Nova Scotia’s beaches and coastal properties are second to none. A dynamic landscape that is unrelenting and never forgives is one that we need to understand more holistically. For hundreds of years maritimers have seen their shorelines change and all the while attempt to tame the beast that is erosion. With climate change accelerating the process to dramatic levels, property owners are no longer able to leave these worries to the next generation.
Rosmarie Lohens began her ecological restoration company, Helping Nature Heal, in 2002. She works with the land owner to build understanding on an approach that works with Mother Nature versus against. Not your typical landscape company, her education, experience and ethos have taken a modest startup into a nationally recognized leader in the field of ecological restoration. Rosmarie and her team lead with science and the primary understanding that relationship and community ownership in the process can benefit both people and planet.
The South Shore of Nova Scotia is home base for Rosmarie however, she and her team have a building client base all along the North Shore who believe in her ecological approach to the protection of our wasting shorelines. Sue and James McLaughlin in Caribou River, like so many, were acknowledging and spending money to keep the bank in front of their beloved summer house from slipping away into the ocean, season after season. They had tried it all – timber retaining walls, boulder rock walls, steel panels you name it. They were temporary fixes that caused more damage than anything.
By chance Sue attended a community open house hosted by Helping Nature Heal three years ago.
“The talk planted a seed,” she said. Rosmarie was hosting neighbours to help educate and spread the word about another project close by. Education being a key pillar and starting point in understanding, that no one can stop Mother Nature.
“We can’t stop erosion from happening, but we can understand it better and help slow it down.” says Rosmarie.
From that community gathering, Sue and James began to look at their own property in a new light and invited Helping Nature Heal to help them structure a long-term plan of action.
Rosmarie explains “Understanding that nature is always looking to return to an angle of repose of 45 degrees, helps frame where you may be headed when looking at a vertical embankment. There are many more factors at play than just the ocean waves at the base. Wind, rain, snow, drainage, clearing of land, loss of vegetation and the list goes on. “Nothing is cookie cutter,” says Rosmarie, “but the same principals apply to shorelines all along our coast.”
Typically, intensive planting takes place the first year. Hundreds of bales of hay, perennials and salt tolerant species are planted on the slope and at the top of the bank. The team is trained to repel slopes strategically, built terraces and pockets to allow material to catch and soil to build.
The second year the team comes back to stabilize what has been put in place. Adding more in spots that had lost over the winter. Perennial plants are starting to show and the home owners began noticing the return of pollinators, a sure sign that things are on the right path.
In the third year most plants have established to the point that they will produce seed. This is critical. The plants now begin to take over and also build habitat. With the help of birds and small animals seeds continue to spread along the bank.
Helping Nature Heal have clients in ongoing five- and 10-plus-year relationships to ensure the success of the installation. “Education is key. The more we learn from each other and our neighbours to reiterate the environment the more success we will have. This is a long term project!” Sue and James were losing anywhere from three to 10 feet of land per year. “We needed to act quickly to get the process started.”
Looking out over their ocean front property just as another season begins, Sue and James both agree that the return on investment was well worth it because they simply wouldn’t be there if they didn’t take a more holistic approach to maintenance and care of the property.
HARDY SHORELINE PLANTS
Perennials and Grasses
- Sea Thrift (Armeria maritima)
- Pinks (Dianthus)
- Karl Foerster Reed Grass (Calmagrostis acutifolia ‘Karl Foerster’)
- Fountain Grass (Pennisetum alopecuroides)
- Powis Castle Artemisia (Artemisia absinthium x Powis Castle)
- Silver Mound Artemisia (Artemisia schmidtiana ‘Silver Mound’)
- Blue Festuca Grass, Hosta
- Stella D’Oro Daylily (Hemerocallis hybrida Stella d’Oro)
- Sedum Autumn Joy (Sedum spectabile ‘Autumn Joy’)
Shrubs and Trees
- Green Ash (Fraxinus americana)
- Shademaster Locust (Gelditsia triacanthos)
- Austrian Pine (Pinus nigra)
- Junipers (Juniperus species)
- Honeysuckle (Lonicera species)
- Bridlewreath Spirea (Spiraea x Vanhouttei)
- Lilacs (Syringa species)
- Shrub Rose (Rosa Rugosa)
Angle of Repose: The steepest angle at which a sloping surface formed of a particular loose material is stable.
Toe of the slope: Bottom of the bank.
Perennials: Plants that die down in winter and come back every spring.
4 THINGS YOU CAN DO RIGHT NOW TO HELP SLOW EROSION
1. If at all possible move all activity and structures (cars, buildings etc) as far back from the edge of the bank as possible.
2. Stop mowing right up to the edge of the bank.
3. Identify a community access point to the beach for all to use, stay off your bank.
4. Talk to your neighbours and get more people on board. Maximize your efforts and look at the shoreline collectively. This will only strengthen the shoreline overall.
HOW TO DO A PRELIMINARY ASSESSMENT ON YOUR OWN SHORELINE
1. To roughly understand how far back your bank will go before it reaches the angle of repose, stand at the bottom and take a picture from the side.
2. Draw a right angle triangle over the bank with the 45-degree angle being at the toe of the slope.
3. The slope created when you connect the point at the bottom with the point at the top of the triangle is the natural slope that the bank will attempt to achieve.
4. If there is still land left, designate this and as much land behind it as possible as a low/no traffic zone.
1. If able, stake rows of hay bales across the slope to allow for more material to build up in behind them.
2. Save your brush, leaves and organic yard waste. Collect from your neighbours (if they aren’t already using it) and put it over the bank. This well help plants root and cover exposed soil.
3. Stop mowing and let the grass grow up. Start planting meadow perennials and grasses. The roots will help stabilize the soil.
4. If there are trees within the angle of repose, plant large shrubs in front that will grow quickly and help absorb wind easing the possibility of the tree blow over.