When we lose nature, we lose the character of our community.
John Willetts’ goal for his North Bruce Peninsula property near the shores of Lake Huron is to return the habitat to “as close to pre-colonization status as possible.” To date, Willetts has restored wetland, grassland and riparian habitats, and planted 4,000 trees—mainly eastern white pine. DUC helped him restore the wetland habitat at Willetts Woods in 2020.
His reward for all that work? There are signs and sightings of wildlife in every season now at Willetts Woods including, with surprising frequency, the shy Massasauga rattler—a species at risk in Ontario. Willetts reports regularly spotting bears, deer, coyotes, fishers, raptors, reptiles and orchids in the forest, as well as spring waterfowl near the restored wetland.
Willetts Woods is close to Lake Huron (Pleasant Point) with 50 acres (20 hectares) in active restoration. Next door is more than 1,000 acres (405 hectares) owned by the Escarpment Biosphere Conservancy which offers opportunities for conservation and monitoring collaboration.
Project: Willetts Woods
Region: North Bruce Peninsula
Conservation Agreement: 21 years
Funding: North American Wetlands Conservation Act funding partnerships / Landowner
Habitat by DUC
DUC designed two small wetlands (.5 acre/.2 hectare and .9 acre/.4 hectare) within a dry, historical beaver pond surrounded by softwood forest habitat.
In the area, wetlands that support waterfowl brood rearing are high in density but there are not many small pair-ponds, where bird pairs rest and feed prior to nesting.
Beneficial wetland vegetation that supports clean water includes sedge and willow species, red-osier dogwood, broadleaf cattail and Canada bluejoint.
Q&A with John Willetts
What motivated you to restore habitat on your property?
Willetts’ former home town, Brampton, Ont., exploded in size to become the ninth largest city in Canada. “Development and roadways changed the watershed with significant losses of nature,” he recalls. “The forests were depleted and the wetlands perished. I learned that when we lose nature, we lose the character of our community. We lose our cultural and natural heritage.
“I saw this property on the Bruce Peninsula, quite a distance north of Brampton, but it had been degraded and damaged too. The interior forest habitat had been lost, the streams and wetlands were broken.
And I knew I could fix it. I had the technical knowledge from my years with the Brampton Environmental Advisory Committee and the Claireville Environmental Group. I could put the things back in place to restore the habitat.”
What is your favourite thing about it now?
“It’s incredibly satisfying and I know I’m doing the right thing. We restored the streams and put riparian plantings along them and suddenly wasteland areas with completely dead cedar trees came alive again. The speed of the recovery was breathtaking. Now that the newly restored wetland is becoming greener, I see wildlife all year round. In spring, there are Canada geese and ducks. In winter, it’s dead silent with tracks in the snow along the open streams.”
What are your plans for the habitat?
“Right now, we’ve got 60 bird boxes that were made by local high school students with materials donated by the local Rona. Each box is numbered and will be recorded and catalogued for long term data collection. I hope I can get some volunteers to assist in proper installation so they’re ready for next spring!”
Tell us why you worked with DUC?
- Long-time awareness of DUC
- Knew there were programs to assist and was looking for advice
- DU provided advice and direction on best practices to create and restore the wetland and surrounding area
“I reached out to everyone who I thought could help me. Staff at Ducks Unlimited and the various government ministries were significant enablers and helped me realize my plans. They guided me through the complex permits that were needed for the naturalization projects, especially involving habitat for Species at Risk.”
Wondering if your property is right for a habitat restoration project?
Find out how to work with us.Guidance for Ontario Landowners