Betty Swift had a dream—and she and her family made it come true.
In 1963 the Swift family purchased Link Island, a small gem sitting between Decourcy and Mudge Islands. They built a cabin, but Link Island has always been much more than a family vacation property. Betty and her husband, Ward, shared a love of the outdoors and were devoted to protecting the health and biodiversity of natural ecosystems. A lifetime of shared experiences on the island and the joy of living with its natural beauty and rhythms also instilled a strong land ethic in their three children, Barbara, Ted, and Hally. Over the past six decades family members have devoted countless hours each summer stewarding and restoring its native habitat and keeping invasive plants at bay.
The conservation covenant
They’ve also planned for the future. Wanting to ensure the long-term protection of this ecologically significant island, Betty Swift placed a Natural Area Protection Tax Exemption Program (NAPTEP) conservation covenant on most of the island in 2018. A covenant is a powerful conservation tool as it protects the ecological values of a property in perpetuity by restricting the activities permitted on the land. Typically, such covenants are on private property. While the covenant is attached to the land title, the land remains with the owner, and the covenant holders are responsible for monitoring the property and ensuring that the conditions of the covenant are upheld. On Link Island, the original covenant was co-held by Islands Trust Conservancy (ITC) and the Nanaimo & Area Land Trust (NALT). Five of its 53 acres (19.3 ha) remained outside the covenant and were reserved for the family’s use.
Gifting the land to Islands Trust Conservancy
Upon her death in 2021, it was Betty’s wish that Link Island be donated to ITC and that a new conservation covenant be placed over the entire island (including the adjacent Spider Monkey Islet). Her three children have worked tirelessly to fulfill her wishes, and the transfer of ownership to ITC occurred in early April 2022. Under the terms of the transfer, existing named members of the Swift family (Betty’s children and grandchildren) may continue to use the cabin and island during their lifetimes.
Nature Reserve—no public access
The island will continue to remain closed to the public so it can provide sanctuary to the rare and threatened ecosystems and species that reside here. ITC is currently developing a Link Island management plan, which includes First Nations engagement.
We ask that you please respect this sensitive site and do not visit.
Photo: Eric Strandberg holds a ladder for GaLTT Trail Ops chair Barry Moerkerken as he installs new signage.
GaLTT’s expanding role in covenants
When ITC began the process to take ownership of the land, NALT invited Gabriola Land and Trails Trust (GaLTT) to join them as co-covenant holder. GaLTT holds two covenants on Gabriola and manages a third on behalf of American Friends of Canadian Conservation, but adding this new covenant required some background administrative work to make it possible.
When GaLTT first applied to the BC government in 2010 to hold covenants, the area designated had been only Gabriola Island, so, to hold the Link Island covenant, we needed to apply to expand our area of work. With the help of lawyer John Manning’s generous pro bono services, GaLTT’s covenant working area has been expanded to include all of the islands in the Gabriola Island Trust Area.
The Link Island covenant is also an Eco-gift under the federal Ecological Gifts Program— a first for GaLTT—and we are very pleased to be working with NALT and ITC, both of whom bring a lot of experience and knowledge to the project.
Atop the island’s ridge, looking west
Site assessment and history
Link Island is truly a gem. Its human use goes back far beyond summer homes or settlers, of course; indigenous peoples have a long presence on the island and its surrounding waters.
GaLTT policy requires a site assessment before entering into a conservation covenant or land acquisition agreement. Conservation Committee members Nola Johnston and Anne Landry visited Link Island in December 2021 to conduct the assessment, and other members have visited since on covenant business.
A particularly splendid arbutus
Apart from some logging in the 1930s-50s, the island is largely undisturbed, with an astonishing range of ecosystems represented in a small area. It is part of the threatened Coastal Douglas-fir biogeoclimatic zone and has high ecological values. Its forests are now maturing, and there are still patches of old-growth.
The island has over two miles of shoreline. On the west side coastal cliffs provide important nesting habitat, while the east side mostly slopes down to low rock and shoals, with some tidal mudflats at the north end. On higher ground and to the west there are many wildlife trees in a mix of Douglas-fir/arbutus forest, along with occasional Garry oaks. The eastern slopes add a few other tree species and Alaska oniongrass in the understory to the mix. Reindeer lichen and diverse mosses can be found on moss meadows in the northwest and other isolated pockets. There are also small Garry Oak meadows and two seasonal wetlands with a diverse range of plants.
Click gallery items below to see larger images showing the diversity of Link Island’s habitat.
A baseline inventory in 2017 established the presence of five provincially and/or COSEWIC (federally) listed Ecological Communities and many threatened species. Fieldwork on birds conducted in 2019 confirmed the presence of several Species at Risk, including great blue herons, barn swallows, Western Screech-owls, and Peregrine Falcons. There are also three recorded bald eagle nests, one active.
As with most coastal islands, black-tailed deer are present along with a range of smaller critters. Two river otter dens have been identified, and there are clear signs of their presence; although they didn’t spot any actual otters, Anne and Nola did see—and smell—a well-used otter latrine.
There are some limited issues with invasive plants. GaLTT members participated in the 2022 covenant monitoring visit in June (in a downpour) and will work with NALT, ITC, and the Swift family to control these. The lack of a serious problem with invasive species is remarkable and is due to the work the Swift family has done over the years to eradicate them.
The Swift family’s legacy
The priority for the Swift family was always the long-term protection of the island, and now that is ensured—a lasting legacy of their commitment to protecting natural ecosystems. GaLTT’s president, Rob Brockley, had the pleasure of meeting with the Swift family in March shortly before the title to Link Island was transferred to ITC. He described the heartening and emotional experience of listening to each of Betty’s three children individually express their deep love of the island, their genuine delight that it will be protected forever, and their wish to remain actively engaged in future maintenance, restoration, and research efforts. Rob said “Many of us aspire to show generosity when opportunities arise, but the Swift family has actually done it, and on such a grand scale. Link Island is an incredibly generous gift, and the Swifts are a truly remarkable family.”
Don Ewing, Hally Swift, Ted Swift, Betty Swift, Barbara Swift, and Eric Strandberg. Photo Islands Trust Conservancy.