Across the country, the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) and its partners work to conserve important natural habitat for the plants and animals that live in it. Much of NCC’s work aims to improve habitat in wetlands, along riverbanks, in estuaries or along coastlines.
Near Georgian Bay, for example, on the border of the Niagara Escarpment, the Creemore Nature Preserve serves as a natural corridor for wildlife and provides trails enjoyed by local residents. Generously donated to NCC in 1996, the preserve protects a coldwater stream, wetland and rolling upland deciduous forest.
In early September, the NCC team celebrated an exciting milestone on the 200-acre (80-hectare) preserve. After years of work, NCC staff and partners had managed to restore a natural water system, a tributary of the Noisy River.
Previous owners of the property had dammed the stream to create a pond, which had become contaminated with toxic algae and degraded over time. With the reduced flow of fresh water, the stream warmed up in the sun throughout the summer, making it unsuitable for the trout and other coldwater fish native to the region.
NCC and its partners first constructed a new channel in the fall of 2014, bypassing the pond. Before allowing water to flow through it, over the next 10 months staff, contractors and many dedicated volunteers planted shrub cuttings, spread seeds and installed native plants.
By this summer, the channel looked so natural, it seemed as if it had been in place for years, says Kristyn Ferguson, NCC’s program director for Georgian Bay-Huronia. “On August 27,” she reports, “we removed the soil plug holding back the upstream water. The fish from the orphaned portion of the stream channel were rescued and placed in the new channel. Water began trickling down the beautifully constructed channel, complete with cascades, riffles and pools – all recreated natural stream features.”
NCC has also been active on Brier Island, situated at the very southwest tip of the province at the intersection of the cold waters of the Gulf of Maine and the Bay of Fundy. The island is known as a destination for whale-watching and birding. It is also well known among naturalists for its distinct and significant botanical values.
NCC owns and manages about one-third of the island, including part of the Big Meadow Bog – important habitat for the globally imperilled eastern mountain avens – as the Brier Island Nature Preserve. The avens is found in just two locations in Nova Scotia and only one other location in the world, in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. In partnership with the Nova Scotia Department of Natural Resources, Canadian Wildlife Service, Fern Hill Institute for Plant Conservation and other organizations affiliated with the species’ recovery, NCC staff are working to restore the bog habitat for the avens.
Earlier owners of the property had attempted to transform the bog into agricultural land by digging drainage ditches. When the crops they planted failed, the effort was abandoned, but the bog has continued to drain. “The habitat is now fundamentally altered from what it was 50 years ago, and we’ve seen a corresponding decline in the abundance of the eastern mountain avens,” says Craig Smith, NCC’s program director in Nova Scotia.
NCC and project partners have engaged hydrologists, hydrogeologists, plant ecologists and biologists to help guide the restoration work. In addition, says Mr. Smith, “the partners have spent the last couple of years building awareness of the project and its potential benefit with the local community.”
Those efforts included interviews with long-time community residents to understand the values that were associated with the bog in its natural state. “People used to hunt, picnic and harvest berries there,” he says.
One of the actions in the recovery plan includes plugging the drainage ditches to allow greater retention of water.
“Over time, this will lead to the corresponding changes in ecology that will eventually lead it back to a bog/fen state, stabilizing the habitat for the eastern mountain avens,” says Mr. Smith. “We also want this wetland to contribute to the community as a component of the nature-based tourism Brier Island offers, and to become a source of community pride.”
And while staff on Canada’s east coast are busy restoring habitat for the eastern mountain avens, on the Pacific Coast, NCC’s work in the Campbell River Estuary is a remarkable demonstration of the impact such restoration work can have. The once lifeless shoreline of this previous industrial area is now rich with natural beauty and diversity.
When NCC and its partners purchased Baikie Island, which sits in the middle of the estuary, along with a portion on the foreshore in 1999, the area was a wasteland, damaged by a century of industrial activities.
“We conserved Baikie Island with the intention of restoring it to a natural, thriving ecological habitat,” says Lesley Neilson, NCC’s communications manager in B.C. After extensive surveying and planning, restoration crews set to work ripping up concrete, excavating more than 38,000 cubic metres of fill and regrading the shoreline to its natural contours, digging two new backchannels and replanting native vegetation in marsh and riparian areas.
“The project has a lot of support from the local community, which understands how important it is to find a balance between reclaiming some natural space while still leaving room for some industry to function in the area,” says Ms. Neilson.
Today, the habitat in the estuary serves as nursery grounds for fish, migratory birds and a lot of intertidal marine creatures. The Campbell River is one of the most important salmon-spawning rivers in British Columbia, and the habitat here now protects the ecosystem for salmon and many other species.
Ownership of Baikie Island has been transferred to the City of Campbell River, which manages the area as a park. NCC holds a conservation agreement on the lands and monitors them every year. The organization purchased an adjacent parcel in 2007, which is also undergoing extensive ecological restoration. “NCC’s work in the Campbell River Estuary really shows the transformative power of nature. Even when things have been damaged, we can help them come back,” says Ms. Neilson. “With help, nature rebounds.”
With the assistance of individuals, foundations and companies, NCC’s essential conservation work in the places where water meets land is restoring habitat that is vitally important to wildlife. And as these examples demonstrate, these efforts benefit human communities as well, often improving downstream water quality while helping to ensure Canada’s natural legacy for generations to come.
For more information on how you can help, visit www.natureconservancy.ca/help