By Jamie Mountain
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
HILLIARDTON – A young Kerns Township girl has been named Ducks Unlimited Canada’s newest Wetland Hero.
Lucy Harrison, 10, has been volunteering at the Hilliardton Marsh Research and Education Centre for roughly the last three years and was nominated for the program by research and education coordinator Bruce Murphy.
Harrison said that after learning Murphy had nominated her for the program, she contemplated what she should do.
“I decided to write a letter to the government about saving wetlands and I sent that letter and I’m hoping to get a response,” she explained in a telephone interview.
“For the marsh I’m hoping to plant more trees, trying to make more wetlands and getting more people involved with nature and everything. People in the cities, they come up here and all of a sudden it’s this big change and I want people to see that the marsh is important, and everywhere else with the wetlands, and if we don’t show that then the government might say it’s not important anymore and cut it down and I want to save that.”
According to the Ducks Unlimited Canada website, Wetland Heroes are young people under the age of 25 “who make a difference by taking action to conserve and protect Canada’s wetlands. They can be individuals, classes, schools or community youth clubs or groups.”
Murphy said that Harrison is the first person the Hilliardton Marsh has ever nominated for the program and she would likely be the only one in Ontario named to it this year.
“Basically it’s a program to encourage kids to become involved in their communities,” he explained in a telephone interview.
“I’m not that totally familiar with it but it sounds pretty exciting, and to have someone from our own community getting it. She’s the only one from our community that has that designation.”
There are many ways that Wetland Heroes can take action against wetland loss, including writing letters, talking to politicians, raising money, enhancing habitat or increasing awareness.
Murphy noted that Harrison has been helping on and off at the marsh over the last three years.
When Harrison started at the marsh, she helped enter data into the popular citizen science app e-Bird.
Soon after that she started helping with other tasks around the marsh, including checking nets and banding birds.
Murphy said that bird banding isn’t normally taught to kids younger than 10, but Harrison showed a natural ability that she could handle it.
“She was more of an observer at the beginning and then really it’s in the last year that she really started to get some skills that she was able to help out a bit more,” he noted.
“When we’re doing the banding, the nets are really tricky. It’s kind of a fussy little skill to take birds out of the net. It’s not that it’s that difficult, it just takes patience and you really do have to have a fairly good finger dexterity, which most of the time young kids don’t have. But Lucy, she was just a natural. I know she does a lot of sewing and stuff like that, so maybe that’s accounted for it.”
Murphy said often the marsh has adults who struggle with getting birds out of the nets, so to have a 10-year-old who was able to do it so efficiently was “quite remarkable.”
“We’ve had a couple of kids over the years that were kind of a natural at doing it but the other thing is you also have to have kids that have enough maturity, which is odd to say for a 10-year-old. The kids just have to have the right temperament and willingness to be teachable, really. So that’s what we found with Lucy, she was just kind of a natural and she’s really patient, so all of the attributes that you need for that to happen she possesses.”
Over the past three years, Harrison has spent over a thousand hours at the marsh.
She’s extracted hundreds of birds from nets and banded them.
As her confidence has grown, so too has her love of the natural world.
“When I first met her, she was so quiet,” said Murphy.
“She’s become much more confident since coming here. It’s been a real joy to see.”
Jamie Mountain, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Temiskaming Speaker