herons like Snowy Egret, Great Egret, Tricolored Heron and Cattle Egret, along with two species of Night Herons, are possible as vagrants, especially in early spring (March-April) and in late summer. 

During spring and fall migration peaks – mid-May to early June and mid-August to October – nearly any migrant species and a good many vagrants could be seen fleetingly along the Big Meadow trail. This makes it all but impossible to predict what could be there at these times.  For an account of the more than 350 species known from the Island, see the publication by Eric Mills and Lance Laviolette (2011), The Birds of Brier Island, Nova Scotia, published by the Nova Scotia Institute of Science.

Text by Dr. Eric Mills


Great Blue Heron   Photo by Dr. Richard Stern

Green Winged Teal

Green Winged Teal    Photo by Kim Walker

Cattle Egret

Cattle Egret   Photo by Dr. Richard Stern

Alder Flycatcher

Alder Flycatcher     Photo by Kim Walker


Plants of the Big Meadow Bog

Brier Island Plants - English sign
Bakeapple fruit

Bakeapple fruit. Photo by David Masserole, Parks Canada

Round Sundew

Round Sundew. Photo by Dr. Nick Hill

Dwarf Birch

The Big Meadow Bog is a peatland surrounded by two basalt ridges. A diversity of flora inhabits the fens, grassy marshes, forested swamps, and bogs that make up the Big Meadow Bog: some disjunct (species separated from their main range) Atlantic Coastal Plain flora and artic-alpine plants mingle with the more common boreal species that make up most of the Big Meadow Bog. The upwelling waters of the nearby Bay of Fundy keep the climate cool in summer allowing these plants to survive. Flora typical of a saltmarsh can also be seen.  
Atlantic Coastal Plain Flora: The Atlantic Coastal Plain runs along the Atlantic Coast extending from Florida to New England. Southwestern Nova Scotia is home to a variety of Atlantic Coastal Plain plants, disjunct from their main ranges in glaciated and unglaciated areas of this coastal plain. Atlantic Coastal Plain flora in Nova Scotia is largely restricted to wetlands in the southwest of the province but some are found in the Big Meadow Bog (ferns, orchids, and shrubs) where they have mingled with arctic-alpine and boreal plant species.


Bayberry. Photo by Jeanette Denton

Arctic-alpine Plants: Arctic-alpine plants grow much farther north or in the mountains. These plants are separated from their usual arctic-alpine habitat by the boreal forest. As glaciers formed, these plants were pushed south. As the ice retreated, the arctic-alpine plants followed. In the suitable colder regions, the arctic plants remained. Arctic-alpine plants have a slow growth rate and a very short growing season, typically blooming in May or early June. Brier Island was possibly the first place in the Maritimes to deglaciate, according to core samples taken in bogs on the island.

Dwarf Birch   Photo by June Farnsworth

Two arctic-alpine plants that grow in the Big Meadow Bog are the endangered Eastern Mountain Avens (Geum peckii) and the rare Dwarf Birch (Betula michauxii). The cool climate favours these plants. The Brier Island Avens population is disjunct from the only other global locations, the White Mountains of New Hampshire and a small population at Harris Lake on Digby Neck. The Big Meadow Bog restoration project supports the endangered Eastern Mountain Avens population, which blooms in June through September. The Dwarf Birch is not accessible from the trail.

Boreal Forest Plants: Boreal plants of peatland communities are able to tolerate acid, infertile and flooded habitats and include conifers (black spruce, larch), shrubs (alder, Labrador tea, bayberry, sheep-laurel, blueberry, mountain honeysuckle), sub-shrubs (bakeapple, cranberry, bunchberry), sedges, and cotton grasses. Other common species include herbs, mosses, fungi, and lichens. Two rare boreal plants found in the bog are Germander liverwort and livid sedge (Carex livida).

Eastern Mountain Avens

Eastern Mountain Avens. Photo by Jeanette Denton

Grass Pink Orchid

Sphagnum moss forms a thick, spongy blanket over saturated soils. Because the soils of the boreal forest are acidic, they are not favourable to nitrifying bacteria. Some plants have adapted ways of acquiring nutrients from animal protein, producing enzymes that digest nutrients from insects. These carnivorous plants include the pitcher plant and sundew.


"Biodiversity in the Boreal Forest: Shrubs, Mosses and Lichens."


"Boreal forest of Canada."


Crowley, Megan and Beals, Lindsey. Atlantic Coastal Plain Flora in Nova Scotia Identification & Information Guide. Mersey Tobeatic Research Institute, 2011.


Munro, Marian C; Newell, Ruth E.; Hill, Nicholas M. Nova Scotia Plants. Province of Nova Scotia, 2014. 

Grass Pink Orchid. Photo by Dr. Nick Hill


The Eastern Mountain Avens

Species at Risk

Brier Islands Avens - English sign

The Eastern Mountain Avens (Geum peckii) is a disjunct arctic-alpine perennial plant that grows only in the White Mountains of New Hampshire and in Nova Scotia. Over 95% of all Eastern Mountain Avens individuals in Nova Scotia are found on Brier Island, and a small population occurs at Harris Lake on Digby Neck. On Brier Island, only 10% of the Eastern Mountain Avens population occurs in old-field habitat, and 90% occurs in peatland habitats. Peatlands are wetlands where dead Sphagnum moss—as well as other mosses, sedges, and woody plants forming peat—accumulates over time. There are three types of peatlands: bogs (a Gaelic word meaning “soft ground”); fens (an Icelandic word for “quagmire”); and some swamps. Peatlands are special places where plants, such as sundews, pitcher plants, heath plants, and orchids have adapted to a low nutrient environment.

The endangered Eastern Mountain Avens is part of a community of peatland vegetation that is unique in Canada, and found only in Nova Scotia. Wetland habitats where most Eastern Mountain Avens are located are rich in biodiversity and provide important ecosystem services.

A high-water table and low nutrient availability are typical qualities for Eastern Mountain Avens. They tolerate shade and prefer cool, moist habitats. Eastern Mountain Avens live along the margins (laggs) of the Big Meadow Bog where runoff from the surrounding basalt ridges provides calcium. During the 1950s, drainage ditches were dug the length of the Big Meadow Bog to create agricultural land. The plan failed, but the water continued to drain from the Big Meadow Bog. Nesting gulls and competing vegetation moved in, threatening the survival of the Eastern Mountain Avens population.

The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) assessed the Eastern Mountain Avens as Endangered in 1986. The species was listed as Endangered under the Nova Scotia Endangered Species Act in 2000 and the Federal Species at Risk Act (SARA) in 2003. A recovery strategy was created outlining the measures needed for the recovery of the species and to protect critical habitat. The restoration involved the diversion of water away from the drainage ditches to keep the water in the Big Meadow Bog.

The Big Meadow Bog peatland is being restored in the hope that the increased water levels will discourage the thousands of nesting Gulls that are polluting the Bog with their droppings. These nutrients threaten a healthy ecosystem and the quality of ground water, in addition to flora habitats, including that of the Eastern Mountain Avens and other rare and endangered flora.

Eastern Mountain Avens might be mistaken for Tall Buttercup. The leaves of Eastern Mountain Avens are round and grow at the base of the plant. They bloom from June through September producing one to five yellow flowers, 1-3 cm in diameter. The flowers have five petals and grow along a stalk that is 20-40 cm tall.

By protecting the Eastern Mountain Avens and its critical habitat, benefits extend to other species and the ecosystem at large. The rare boreal low spikemoss (Selaginella selaginoides) and possibly the coastal plain curly grass fern (Schizea pusilla) have already been lost when the Bog was ditched. It is expected that the recovery plan for the Eastern Mountain Avens will benefit the larger ecological community of the Big Meadow Bog.


Eastern Mountain Avens (Geum peckii): action plan 2018 




Photos by June Farnsworth

Text by Jeanette Denton

Eastern Mountain Avens
Eastern Mountain Avens
Eastern Mountain Avens
Eastern Mountain Avens

Traditional Uses of the Bog

Traditional Uses
Brier Island Traditional Uses of the Bog

Brier Island and its coves, coastal waters, mudflats and forests provided food and haven for Mi’kmaq, while the local lava basalt rock served as a rich resource to craft implements for hunting and fishing. Mi’kmaq on Brier Island have used the peat bog for thousands of years; artefacts found in the area place Mi’kmaq people living here dating back to 1000 BC.


In the mid-1700s Europeans settled on Brier Island, and they made their living by fishing, hunting, and berry picking in the bog. The bog has always been intriguing to all who venture in.  It is both wild and difficult to explore; yet it has the power to draw people into its quiet and magical space.  Recently, Islands Consolidated School students surveyed several Brier Island seniors who could reflect on the bog and its changes. They explained that once the wide-open bog became overgrown with trees and shrubs, few had visited the area in recent decades. How could such a habitat be valuable to the residents of Brier Island? 

George Morrell and his team of oxen

George Morrell and his team of oxen that hauled wood with his winter sled

Photo courtesy of Eleanor Bailey

Ice-cream machine

Ice-cream machine

Photo by Jacqueline Journeay

As interview questions were answered, the seniors’ eyes lit up with excitement and the smiles widened as they revealed the true blessings supplied by this ancient bog.  Each fall the bog outlet was dammed to raise water levels to harvest winter ice for a year-round supply stored in three Westport ice houses. Before refrigeration this practice was instrumental in keeping household foods cold and providing ice to the village ice cream parlour store for preparing and serving the beloved treat. Best of all the ice was of great value to the fishing industry. 


The young and old were able to skate on Jimmy’s Pond and down along the twisting stream affectionally called Snake River, nearly reaching the other side of Brier Island. Bonfires and skating parties were common. Hockey was also a main attraction, and although some of the sticks were handmade and the occasional missing puck might have been replaced with a small rock, the game was thrilling to play! The frozen pond was used as a winter path by oxen teams for carting loads of firewood necessary for heating homes.


The seniors told of how in the past they taught young people how to hunt for deer in the meadow and ducks in the lily ponds. There were family outings to pick a variety of berries, such as blueberries, cranberries, and Jones berries, also known as bakeapples, and fathers making Sunday trips to the lily ponds for dining table bouquets. 


As the bog is restored to its natural state, we remember the importance the bog contributes to all life on Earth.

Text by The Bay of Fundy Discovery Centre Association

Photo courtesy of Islands Historical Society

Photo courtesy of Islands Historical Society

Photo courtesy of Islands Historical Society

Photo courtesy of Islands Historical Society

Herring Gulls (Larus argentatus) Assault Big Meadow Bog

Herring gulls assault Big Meadow Bog
Herring Gull

Draining the bog for farmland changed the natural habitat. The drier bog fostered new species, such as the Herring Gull. Before the drainage ditches, residents never saw breeding colonies of gulls in the bog. Now, thousands nest in the bog each spring.

Herring Gulls are an Atlantic symbol and are protected by law. However, their phosphorus (P) and nitrogen (N) rich waste is a powerful fertilizer that poses a serious threat to the bog. Efforts to force the gulls to other breeding areas have failed. Raising the water level should have encouraged the Herring Gulls to move to drier land. This has not yet happened. In 2021, prior to the breeding season, over two thousand tall bamboo poles were installed to discourage landing, nesting, and take-off. So far, the gulls have used their superior aerial skills and have not moved on.

Herring gulls. Photo: June Farnsworth

Gulls Guarding Nest.
Photo credit: Brad Toms

Gulls Guarding Nest
Gull nest with eggs

Gull nest with eggs.
Photo credit: Brad Toms

Chick with egg

Chick with egg.
Photo credit: Nick Hill

Young chick exploring the Bog.

Young chick exploring the Bog.
Photo credit: June Farnsworth

Gull colony in Big Meadow Bog

Gull colony in Big Meadow Bog.
Photo credit: Brad Toms

Imagine 2,500 breeding adults!

Imagine 2,500 breeding adults!
Photo credit: June Farnsworth

Eastern Mountain Avens (Geum peckii) – A Star is Born!

Eastern Mountain Avens A Star

Ten thousand years ago massive glaciers melted. The warmer climate created opportunities for new life. Despite the struggle to survive in changing habitats the Eastern Mountain Avens made a home on Brier Island. This small yellow member of the rose family may seem unimportant. But its status as a rare and threatened global species made Brier Island famous in the scientific community.

This fame, however, was likely to end quickly unless something could be done. All scientific studies showed that the only hope for the Avens lay in conserving and restoring BIG MEADOW BOG.

As plans to save the Bog continue, it has become clear that our Mountain Avens is sending us a vital message: the entire Bog and its native species are in great danger. Bogs and other wetlands filter out contaminants like heavy metals and improve water quality. They also conserve water, prevent flooding, and are critical in the war against global climate change. The Avens teaches many lessons. One of them is that we can assist nature’s defense against global warming by protecting wetlands.

Avens with an ant

Avens with an ant
Photo: Nick Hill

Avens with two spiders.

Avens with two spiders.

Eastern Mountain Avens
Eastern Mountain Avens
Eastern Mountain Avens
Eastern Mountain Avens
Atlantis Fritillary (Speyeria atlantis).

Atlantis Fritillary (Speyeria atlantis).
Photo credit: June Farnsworth. 

Blue Flag Iris (Iris versicolor)

Blue Flag Iris (Iris versicolor).
Photo credit: June Farnsworth

Eastern Mountain Avens leaves growing over Sphagnum Moss.

Eastern Mountain Avens leaves growing over Sphagnum Moss.

Photo: Nick Hill.

American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis).

American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis).
Photo credit: Roger Outhouse

Eastern Smooth Green Snake (Opheodrys vernalis)

Eastern Smooth Green Snake (Opheodrys vernalis). 

Photo credit: Roger Outhouse.

Heroic Big Meadow Bog Captures Carbon

Carbon capture

Bogs were once discounted as places too wet for agriculture or forestry and too dry for fishing. They have now emerged as climate change heroes. Globally, peatlands occupy about 3% of the earth’s land surface. Yet, amazingly, they store 30% of the world’s soil-locked carbon by means of carbon sequestration. Carbon sequestration is essential to limit the levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Backhoe used to drain the Bog in the late 1950’s

Backhoe used to drain the Bog in the late 1950’s.
Photo credit: Bernice Powell

Before Bog restoration work started on the Island, researchers did some studies. They compared levels of greenhouse gases released by Big Meadow Bog with those of another healthy Island bog, called The Reference Bog. The Reference Bog showed low levels of gas emissions. Big Meadow Bog’s dry and damaged peat gave off higher levels of gases. Evidence shows that rewetting and restoring the bog will reduce the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), and nitrous oxide (NO) that is given off.

Few people knew that this peat Bog, and others like it around the globe, could be so important. Bogs are nature’s heroes in battling climate change.

The undisturbed Reference Bog

The undisturbed Reference Bog.
Photo credit: Nick Hill

The Reference Bog shows us how the Big Meadow Bog should function.

The Reference Bog shows us how the Big Meadow Bog should function.
Photo credit: Nick Hill

The excavation went the entire length of the Bog

The excavation went the entire length of the Bog.
Photo credit: Bernice Powell

Climate chamber to study greenhouse gas emissions

Climate chamber to study greenhouse gas emissions.

Photo credit: Nick Hill

A healthy Pitcher Plant (Sarraceenia purpurea)

A healthy Pitcher Plant (Sarraceenia purpurea).
Photo credit: Nick Hill.

Big Meadow Bog Recovery Actions

Big Meadow Bog Recovery actions
Bog recovery map

During the 1950s, 3.7 km of ditches were dug in the bog in an unsuccessful attempt to create farmland. Over a period of 60 years, the natural bog habitat changed as it became drier and new plant species took over.

After years of studies, conservationists agreed on measures needed to restore the bog.

East Coast Aquatics planned and carried out the Bog restoration by using bog drainage ditch blocking techniques.  Old peat deep beneath the bog was dug up and compacted into over 150 ditch blocks between 2015 and 2017. The blocks were built in the ditches to raise the water level to its original state and return flow to the natural channels. Each block was then topped with living vegetation to promote new growth and recovery of peat. Other restoration efforts involved clearing away larger trees and shrubs to allow bog species to reclaim their former space.

We now see higher water levels and improved peat growth in the Bog. The drained Lily ponds have also come back to life.

Soil core sample of Bog depths reveals a history dating back 2500 years.

Soil core sample of Bog depths reveals a history dating back 2500 years.
Photo credit: Nick Hill

The central drainage ditch shows ditch blocks placed to start the rewetting process.

The central drainage ditch shows ditch blocks placed to start the rewetting process. Photo credit: Mike Dembeck

A small excavator digs deep peat to build a ditch block during the restoration

A small excavator digs deep peat to build a ditch block during the restoration in 2017. Photo credit: Mike Parker.

regrowth after three months in one section of the Bog.

The cleared ditch line (left); recently installed ditch blocks (center); and regrowth after three months in one section of the Bog.
Photo credit: Mike Parker


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