The coastal bluff ecosystems of Helliwell Provincial Park are unique in Canada. These open meadows are part of the Garry Oak and associated ecosystems – habitats that were once widespread in the eastern lowland areas from Comox south to greater Victoria and throughout the Gulf Islands. Coastal bluff meadows are home to many rare plants, insects and birds that are at the northern limits of their global distribution and occur nowhere else in Canada. Current threats to these ecosystems include: human development; agriculture; suppression of fire; invasive non-native species; and elevated black-tail deer populations.
The species within these ecosystems depend on sunny, open habitats with typically shallow soils over bedrock. Some seasonal pools or wetlands exist within bedrock depressions and seepage areas. Prior to European settlement, wildfires naturally kept these habitats open and released nutrients to the meadow plants. First Nations also used these meadow habitats for the harvest of important plants such as camas and they traditionally burned these areas to increase and maintain plant abundance. Fire suppression began about 150 years ago, with European settlement and widespread land-clearing for agriculture. It was also at this time that non-native plants such as Scotch Broom, English Holly, Himalayan Blackberry, and agricultural grasses began to spread and become established.