Column: What is Peterborough’s Natural Heritage System?

This month marked the launch of Peterborough’s Official plan. The official plan is a set of policies governing everything from transit to housing that are designed to guide the future of the city of Peterborough. Creating the official plan took several years, and involved teams of experts on all of the topics that are included within it. In my opinion, one of the most interesting sections is all about Peterborough’s Natural Heritage System. The natural heritage system is a set of documents that identify key habitat and other environmental features that should be protected to maintain or improve Peterborough’s local ecology. These include cherished places like Jackson Park, or Meade Creek, or lesser-known places like the wetland on Carnegie Ave.

The natural heritage system can broadly be recognized as all of the natural areas within the city and all connections between them. Just the same way that you need to leave your home and travel on sidewalks and roads to get food or clothing, wildlife needs to travel to different habitat types to have all their needs met. You can almost imagine it as a road network or transportation system for wildlife to travel along. A turtle for instance might travel from a wetland up a river and into a forest to lay its eggs. If there are hurdles the turtle must overcome, such as a roadway, its journey may be precarious.

Think of Peterborough’s Natural Heritage System as a metro system for wildlife.

Peterborough’s natural heritage system is an exciting approach to managing our local ecology and natural resources. The benefits of having a robust natural heritage system are not just confined to wildlife, humans benefit as well. Visiting parks that are home to more diverse animal and plant life is known to relieve stress by spending time outdoors. Living nearby trees and natural areas can also decrease heating and cooling costs for residents and businesses. On a broader scale, maintaining wild areas nearby creeks and rivers can decrease damages and costs associated with flooding. There are significant benefits of protecting our natural spaces and the connections between them, and I am glad there are policies in place to ensure that municipalities recognize and protect these spaces.

While I believe that the proposed system could go further, I am hopeful that as the city expands and changes, the natural heritage system will be able to adapt. I believe that crisis’s such as COVID and climate change have renewed our appreciation for our local natural environment and what is important to protect. Hopefully the changes to the official plan regarding the parkway corridor and recognizing the value it provides as a natural space are a sign of good things to come.

A Personal Note: This column was originally published in Peterborough This Week. It was my first column ever published in the local paper (So exciting!) I’ve still got a voice to refine for the audience, and lots to learn and remember (ie. start stronger!). So please forgive me for the lackluster “hook” on this little piece. In spite of that “little” oversight, I’m looking forward to sharing stories of nature and the environment with you in the coming months and years! If you have any questions or comments, let me know and I’ll be happy to try and answer them for you. – Dylan Radcliffe

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