The Big Picture Network: Niagara Region
Caistor-Canborough Slough Forest
Location: near Dunnville and West Lincoln
Partners: Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority, private landowners with Stewardship Agreements, Carolinian Canada Coalition
On the border of Haldimand county and Niagara, near the towns of Dunnville and West Lincoln, the Caistor-Canborough Slough Forest is one of the most extensive woodlots remaining in the region. Surrounded and, in places, separated by intensively cultivated croplands, it is the source for more than 20 streams and tributaries. Wetland communities here include marshes, meadows, and swamp forests. Close to 40 landowners in the area have protected the natural features of their properties through Natural Heritage Stewardship agreements. This represents a significant portion of the more than 80% protection for the site. The Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority owns and manages the 75-ha Ruigrok Tract Conservation Area, which protects part of the Caistor-Canborough Slough Forest. For more information go to www.conservation-niagara.on.ca.
Chippewa Creek Conservation Area
Location: west of Wellandport on Regional Road 45
Partners: Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority,
This 148-ha conservation area protects a significant wildlife area with excellent hiking right up to, and along the Welland River. Dils Lake, a man-made reservoir is surrounded by the protected area, and offers excellent hiking, passive boating and good fishing. There are extensive mature forested areas and wetland areas for wildlife habitat and viewing. For more information go to www.conservation-niagara.on.ca.
Fonthill Sandhill Valley
Location: near Pelham
Dates: 1984, 1998
Partners: Nature Conservancy of Canada, Carolinian Canada Coalition, private landowners
The Fonthill Sandhill Valley, near the town of Pelham, sustains diverse and majestic Carolinian woodland on the steep slopes of the Fonthill Kame. Created by the retreating glacier approximately 10,000 to 12,000 years ago, the kame is characterized by sand and gravel deposits that consolidated into a variety of mounds, linear ridges and complex landforms of great beauty. The only coldwater spring-fed creek in the Niagara Region, Twelve Mile Creek (so named because it is 12 miles west of the Niagara River), runs through the valley. the varied woodlands – from dry forests to moister areas - reflect the topographic diversity of this 150 ha site. One of its unique features is an unusual concentration of large Tulip-trees, a Carolinian Species that can tower up to 35 m with ramrod straight trunks and showy yellow-green flowers. In June 1998, Dr. D. Whiting Lathrop donated his property in the Fonthill Sandhill Valley to the Nature Conservancy of Canada, to be protected in perpetuity. The Lathrop Nature Preserve contains populations of three provincially rare plants: Butternut, American Chestnut, and Perfoliate Bellwort. Another important feature of the preserve is the large groundwater seepage zone; this groundwater serves as the headwaters for the Twelve Mile Creek, one of the most southerly coldwater creeks in Ontario. For more information, see our Signature Sites booklet, available for purchase from this website here.
Grimsby-Winona Escarpment and Beamer Valley
Location: near Grimsby
Partners: Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority, Carolinian Canada Coalition, private landowners
This 100-ha Carolinian Canada Signature Site is one of the most extensive escarpment-rim forests in the Niagara Region. Here, Forty Mile Creek cascades over two large waterfalls and Sugar Maple dominates with Red Oak on drier ridges and lower slopes. Beamer Memorial Conservation Area offers spectacular views of the valley, Lake Ontario shoreline and escarpment ridge. Rare Carolinian birds such as the Tufted Titmouse and Louisiana Waterthrush live here. Between March and May, tens of thousands of hawks migrate through following the shorelines of Lakes Ontario and Erie, taking advantage of the strong thermal updrafts created by the escarpment cliffs. Bald Eagles and other birds of prey can be viewed from numerous lookouts in the 50 ha Beamer Memorial Conservation Area.
This site was identified in 1984 by the Carolinian Canada Coalition as one of 38 critical natural areas that were unprotected at the time. It is recognized internationally as an Important Bird Area, Area of Natural and Scientific Interest and is part of the Niagara Escarpment International Biosphere Reserve. A major portion is protected by over one hundred private landowners through voluntary stewardship, in partnership with a wide range of conservation groups and agencies. For more information see our Signature Sites booklet, available for purchase from this website here.
Jordan Escarpment Valley
Location: near Vineland
Partners: Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority, Carolinian Canada Coalition, private landowners
This signature site encompasses one of the most dramatic landforms on the Niagara peninsula, second only to Niagara Falls: the long, deep, incised gorge of Twenty Mile Creek which, atop the escarpment plain, plunges 27 m down a waterfall and lower rapids. The gorge is 35- to 60-m deep and 1.5 km long. At the mouth of the valley, in Jordan, is one of the best-developed and mature floodplain forests in the Niagara Peninsula. The creek drains into the Jordan Harbour Marsh, an extensive lagoon and the largest lakeshore marsh (160 ha) on the southwest shore of Lake Ontario. The diversity of flora is outstanding, with 489 plant species, including 41 restricted to the Carolinian life zone. Green Dragon, Pignut Hickory, Virginia Bluebells, and Red Mulberry are just a few of the rarities. Faunal diversity is also impressive, particularly for such a heavily populated area. Most of the forests are approaching old growth, with trees more than 100 years old. As one of the few remaining natural valley corridors linking the Niagara Escarpment to the shores of Lake Ontario, the forests provide breeding and foraging habitat for many species that require large areas of undisturbed forest for survival, such as Red-eyed Vireo, and Wood Thrush. More than 100 ha in size, Ball’s Falls Heritage Conservation Area, just south of Vineland, protects the upper portions, escarpment, and lower portions of the Jordan Valley system. More than 50 species of migrant birds and 162 nesting birds can be found here. Two waterfalls and the bedrock gorge of Twenty Mile Creek are particularly noteworthy features: the Lower Falls is 27-m high, two-thirds of the height of Niagara Falls. Of historic cultural interest are the 1809 flour and grist mill, limekiln, log cabins and 1864 church at the conservation area. For more information see our Signature Sites booklet, available for purchase from this website here.
Point Abino Peninsula Sandland Forest
Location: 12 km east of Port Colborne on Lake Erie
Partners: Nature Conservancy of Canada, Town of Fort Erie, Carolinian Canada Coalition, private landowners
Most of the sand dunes along the Ontario shores of Lake Erie have been heavily developed for cottages, but portions of the Point Abino Peninsula remain virtually untouched – the largest expanse of naturally forested sandland hills, wetland basins, and undisturbed shoreline along the north coast of the lake. Exceptionally rich in plant species and wildlife, many Carolinian rarities can be found in this privately owned area, including Hop-tree, Southern flying Squirrel, Acadian Flycatcher, and Eastern Hognose Snake. Thirty-metre-tall Tulip-trees tower above Witchhazel and Spicebush shrubs, and in spring, the forest floor is carpeted with White Trillium, Hepatica, and Dutchman’s breeches. The Point Abino Peninsula Sandland Forest is home to Marcy’s Woods, a privately owned property that has been a conservation ‘hot spot’ in recent years. Originally owned by Dr. George Marcy, a physician at the University of Buffalo Medical School and a lifelong naturalist who died in 1994, the largely pristine property was sold to a Niagara Falls hotelier. A group called the Bert Miller Nature Club was formed with the purpose of protecting and preserving Marcy’s Woods. The group’s lobbying efforts led the provincial government to issue a rare Zoning Order in 2003 preventing any development on the site for one year. This was extended for six months while the Town of Fort Erie finished a review of its Official Plan and established a long-term protection of Marcy’s Woods with the assistance of the Nature Conservancy of Canada. For more information, please refer to our Signature Sites booklet which, available for purchase from this website here.
Short Hills Provincial Park
Location: 4 km southwest of St. Catherines. Access is via Cataract, Roland, or Pelham roads.
Partners: Ontario Parks, Friends of Short Hills
Located in a valley of the Twelve Mile Creek, the ‘Short Hills’ were formed when the creek cut through glacial till and sedimentary deposits. This 735 ha park is classed as a natural environment park. Hiking trails of all levels are available. Three are hikers only, while others can be used by bikers and horse-back riders as well. The forested valley contains a diversity of species, including the rare Paw Paw and American Sweet Chestnut. Sassafras, Black Gum, and Black Oak are other Carolinian trees found here. Forbs include Wild Leeks and Sharp-lobed Hepatica. Birds such as the Indigo Bunting, Scarlet Tanager, and Great Horned Owl inhabit the forest. Mammals such as White-tailed deer, Coyote, and the Meadow Vole call the Short Hills valley home. Fishing is excellent in this area, since Twelve Mile Creek is the only remaining cold water stream in the Niagara Region. For more information, go to www.friendsofshorthillspark.ca or www.ontarioparks.com.
Location: west of Port Colborne
Partners: Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, Nature Conservancy of Canada, many private landowners.
An 806 hectare Conservation Area protects part of the largest, least disturbed peatland in Southern Ontario. Over 12,000 years ago, the area covered by the bog would have been open water,
prevented from draining by the Onondaga Escarpment. Over the millennia, plants that grew here decayed and more plants grew, filling in the pond. Today, the partially decayed plant material holds water like
a sponge, creating acidic bog conditions which nurture unique plants adapted to the low nutrient and acidic conditions. Species such as Sphagnum Moss, Labrador Tea, and Cotton Grass thrive here. The original
extent of the bog prior to European settlement is thought to be about 20,000 ha, much greater than its present extent of about 1460 ha. Peat extraction, drainage and road building have had major impacts on
the bog. The remaining bog is slowly drying out. The Conservation Authority and others are working to save what remains. For information on restoration work at the bog, go to www.conservation-niagara.on.ca
Wainfleet Wetlands Conservation Area
Location: west of Port Colborne
Partners: Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority
Link: Wainfleet Wetlands
This 186 hectare Wainfleet Wetlands CA protects a wetland that has succeeded from a former quarry and now attracts a large variety of shorebirds. Fifty different species have been recorded here, including Great Blue Heron, egrets, gulls, terns and sandpipers. The walls of the quarry reveal a unique open rock history which displays an interesting array of geologic formations and coral fossils. An informal trail travels through the area and allows the visitor to explore these fascinating features.
Willoughby Clay Plain
Location: near Niagara Falls
Partners: Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority, Carolinian Canada Coalition, private landowners
The Willoughby Clay Plain is one of the largest forest and wetland complexes in the eastern Niagara Peninsula. Gently rolling plains are dotted with swamp forests, scrublands, Maple-Oak-Hickory forests and slough ponds created by the underlying clay. In the Willoughby Marsh Conservation Area, protected by the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority, Carolinian trees, such as Swamp White Oak and rare Pin Oak and Pignut Hickory can be found. Scrublands are home to Willow, Elderberry, and Meadowsweet. Cavities in snags (standing dead trees) provide important habitat for Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers among other wildlife. The marsh is home to many rare species including Prothonotary Warbler, Upland Sandpiper and Pickerel Frog. This natural area also serves as a significant water source for Tee, Usshers, and Black Creek.
The Willoughby Clay Plain was identified in 1984 by the Carolinian Canada Coalition as one of 38 critical natural areas that were unprotected at the time. Rare habitats in this unique area are designated as a Provincially Significant Wetland, an Environmentally Sensitive Area and an Area of Natural and Scientific Interest. Surrounding the 232 ha Conservation Area, natural habitats are protected by hundreds of private landowners through voluntary stewardship, in partnership with a wide range of conservation groups and agencies. For more information go to www.conservation-niagara.on.ca or see our Signature Sites booklet, available for purchase from this website here.
Land Care Niagara: Partnerships for Nature
Land Care Niagara (LCN) partners with landowners and many other groups to provide technical and financial assistance for habitat projects. The Natural Heritage Corridor Tree Planting program helps landowners plant native trees to enhance existing woodlands, increase forest interior habitat and connect fragmented natural areas. Under their Species at Risk program, LCN assists the local Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources with research and monitoring. LCN engages hundreds of school children and their families fun learning and conservation programs every year. LCN has also partnered with Carla Carlson
of Niagara Nature Tours to bring environmental education opportunities to home and private school children. LCN is sponsored by the Niagara Community Land Stewardship Council with support from Ontario Stewardship.
Experts in the Field
Peninsula Field Naturalists Club volunteers share their specialized knowledge of nature to assist many groups in the Niagara Region. Areas of expertise include birds, wildflowers, trees, geology and even lichen. They have worked on biological inventories for several of The Niagara Parks Commission properties along the Niagara River, planted trees and wildflowers with the Niagara Restoration Council and are currently helping the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority in a 3-year Natural Heritage Inventory. The Club is a long-time contributor to the Christmas Bird Count, an international project coordinated by Bird Studies Canada.
Restoring the Landscape
The Niagara Restoration Council is a not-for-profit, volunteer group focused on
protecting, stewarding and restoring the natural ecosystems of Niagara through habitat projects and community education. Their Building Stream Buffers for Niagara's Rivers Project has created over 4 km of vegetated stream banks on golf courses and public parks. Since 2001, the Niagara River Area of Concern Fish Barrier Project has removed 70% of the known barriers to allow fish to return to their native spawning habitats. The Trees for Niagara Project has worked with over 50 landowners in the Fifteen, Sixteen and Eighteen Mile Watersheds to plant over 62,000 trees, creating and connecting natural habitat throughout the region.
Water for Life: The Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority
The Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority has been making the link between water quality and habitat for over 20 years. It offers local landowners financial incentives to undertake projects ranging from planting stream buffers and restoring wetlands and woodlands to manure storage improvements and conservation farm practices. Staff provide on-site consultations and assist with hands-on habitat restoration actions. With over 700 projects, including 300 buffers, the program is making a significant difference in protecting local water quality.
Sustainable Forests, Sustainable Future
The Niagara Woodlot Association, a chapter of the Ontario Woodlot Association, is a group of about 160 woodlot owners who share a common interest in sustainable management of private forests. Niagara is home to interesting Carolinian trees such as Blackgum, Tulip Tree and Kentucky Coffe-tree. Member interests range from timber and firewood production to maple syrup production, Christmas tree farming, rare species, wildlife habitat and nature appreciation. They hold regular events including stewardship walks and seminars on woodlot management practices. The chapter also takes an active role in the rare tree preservation and implementing pest control measures.
Good Wines, Clean Water
Many landowners in the Niagara Region enjoy seeing the positive impacts they can make through stewardship projects. Henry of Pelham Wineries first heard about what they could do to clean up the water running into Richardson's Creek through the Environmental Farm Plan and Sustainable Winemaking Ontario – a
program of the Wine Council of Ontario, Grape Growers of Ontario, and Niagara College. When the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority proposed the installation of biofilters and a buffer of native plants around their holding ponds to filter run-off and provide habitat for beneficial insects, they were eager to collaborate. Today their small aquatic system plays a big role in keeping the creek safe and clean for their rural neighbourhood, nearby and downstream. It cleans up the drainage from approximately 80 ha (200 ac) of farmland, including neighbouring farms. ‘I'm excited to see how it will perform this year' says Mathew Speck, Vice-President and Viticulturist.
Bruce Trail Connects Natural Gems
Like a string of pearls, the Bruce Trail falls against the rocky collar of the Niagara Escarpment as it curves around Lake Ontario, winding through Niagara Region before heading North towards the Bruce Peninsula, over 880 km from beginning to end. The Trail connects many important natural areas, ecological ‘pearls', across the region. Starting at Queenston Heights Forest, the Trail winds its way up through Woodend Conservation Area, along the Welland Canal, through Shorthills Provincial Park and several other significant Conservation Areas including the famous Ball's Falls (with falls nearly two-thirds the height of Niagara Falls) and on up through Beamer Memorial and Winona Conservation Areas. These sites contain many Carolinian gems: you might see Paw-Paw, Flowering Dogwood and Sweet Chestnut in the thickets of Short Hills, or catch a glimpse of a Southern Flying Squirrel or Hooded Warbler deep in Queenston Heights Forest.
The United Nations has designated the Niagara Escarpment as a World Biosphere Reserve, highlighting both its ecological significance and the pressures exerted on it by the human population surrounding it. The Bruce Trail Conservancy promotes a harmonious relationship between visitors and the natural environment. The organization works to protect and enhance the ecological integrity of the Trail's natural corridor for environmentally responsible public access by purchasing and stewarding land along its length.
From Soy Beans to Pollywogs
The Welland River cuts through Bob and Lynn Oliver's 33 ha (81 ac) property in West Lincoln. After consulting the Conservation Authority, they did not feel that continued cash cropping was appropriate in the floodplain. In 1999, they started restoring their swamp forest, created a large pond that is now alive with muskrats, turtles and waterfowl and planted an upland forest with white pine, spruce, ash, oak and native grasses strategically connecting existing woods. Assistance was received from many sources including local contractors, volunteers, the Conservation Authority, Land Care Niagara, Wetland Habitat Fund, Environment Canada's Great Lakes Sustainability Fund, Ontario Power Generation and the Ontario Trillium Foundation. Bob proudly says that about 90% of the plantings are thriving. He can see the once muddy surface run-off is now crystal clear, as it hits the Welland River, making its way north to Lake Ontario.
The Carolinian International Border
The Niagara Parks Commission (NPC) stewards 56 km of shoreline habitat in 1720 ha (4250 ac) along the Niagara River and on Navy Island featuring best practices for natural areas management. NPC is promoting the Niagara River Corridor as a bi-national Ecosystem with an opportunity to partner with like-minded agencies across the border. On the Canadian side, visitors can view buffer demonstration sites on 20 watercourses and learn how grassland burns at Paradise Grove Black Oak Savannah help maintain the rare ecosystem. At several locations, mowing has been stopped and native plantings help filter surface run-off, stop erosion and increase natural biodiversity. A new Native Plant Nursery developed in partnership with Ontario Power Generation and local groups will provide native plants from local seed sources for habitat projects.
For the Love of Nature
The Niagara Falls Nature Club holds activities to promote the understanding and enjoyment of Ontario's natural heritage. Their Summer Evening Walks program takes participants to a different natural area around the Peninsula each week. Club volunteers stewards the Harold Mitchell Nature Reserve (owned by Ontario Nature), assist with bird-banding at Rockpoint Provincial Park, and help with the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority's natural areas inventory, among other projects.
A Rare Gorge
True to its Carolinian nature, the Niagara River Gorge contains one of the largest concentrations of Species at Risk anywhere in Canada, including one of only two locations in Canada where the threatened shrub, Deerberry, is found. The endangered Northern Dusky Salamander is a species found only in the Niagara Gorge and in 2004 the Allegany Mountain Dusky Salamander was observed here for the first time. Niagara Parks include many Environmentally Sensitive Areas such as the Niagara Glen Nature Reserve, Dufferin Islands, and Queenston Heights Forest.
Wineries Working for Nature
Frog Pond, Lailey and Featherstone are some of the dedicated wineries in Niagara Region working with, and caring for, nature. From mulching in place of herbicides, to organic fertilizers and natural pest control, these landowners are nurturing the earth and the environment and wine connoisseurs are reaping the rewards in delicious, sustainably produced wines.
Creating Wetlands for Wildlife
Art and Verna Urbsha were keen to increase wildlife habitat on their 2.6 ha (6.5 ac) property in Canfield on the banks of the Welland River, so they approached the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority about the possibilities. In 2006-7, a small wetland was dug and native trees, fruit-bearing shrubs, aquatic plants, wildflowers and native grasses were planted. A great variety of wildlife has come to the wetland and surrounding habitat, including fish, Green and Leopard Frogs, Wood Ducks and Great Blue Heron. The Urbshas are also happy to know that the wetland will help to improve water quality in the Welland River.
The Power of Partnerships
The families of Ontario Power Generation's Niagara Plant Group staff take Earth Day seriously, with an ambitious plan to improve the nature of the lower 12 Mile Creek floodplain. Since 2004, in partnership with Niagara Peninsula conservation Authority, Land Care Niagara and St. Catharines Green Committee, over 11,000 saplings and nuts have been planted in disturbed areas. “We did these plantings to improve plant and wildlife diversity along the Creek and help improve water quality” says Tony Van Oostrom, Niagara Plant Group's Senior Environmental Advisor. “We hope that our efforts will enhance linkages to other forested lands along the Niagara Escarpment and the Short Hills Valley.”