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Seeds of Change

Nature - Web - 8Sustainability

The creation of a restored ecosystem in Dundas has its beginnings on a clear, sunny October day, about 30 kilometres to the east in Oakville. Thirty community volunteers fan out throughout a grassland at Glenorchy Conservation Area to collect seed from native plants. What is even more fascinating is this native grassland didn’t even exist five years ago.

Conservation Halton hosted this community event for two primary reasons. One is to create a unique community learning experience for people where they can learn more about their local environment through the gathering of grassland and wetland seed. The second is to create an inventory of seed to be used in other Conservation Halton ecological restoration projects. Collecting seed is a different volunteer experience from what is typically offered, which is either planting trees, removing invasive species or cleaning up garbage.

“The people who came to the seed collection event really enjoyed that they could walk through a grassland, and could just reach down and gather seed from the various native prairie grasses,” said Nigel Finney, Project Manager, Greenspace Restoration & Conservation for Conservation Halton. “The people were so enthusiastic they wanted to keep going and couldn’t believe how fast the three hours went by!”

Collecting seeds from native plants, which are already adapted to local environment conditions (such as climate and soil conditions) and are suited to grow, helps speed up the ecological restoration process. All species produce seeds at different times, however for the native prairie grasses in Glenorchy, fall is the best time to collect a suite of species. The best time to plant these species is late fall as seeds have natural mechanisms which allow them to naturally “stratify” over the winter, breaking the seed dormancy and they will ultimately germinate at the correct time in the spring.

The seeds collected by those volunteers on an October morning from Glenorchy Conservation Area will be used in the restoration plan at Hopkins Tract in Dundas. The project will see 14 hectares (34 acres) of Carolinian hardwood forest, 5,000 metres squared of wetlands, and several wildlife habitat features added to the landscape to support resilient biodiversity and improve water quality. Conservation Halton is seeking to create a mosaic of 60 different plant species, resulting in a biodiversity of species and habitat. This will attract more wildlife to a piece of land which is surrounded by other natural areas. You can tell there is biodiversity in a restored area, when it is full of noises of nature and there is a wide variety of sounds.

This new natural area is in the Hamilton portion of Conservation Halton’s watershed. It is located on the southeast corner of Old Guelph Road and York Road (201 Old Guelph Road) and has been incorporated into the protected lands as part of the Cootes to Escarpment EcoPark System. This exciting restoration opportunity will provide significant benefits due to the unique location of the property. Located between a narrow section of land in close proximity to Lake Ontario shoreline and Niagara Escarpment, this important piece of land will provide, once restored, a vital ecological corridor between these two significant features for wildlife.

In addition to the native grass seed, the ecological restoration plan at Hopkins includes the planting of naturally occurring hybrid oaks which will create more diversity of tree species. Hybrid oaks tend to produce acorns earlier than pure oak species, yielding acorns after 10 years versus 20 years, thus creating a food source for wildlife and providing additional seeds to add back into the landscape. An example of a hybrid is Quercus x bebbiana which is the result of the natural cross pollination between white and burr oak. With a keen eye to detail, one can find these growing throughout the landscape. At Glenorchy, many hybrids of white, burr and swamp white oak occur at the conservation area.

When it comes to restoration of land, there has been an evolution in the approach used by organizations like Conservation Halton. Trees Ontario (now Forests Ontario) published a document on alternative approaches to afforestation which moved from conventional methods of large scale plantings of conifer (evergreen) trees to more of an ecological restoration focus. The alternative approach calls for a greater diversity of species including higher proportion of hardwood species (such as oak and hickory), and use of complex mixes of local native grass and herbaceous (non-woody plant) species. There is also a greater emphasis on re-establishing more locally represented vegetation communities and on connecting existing natural areas.

Much like at Glenorchy, other new techniques such as pit and mound are being used to replicate what happens naturally in forests when a tree falls and leaves a hole. A backhoe will scrape a layer of dirt off the earth at various depths creating a natural depression or pit where water can pool. This topography allows restoration projects like these to absorb water during high rainfall events, allowing the area to adapt to changes in climate.

Having volunteers collect native seeds is an example of a community-based restoration event, which is something new for Conservation Halton and an area of potential growth to connect with the community.

The seed collection event is also part of a restoration cycle as seeds harvested from an ecosystem which was created at Glenorchy in Oakville are being used to create a new one at Hopkins in Dundas. Over the next few years people will be able to see a fledgling ecosystem grow and emerge. Initially it won’t look like much, but over time it will grow and Hopkins will become a source of seed itself for other restoration projects.

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Last modified: January 25, 2018

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