For some people, spending time in wetlands is about more than recreation. It’s about passing on family traditions. That’s the case for our newest Wetland Centres of Excellence (WCE) Scholarship winner Owen Nicholson, whose family has been hunting and fishing in and around Fredericton, N.B., for many generations.
“My great-great-grandfather used to make his living from hunting and trapping,” says Nicholson. “He would trap beavers and muskrat, hunt moose in the winter. It’s something my family takes pride in.”
Nicholson spent his childhood fishing in the Wolastoq River, and later, duck hunting in the fall. He loves being outdoors and sees wetlands as a place to learn and grow. It’s no surprise that DUC’s outdoor, conservation-focused Wetland Centres of Excellence program was a great fit for him.
“I learn best outdoors, it’s where I love to be,” says Nicholson. “That’s why the WCE program was so fantastic for me. We learn about food webs, life cycles, environmental impacts outdoors at a wetland.”
As part of the Fredericton Wetland Centre of Excellence program, Nicholson’s class visited Corbett Brook for field trips and projects. He found learning at the wetland much more “motivating” and “relevant” than learning indoors. Even students that weren’t as familiar with the outdoors took a lot from the experience.
“It wasn’t just me. No one wanted to leave the wetland,” says Nicholson. “As soon as we left, we would ask our teachers when we were going back.”
Nicholson says his favourite memory of the program was when he mentored a younger student. The mentee was in Grade 9 and had never been to a wetland before, nor had he spent very much time in nature. Nicholson watched as the boy’s face lit up when they arrived at Corbett Brook.
“He stood there in awe, taking it all in,” says Nicholson. “I showed him a few things, what kind of plants and animals we can find around here, and he loved it.”
“He talked about the trip all the way back on the bus.”
I learn best outdoors, it’s where I love to be. That’s why the WCE program was so fantastic for me.
In Grade 12, Nicholson challenged himself to create his own wetland-based study. He noticed how lush and biodiverse Corbett Brook was, especially compared to wetlands near housing developments, and felt inspired to do a comparison study of disturbed and undisturbed wetlands.
The biggest thing Nicholson noticed was the difference in plant biodiversity between Corbett Brook and disturbed wetlands.
“Corbett Brook has over 20 species of wetland plants, including coontails, musk weed and more,” says Nicholson. “Disturbed wetlands only have cattails.”
Despite his thorough search for other species, even digging around the wetland to look at decayed matter, he found that “nothing else grew” but cattails. The disturbed wetlands had elevated toxicity levels, likely coming from the nearby housing development, which Nicholson attributed to lower plant diversity.
Nicholson started his degree in science and environmental management this fall at the University of New Brunswick, with a focus on wildlife biology. He’s been enjoying his courses in wildlife ecology, forestry and plant biology, and is excited to learn more about how humans can help repair the environmental damage they’ve done.
“I hope that as an adult I’ll have a career in environmental conservation,” says Nicholson. “It’s not too late to protect nature for the future.”
“Everything comes back to nature and my connection to the land,” he adds. “It’s been important in my family and will continue to be important to me, and hopefully to my future children, and to their children.”
DUC is proud to support Owen Nicholson as one of our 2023 WCE Scholarship Winners. We wish him all the best in his future career as a wildlife biologist and as a role model for young conservationists.
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