Niagara Escarpment Conservation

The Bruce Trail Conservancy is the largest land trust working to preserve sensitive Niagara Escarpment lands, while making them safe and accessible for the people in Ontario, forever.

We are in the forever business. By preserving a ribbon of wilderness through our conservation work at the Bruce Trail Conservancy, we are building a better future for people and nature. We actively add conserved land each year to protect spaces and species, and secure a natural corridor for the Bruce Trail to build resilience in the face of climate change.

Niagara Escarpment Conservation and the Bruce Trail Conservancy

The Niagara Escarpment is one of the few world biosphere reserves to be protected from environmentally inappropriate land use and development by legislation – the Niagara Escarpment Planning and Development Act. In the centre of the act is the Niagara Escarpment Plan. The Niagara Escarpment Plan is Canada’s first large-scale environmental land use plan that seeks to protect Niagara Escarpment lands as a ‘continuous natural environment’. The Plan serves as a framework that helps strike a balance between development, preservation and the enjoyment of this important natural area.

Connectivity is a core tenet of the Bruce Trail Conservancy’s long standing and successful conservation strategy. Our goal is to establish a contiguous natural corridor along the Niagara Escarpment, which supports and promotes the Niagara Escarpment Plan.

The Escarpment corridor currently contains a patchwork of protected lands, including federal and provincial parks, Areas of Natural and Scientific Interest, conservation authority lands, municipal parks, and Bruce Trail Conservancy protected natural areas, interspersed with private lands that are at risk of development. The Escarpment corridor passes through many highly developed landscapes. In many areas it is the only major corridor for wildlife movement. Securing additional lands within this conservation corridor is vital to ensure connectivity, mitigate habitat fragmentation, and sustain biodiversity.

We’re working to ‘fill in the gaps’ between already protected lands to contribute to a significant ecological corridor of conservation along the Niagara Escarpment.

About the Niagara Escarpment

The Niagara Escarpment in Ontario stretches almost 725 km from the Niagara River to Tobermory and Manitoulin Island. It rises up in places more than half a kilometre above sea level.

The entire Escarpment extends from western New York across southern Ontario to the Saugeen (Bruce) Peninsula, under the waters of Georgian Bay to Manitoulin Island, and south along the western shore of Lake Michigan.

The most spectacular sections – those recognized by UNESCO in the Biosphere designation – are covered by the Niagara Escarpment Plan.  

The Niagara Escarpment we know today is the result of geological processes that began more than 450 million years ago when the limestones, dolostones, shales, and sandstones of the Escarpment’s bedrock were formed. In geological terms, a cuesta or escarpment is a ridge composed of gently tipped rock strata with a long, gradual slope on one side and a relatively steep scarp or cliff on the other.

The present appearance of the Niagara Escarpment is the result of erosion that’s occurred over the past 250 million years. With incredible rock cliffs, breathtaking waterfalls, underwater caves, and 1,000-year-old Eastern White Cedar trees, the Escarpment tells a fascinating story of the natural history of Ontario – a story that needs to be told for generations to come.

Protecting the Magnificent Niagara Escarpment

This means protecting its unique and fascinating characteristics, including:

  • The highest level of species diversity among Canadian biospheres.
  • The only major corridor for wildlife to live and roam around in many highly developed regions in Ontario
  • An excellent example of sustainable development and a valuable site for environmental research, monitoring and educational activities.

It is said that there has been more change to the Niagara Escarpment during the past 100 years than in the previous 9,000 years.  As a result of the tremendous urban and recreational development of natural lands, people became motivated to ensure access to green space where they could walk and reflect. People came together and built the Bruce Trail.

Indigenous Culture and the Niagara Escarpment

The Niagara Escarpment, referred to in Anishinaabemowin (Anishinaabe language) as Gchi-Bimadinaa (The Great Cliff That Runs Along), or in Kanyen’kehá:ka (Mohawk language) as Kastenhraktátye (Along The Cliffs), is a signature geological landform that extends west from Niagara and then north up through the Saugeen (Bruce) Peninsula and Mnidoo Mnising (Manitoulin Island).

The Escarpment remains a place of awe and wonder for the Indigenous peoples who continue to inhabit this land. Their ancestors’ footsteps arrived approximately 13,000 years ago as the melting glaciers retreated northward, revealing the Great Lakes of Erie, Ontario, and Huron, the mighty Niagara River and Georgian Bay, and creating numerous lakes and peninsulas, capes, and inlets, all the while giving genesis to an environment rich with life.

For those who hike upon the crest of the Escarpment, which dates back more than 400 million years, its layers of shale, sandstone, dolomite, and limestone, all fashioned by the forces of nature and time, provide remarkable insights into the blossoming of life on our mother earth. It also serves as foundation for understanding its more recent history, which begins with Indigenous peoples whose intellectual traditions first acknowledged the mutual relationship that binds humans to nature, and whose distinct voices first blessed the plants, animals, waters, and elements of the region. Through interaction with the diverse and plentiful environment of the Escarpment they built their identities in association with the land in a way that sustained hundreds of generations.

Along the Bruce Trail there exists a growing number of fascinating destinations that convey Indigenous culture and history. The Bruce Trail Conservancy works closely with Plenty Canada, a registered non-profit organization that facilitates access to and shares resources with Indigenous peoples and other community groups around the world in support of their environmental protection and sustainable development goals. 

The Bruce Trail Conservancy and Plenty Canada worked together to integrate Indigenous content into the latest edition of the Bruce Trail Reference.

The Bruce Trail Conservancy secures land within the spirit and practice of truth and reconciliation and is committed to honouring Indigenous voices, and integrating Indigenous land-based knowledge and experience, heritage sites, and areas that are important to the protection of biodiversity into the maps and materials of the Bruce Trail Conservancy. 

Bruce Trail Blaze

Our Partners in Conservation

The Bruce Trail passes through land owned by many landowners along the Niagara Escarpment, including public protected areas cared for by conservation authorities, conservation organizations and municipal, provincial and federal agencies. These partners in conservation not only contribute to our ribbon of wilderness, but also provide access for the Bruce Trail on land for which they are responsible. 

In addition to working with conservation partners to ensure the protection of the Niagara Escarpment and secure access to the Bruce Trail, we work with a variety of partners to share knowledge of conservation best practices, share resources, complete collaborative stewardship projects, and conduct research on escarpment ecosystems.

Research Partners Along the Niagara Escarpment

We are constantly striving to learn more about Niagara Escarpment biodiversity and the best ways to protect it. The diverse ecosystems of the Niagara Escarpment provide excellent study systems for investigating a wide variety of research topics. We actively collaborate with researchers who are working to better understand the species and ecosystems of the Niagara Escarpment, techniques for improving biodiversity and assisting species-at-risk, and restoration practices that can improve the health of the land. Past and current research includes topics such as Niagara Escarpment geology, tracking populations of species at risk, and testing biocontrol methods for invasive species.

If you are interested in conducting research on BTC-managed land or collaborating with us on a research project contact us here

You can preserve a ribbon of wilderness, for everyone, forever.
You can preserve a ribbon of wilderness, for everyone, forever.

Niagara Escarpment Geology

The 725 kilometre long Niagara Escarpment began to take shape over 450 million years ago as the bed of a tropical sea. During the millions of years that followed, the sediments were compressed into rock, mainly magnesium-rich limestone (dolostone) and shale. The progressive action of glaciers, water flows and the elements caused the more resilient dolostone to weather at different rates than the shale, resulting in the very dramatic land forms that we see today: sea stacks, karst formation caves, deep valleys, scenic waterfalls, rugged hills, and perhaps most remarkable, the spectacular cliffs along the Niagara Escarpment itself.

Niagara Escarpment – Its Fascinating Geological and Environmental History (from GeoscienceINFO)

Ancient Seas, Glaciers and Waterfalls: The Geologic History of the Niagara Escarpment

Niagara Escarpment Biodiversity

The Niagara Escarpment is a spectacular geological formation that has created a mosaic of ecological systems, habitats, and species unlike anywhere else in the world. As a UNESCO World Biosphere, the Niagara Escarpment is internationally recognized for its biodiversity and for the important role local communities have had in its protection. Through habitat protection and stewardship, connecting people responsibly to nature, and engaging communities in conservation action, the Bruce Trail Conservancy plays a leading role in reducing biodiversity loss and advancing its recovery. You can find all of the following habitats along the Niagara Escarpment:

What is Biodiversity?

Biodiversity – short for biological diversity – is the variety of life on Earth, from the variety of species, to the variety within species, to the variety of ecosystems. The more variety of species and ecosystems there are, the easier it is for our natural environment to recover from change. Biodiversity is also about how everything interacts. The Niagara Escarpment is home to: 36 species of reptiles and amphibians, 53 species of mammals, 90 species of fish, 350 species of birds, 1,500 species of plants. A loss of one species through habitat destruction or pollution affects the lives of other species, including human beings who depend on a wide variety of species and the services they perform in our daily lives.

What is Biodiversity?

Biodiversity – short for biological diversity – is the variety of life on Earth, from the variety of species, to the variety within species, to the variety of ecosystems. The more variety of species and ecosystems there are, the easier it is for our natural environment to recover from change. Biodiversity is also about how everything interacts. The Niagara Escarpment is home to: 36 species of reptiles and amphibians, 53 species of mammals, 90 species of fish, 350 species of birds, 1,500 species of plants. A loss of one species through habitat destruction or pollution affects the lives of other species, including human beings who depend on a wide variety of species and the services they perform in our daily lives.


iNaturalist Bruce Trail Conservancy Project

Collect important biodiversity data as you hike the Bruce Trail 

Much of our work at the Bruce Trail Conservancy involves conserving and celebrating the unique biodiversity of the Niagara Escarpment. But in order to preserve biodiversity along our conservation corridor, we need to understand it. The Bruce Trail Conservancy iNaturalist Project, which started in 2018, collects iNaturalist observations from along the Bruce Trail, helping us to understand what organisms are living along the Niagara Escarpment, and where and when they are found.

Citizen science volunteers simply join the project and upload photos and audio recordings of living things they encounter along the Trail. 

All skill levels are welcome.

Each observation from our Bruce Trail community will help:

  • Catalogue species along the Bruce Trail
  • Build a map of sightings
  • Create a visual tool to look for distribution patterns & species movement
  • Track invasive species, rare species and native species 

1. Create an account at inaturalist.ca/signup

2. Download the iNaturalist app on your mobile device (optional):

3. Register as a BTC Citizen Science volunteer

Contact Shimeem Al-Ayash at sal-ayash@brucetrail.org. We’ll add you to the Bruce Trail Conservancy iNaturalist Project so that you can start adding observations.

4. Start hiking and taking pictures of the things you observe along the way.

Take photos either directly in the iNaturalist app, or using your regular camera app or camera.

5. Share the observations using the iNaturalist app or website

Remember to add each photo to the Bruce Trail Conservancy iNaturalist Project. Although uploaded, your photos are not automatically added to the Bruce Trail Conservancy iNaturalist Project.

Visit the Bruce Trail Conservancy iNaturalist page to see all the observations of our community of citizen science volunteers so far.

Webinar: BTC iNaturalist Findings 2019-2021 (Feb 4 2021)

Report: 2020 BTC Citizen Science iNaturalist Report

The iNaturalist App is handy but is not required. Without it you can still participate by uploading photos to the iNaturalist website directly, however, you’ll need to manually enter your location information for each observation

Don’t worry if you are new to species identification. Label your photo as best you can and others can help identify it. Plus you can have the app make suggestions based on your photo. Your observations will be checked by BTC ecologists and other iNaturalist observers.

If you have botanical/mycological/ornithological knowledge, not only can you add your data, you can contribute to the identification of observations made by other iNaturalist participants.

Any and all species that occur along the Bruce Trail are welcomed. We’re looking for rare or common, introduced or native, invasive or non-invasive species.

Species At Risk Along the Niagara Escarpment

Bruce Trail Conservancy protected natural areas safeguard rare species.

The Niagara Escarpment is home to many sensitive species, some of which are globally rare. The two organizations that designate Species at Risk are the Committee on the Status of Wildlife in Canada, and the Committee on the Status of Species at Risk in Ontario.

The descriptions of the designations given to Species at Risk are:

Special Concern: A species with characteristics that make it sensitive to human activities or natural events.
Threatened: A species that is at risk of becoming endangered if limiting factors are not reversed.
Endangered: A species facing imminent extinction or extirpation.

The criteria for a species’ protection are laid out in both the Species at Risk Act and the Endangered Species Act, as well as within the recovery strategy or management plan that are prepared for that particular species by the Provincial and Federal governments.

If you do find a sensitive species:

  • Take pictures if you can.
  • Mark the location with a GPS.
  • Contact one of our ecologists with photographs of multiple parts of the species in question, including: leaves, bark, buds, fruit/seeds and a description of the habitat in which it was found (i.e. in the understory of a Sugar Maple forest).
  • Please never make the locations of rare species publicly available.
  • Avoid uploading it to Citizen Science apps (iNaturalist) unless you know how to obscure your location.

Meet some of the Species at Risk that live along the Niagara Escarpment:

Sandhill Cranes

Our Conservation Process

We are working to secure the missing lands for our conservation corridor and then caring for the health of the land over the long-term. Habitat loss, developmental pressure, population growth, and climbing land prices add urgency to our important mission.

Land Acknowledgement

The Bruce Trail Conservancy wishes to acknowledge and honour the lands of the Niagara Escarpment as the traditional territory of Indigenous peoples. In both spirit and partnership, we recognize and thank the Anishinaabek, Huron-Wendat, Tionontati, Neutral Nation, Haudenosaunee, Métis, and all who provided stewardship of these lands over millennia.

Recognition of the contributions of Indigenous peoples is consistent with our commitment to making the promise of Truth and Reconciliation real in our communities. We are grateful for the opportunity to live, work, and play here and thank all those who have served and continue to serve as caretakers of this special place.

We are also mindful of broken covenants and the need to reconcile with all our allies and relations. Together, may we care for this land and each other, drawing upon the strength of our mutual history through peace and friendship, to create a lasting legacy of conservation for generations to come.

What We Do

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