Wednesday, June 17, 2009


Richard Boyce filming an aerial garden growing 60 meters high up in the canopy of an ancient Sitka Spruce.

Over the past 5 years I have made a concerted effort to shed some light onto the nature around us with a view that we are here because of the environment that provides humanity with everything we need to live. My belief remains that we must protect the environment around us if we hope to continue to prosper as a species. I have had the opportunity to share my views about a wide variety of subjects with loyal readers and browsers alike.
This is the 125th article of my column ‘Island Lens’ which was first published by the PQNews on February 20, 2004. Today marks the final article for Island Lens, so that I can turn my full attention to the final stages of a film, which I have been producing for the past 3 years entitled; “Such Great Heights.” This feature length documentary film focuses on the unique canopy of the ancient rainforest that grows on the west coast of Vancouver Island.
It has been my lifelong dream to explore airborne gardens, high above the forest floor with their abundance of life that is as diverse as it is lush. During the production of this film I have been able to explore the canopy first-hand and gather stories from people who have spent years researching this incredibly unique environment. First Nations’ Elders have also shared their traditional knowledge with me and my camera.

Aerial gardens are unique ecosystems which have evolved over hundreds of years, as debris is caught in the nooks and crannies of massive trees where it composts over time. Eventually soil deposits develop which provide a rich base for windblown seeds, which flourish in the light. These aerial gardens provide habitat for unique insects, as discovered by a team of Entomologists from the University of Victoria who have recorded more than 125 insects that had never before been identified. Scientists in the early 1990s discovered that the rare and endangered Marbled Murrelet nests exclusively on aerial gardens making it the only known seabird in the world to nest in trees.

With a small crew of climbers, including a professional arborist, I have developed ways to film high up in the canopy, climbing ropes rather than the trees to limit the damage we do to the environment we are documenting. As a team we have created rope systems that allow us to move vertically and horizontally through the canopy of giant Sitka Spruce, Western Red Cedar, and Douglas fir trees.

The temperate rainforests found in the low valley bottoms on the west coast of Vancouver Island have a biomass greater than anywhere on earth, meaning that the density of living organisms per square meter surpasses even that of the famous Amazon rainforest. Science has determined that rainforests are extremely important to the life cycles and functions of this planet. Trees filter air by taking carbon, nitrogen, phosphates, and other airborne chemicals in the atmosphere and fixing them into the soil where they provide nutrients, in turn producing vast amounts of oxygen. Forests are the lungs of our planet. Trees redistribute water, functioning as huge sponges to retain water and pumping vast quantities of water back into the atmosphere. Rainforests greatly effect weather patterns.

Ironically, in order for me to film in the pristine rainforest I have to drive to the most remote regions of Vancouver Island through seemingly endless clear-cuts, tree farms, and second growth mono-culture forests. Less than 2% of the original old growth forest remains in low valley bottoms on Vancouver Island. 85 of the original 91 watersheds have been completely devastated by logging over the past 150 years when the first steam sawmill was brought from England to Port Alberni. Today I estimate that there are three times as many logging roads, where the general public seldom ventures, as paved roads on Vancouver Island.

I am currently editing my film “Such Great Heights” with the goal of providing everyone with an opportunity to explore the canopy of the rainforest before it is completely destroyed. You can catch a glimpse by viewing a short video posted at my website:

Richard Boyce in the canopy overlooking logging operations on publicly owned land in the Upper East Creek, Valley, Vancouver Island, BC, Canada.