When we restore wetlands on the land, it isn’t long before birds and other wildlife appear. And soon, people show up, because we’re all drawn to the water.
We gather around it, because wetlands and waterways are mainstays of our ways of life. They’re part of the natural infrastructure of our country.
This year, Ducks Unlimited Canada (DUC) reached record capacity to fill in the blue gaps on Ontario’s map with wetlands. DUC was tapped as the sole recipient of year-one funding for the provincial government’s Wetlands Conservation Partner Program, targeting the health of Lake Ontario and Lake Erie with $6 million in 2021.
There are 60 wetland projects in the program, all helping to replenish lost blue spaces on the landscape, spaces that create natural connectivity for water and wildlife in very diverse watersheds. These restored spaces quickly attract ducks, other birds, and every kind of wildlife including turtles, fish and pollinating insects. While the influx of plants and animals is often obvious, there is also a less visible outflow of environmental benefits downstream.
Lake Antonuk (West Lorne, Ontario)
DUC is working with farm landowners to create newly restored small wetlands on retired agricultural fields in watersheds north of Lake Erie.
Scott and Linda Dunn have lived on their West Lorne farm in Elgin County since 1997, when they purchased the land from Linda’s parents, the Antonuks. This year, they took steps to naturalize some underperforming agricultural land.
“Our plan to change our property to a more natural area happened after we watched many landowners remove trees and fill in or tile wetlands on their property,” says Scott Dunn. “The back of our property is adjacent to a large bush and wetland so it only made sense to add a pond to support wildlife and help with the watershed.”
DUC worked with local partners ALUS Elgin and the Lower Thames Valley Conservation Authority to create the small wetland sculpted into a low-lying field and buffered by grassland and a treed windbreak. The new habitat will support wetland-dependent wildlife while intercepting surface runoff and agricultural nutrients before they reach the lake.
“We enjoy walking out to the pond and watching it change weekly,” says Dunn. “And it’s clear the wildlife like it too. We’ve watched the new wetland take shape and gather water from the landscape. We’re glad to know that the surface water in the wetland will emerge cleaner before it flows to Lake Erie.”
Bayly & Church (Ajax, Ontario)
A new small wetland helps connect a natural waterway in the Lower Duffins Creek wetlands in rapidly urbanizing Ajax, just east of Toronto. The newly created habitat preserves natural space in a high-growth area near Lake Ontario where people explore the creek and enjoy its many wild visitors.
Located near the Bayly & Church intersection, the new wetland enhances nearly a hectare of lightly treed floodplain along the creek. The habitat is linked to the lake by two coastal wetlands that are part of a large restoration initiative led by Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA).
The carefully designed, variable-depth basins will attract a range of wildlife, from deer to ducks, traveling up and down Duffins Creek. And the engineered overflow dam and spillway will help protect downstream habitat from extreme weather events.
DUC collaborated on the project with TRCA, Town of Ajax and Region of Durham to ensure the new wetland helps protect the health of the provincially significant wetland complex. Like many urban-based plans, the project was subject to environmental studies and an on-site archaeological investigation before it went ahead. In the process, a small stand of the invasive reed, phragmites australis, was identified and removed to protect the micro-watershed.
The new wetland is a small buffer between the growing city and the lake, a new blue space that fills a habitat gap for birds and other wildlife while bringing the joy of those wildlife to the human visitors too.
Small town gaps
Thompson Creek (Dunnville, Ontario)
The Grand River is wide and deep as it moves through Dunnville, one of the southernmost towns in the watershed, which is home to about one million people from the Dufferin Highlands south to Lake Erie.
DUC has been active in the area since 2001, in collaboration with Haldimand County and the Dunnville Horticultural Society, restoring wetlands and tallgrass prairie habitats along a tributary of the Grand River, Thompson Creek. The wetland project is being refurbished to ensure that the habitat continues to support waterfowl and fish, and provide ecological services for Dunnville and downstream.
“The Grand River and its many benefits are a mainstay of our way of life in Haldimand County,” says Mayor Ken Hewitt. Within this large and thriving watershed, wetlands are critical to maintaining healthy landscapes for the sake of the river, the adjacent communities and the Great Lake that receives these waters at Port Maitland every day.
Proactive growing communities are making habitat restoration possible. Haldimand County had the vision to put nature in their future 20 years ago, and today that foresight is paying off.
“We felt a responsibility to include nature and conservation in our Natural Heritage Plan nearly two decades ago,” Hewitt explains. “That has ensured continued resilience and enhancement for Dunnville’s natural setting on the river and for the health of Lake Erie just south of the community.”
Learn more about the Wetlands Conservation Partner Program
60 wetlands - 16 feature projectsducks.ca/wcpp