Caring for the Land

We are grounded in the evidence that land, in a natural state or brought back to health, is a critical step to building nature- based solutions to address our climate crisis. Rehabilitated, connected, large tracts of natural areas reduce the impacts of climate change by cooling the air, reducing runoff and flooding, improving water quality, as well as helping the continued survival of the Escarpment’s trees, plants and wildlife.

Our monitoring, planning, and active stewardship maintain and enhance biodiversity, improve connectivity of natural corridors, and protect Species at Risk and unique habitat.

Caring for the Land

We are grounded in the evidence that land, in a natural state or brought back to health, is a critical step to building nature- based solutions to address our climate crisis. Rehabilitated, connected, large tracts of natural areas reduce the impacts of climate change by cooling the air, reducing runoff and flooding, improving water quality, as well as helping the continued survival of the Escarpment’s trees, plants and wildlife.

Our monitoring, planning, and active stewardship maintain and enhance biodiversity, improve connectivity of natural corridors, and protect Species at Risk and unique habitat.

Land Stewardship Program

The Bruce Trail Conservancy manages thousands of acres of Escarpment land. The Bruce Trail Conservancy’s Land Stewardship Program was put into effect to effectively care for this land, and is the largest program of its kind run by a non-government organization in Ontario’s history.

Three full-time ecologists are dedicated to the Land Stewardship Program, supported by hundreds of local land steward volunteers in each of the nine Bruce Trail Clubs. This team works year-round to ensure the long-term health of the precious lands within our conservation corridor, while providing Bruce Trail access to the Niagara Escarpment. 

Each Bruce Trail Conservancy natural area is cared for by a volunteer land steward who regularly monitors the site and carries out the activities outlined in the property’s stewardship plan. Stewardship includes understanding, planning, sustaining, and restoring the land.

As more land comes into the care of the Bruce Trail Conservancy, the work of the land stewardship program increases.

Understanding the Land

Once we have secured land along the conservation corridor, we get to know the land better by assessing the ecosystems and species present on the land and any existing damage or threats that might be harming them. BTC ecologists conduct 3-season inventories on each newly-secured parcel of land, during which they collect data on:

  • the habitat types present
  • the plant and animal species found
  • birds that are breeding on the land
  • the abundance, location and condition of any species-at-risk
  • threats to the health of the land – including improper use, litter, damage to plants, climate change, etc.

This information helps us to come up with a plan to steward the land according to its unique needs and characteristics.

While these initial 3-season inventories provide important baseline information, the land is always changing, so it is important to regularly monitor its health. This regular monitoring is the job of 250 amazing volunteer Land Stewards. Each of our protected natural areas is assigned to a volunteer land steward, who visits the nature reserve at least twice per year and reports back on any new or continuing threats, any additional species found, and any changes to  the condition of the land.

Volunteers and staff also conduct additional monitoring of species and ecosystems in several of our nature reserves to gain a better understanding of how they are changing over time. Biodiversity monitoring happening in our protected natural areas includes:

  • annual breeding bird surveys
  • bird box monitoring
  • marsh monitoring
  • bat monitoring
  • citizen science observations through the BTC iNaturalist project 
  • restoration project monitoring
Planning to Care for the Land

Once we have a good understanding of the habitats and species that are living in a newly protected natural area, staff develop a stewardship plan for the area. These plans are based on the detailed inventories that have been conducted on the property along with background research, and they are used to guide the management of the area in a manner that is consistent with the mission and values of the Bruce Trail Conservancy.

Stewardship plans contain information such as:

  • maps of the natural area, including locations of different habitats, important features and sensitive species
  • a list of all plant and animal species observed on the land
  • information on the history of the property
  • threats that have been identified on the property
  • Recommendations for maintaining and improving the health of the land and the safety and enjoyment of trail users – this may include suggested restoration activities, and plans to reduce damage to plants and wildlife by people
Planning the Trail

One important piece of our stewardship planning process is determining the route of the Bruce Trail. Our goal is to provide safe, sustainable access to nature for all to enjoy, while protecting the biodiversity and functioning of these natural spaces. You can do your part to protect these precious spaces by remembering to follow the Trail User’s Code when visiting.

Before new sections of the Bruce Trail are blazed in a natural area, the information in the area’s stewardship plan is used to help determine the best path for the Bruce Trail. Staff ecologists work with the local Trail Development team to choose a route that minimizes the trail’s impact on the environment and that is safe and enjoyable for trail users.

Staff ecologists also assess the route of existing sections of the Bruce Trail in our nature reserves. They assess the Trail’s effects on nearby species and ecosystems, and may suggest re-routes or upgrades such as boardwalks that protect sensitive species and habitats. Staff ecologists also provide recommendations on how to maintain the trail in a way that also maintains the health of the land.

Sustaining the Land

Our land stewardship work encompasses a wide variety of stewardship activities that all aim to maintain or improve the health of the land. Stewardship activities are geared to the unique needs of each protected natural area and are based on our understanding of the land and the recommendations outlined in the area’s stewardship plan.

The stewardship work carried out by staff and Land Stewardship volunteers includes:

  • Garbage clean-up
  • Mitigating improper trail use by installing signage, fencing and other structures
  • Invasive species removal
  • Regular monitoring
  • Habitat Restoration
Restoring the Land

Another powerful way we are addressing climate change is by restoring natural environments, facilitating their resilience and adaptation to the effects of change. 

Once land is under our care, ongoing land stewardship efforts are key to fulfilling our mission. From planning and ecological inventories, to major habitat restoration projects, to monitoring biodiversity and restoration success, our staff and volunteers work year-round to enhance biodiversity and ecosystem health ensuring the ecological sustainability of the Bruce Trail and the Niagara Escarpment today, and into the future.

We undertake a variety of restoration activities within our natural areas to reverse damage done to ecosystems and ensure they are on a healthy trajectory. Our restoration work focuses on helping ecosystems to be self-sustaining, resilient and adaptable to threats like climate change.

Invasive species removal is one of the most common restorative activities we carry out in our natural areas. Invasive species are non-native species that are having a negative impact on our natural environment, often by outcompeting native species and reducing biodiversity. BTC ecologists and volunteers manage invasive species like common buckthorn, dog strangling vine, garlic mustard, and many more using manual and sometimes chemical methods. Managing invasive species ensures that native plants and wildlife have the resources they need to thrive in our natural areas.

Tree planting is one of the ways that we restore forest habitat in our natural areas. Forests provide habitat for a wide variety of wildlife species, and also provide ecosystem services, such as carbon sequestration, cooling, air filtration and flood mitigation. When tree planting, we aim to connect fragmented forest patches so that wildlife can move through the landscape more easily.

In appropriate open areas, the BTC is conducting grassland restoration to bring back rare tallgrass prairie and meadow habitats. Tallgrass prairie once covered a significant portion of southern Ontario’s landscape, but due to urban development, conversion to agriculture and fire suppression, less than 3% of this habitat remains in the province. We are recreating tallgrass prairie and meadow habitat to provide space for rare prairie plants, food for pollinators, and nesting habitat for at-risk grassland birds.

The BTC also works to restore species-at-risk populations through targeted efforts including the installation of habitat enhancement features such as bird boxes, the planting of disease-resistant varieties of endangered plants such as American Chestnut, and protecting critical habitat for a variety of species-at-risk through the creation of protected natural areas.

Landowner Stewardship Program

Private landowners play a key role as caretakers of forests, waterways, and fields. The BTC offers a free on-site consultation service for these landowners known as the Landowner Stewardship Program.

What is Landowner Stewardship?

As a private landowner, you have intimate knowledge of your land and you play a key role as caretaker of its valuable ecosystems. Landowner stewardship is about caring for your land in a way that preserves its environmental, economic and cultural values, keeping it healthy for today and the future.

What is the Landowner Stewardship Program?

The Landowner Stewardship Program supports landowners who are interested in preserving the environmental values of their property. If you own land along the Bruce Trail, the BTC’s Landowner Stewardship Program can assist you with enhancing the wildlife habitat on your property and contributing to the ecological health of the Niagara Escarpment. The Bruce Trail Conservancy is able to provide guidance and financial support to assist private landowners with planning and implementing habitat restoration projects on their property.

Through the program, BTC staff and volunteers will provide you with information, advice, and resources to help you steward the land you love in a way that contributes to healthier, more biodiverse and more resilient Niagara Escarpment ecosystems.

If the Bruce Trail crosses your property, you are eligible for this program.

Benefits of the Landowner Stewardship Program:

By participating, you can benefit from:

  • A free site visit with BTC staff to discuss your stewardship goals and your property’s ecological value
  • Information and resources on topics such as:
    • The plants and animals that share your land
    • Environmentally-friendly land practices
    • Protection and enhancement of natural forests
    • Identifying and controlling invasive species
    • Managing and enhancing wildlife habitat (especially for at-risk species); i.e. tree plantings, pollinator gardens, riparian habitat enhancements
    • Sourcing and planting native flowers, shrubs and trees
    • Tax incentives and funding programs that may be available to you
    • Opportunities to permanently preserve land
  • Opportunities to collaborate with the BTC on eligible stewardship projects
  • A stewardship plan that is tailored to your property and your interests
Landowner Stewardship Program
The Next Steps

Our stewardship coordinator can do a virtual meeting or meet with you on your property to address any questions or concerns you may have about the features of your property. The technician will make observations about the health of the natural features of your property and will suggest a variety of management techniques for your consideration that can enhance or improve the state of your property. Our technicians will follow up with an information package to assist you in meeting your land management goals.

If you decide to undertake a habitat rehabilitation project on your property, your technician can draft a plan for the work to guide you through the process. Your technician will remain available to you by phone, email or in person if you have additional questions or new issues that you would like to discuss. They can also direct you to other natural resources management professionals that you may wish to contact.
Click here to book a site visit.

For more information about the program or to arrange a site visit, contact:
Lyndsey Wilkerson at 1-800-665-4453 ext. 232

Protected Natural Areas  

The Bruce Trail Conservancy’s protected natural areas preserve the Escarpment’s unique biodiversity and provide nature-based solutions to addressing climate change. In our communities, these protected areas provide valuable ecosystem services, including mitigating flooding, storing carbon, filtering water, and supporting our physical and mental health.

Caring For The Land

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