Author: dylan.radcliffe

Changes To The Greenbelt Could Impact Peterborough for the Worse

Caption: The Oak Ridges Moraine (Green Highlight) feeds several local creeks and rivers.

It’s no secret that Peterborough is a city intimately connected with the water. From the lakes that surround us to the rivers and canals that criss-cross the city, you don’t have to go far to spend time on the water. We are also a city that considers ourselves distinctly different from the urbanites to the south. We’re proud to be on the frontier of Canada’s south, a gateway to the land between, and the Canadian Shield beyond. When legislation regarding the greenbelt is passed at Queens Park, you’d be forgiven for thinking it might not apply to us, after all, the greenbelt is there for Toronto, why should the people of Peterborough care?

You don’t have to go far back in memory to think of summers where Jackson Creek has nearly dried up completely. You might wonder why there is still a little bit of water in the creek for fish to survive the dry months. After all, in June 2021, we went for several weeks without rain, so where does the water in the creek come from? Well, in short, that water comes from the Greenbelt, and the Oak Ridges Moraine (ORM) within. The ORM functions as a giant sponge that stretches across southern Ontario, soaking up water when it is wet, and slowly letting it out when it is dry. It is because of the ORM’s ability to act as a giant reservoir that Jackson Creek, Cavan Creek, and countless other rivers in the Peterborough area continue to flow long into a drought.

Changes to the greenbelt act proposed by Doug Ford at Queen’s Park mean that the integrity of that sponge will be eroded. Building houses on top of this “big sponge” is similar to applying a plastic coating on top of that sponge. The ORM’s ability to absorb water during rainy months, and snowy conditions will be negatively impacted, and there will be less water to feed our creeks and rivers.

The limestone riverbed below Jackson Creek is exposed during low flow conditions in the summer.

The Greenbelt was a visionary piece of legislation that helps protect our critical water resources, but continued degradation will negatively impact the resiliency of our aquatic ecosystems. It is obvious that the proposed changes are meant to enrich a few individuals, and not to build affordable homes for citizens. Even the government’s own housing task force acknowledges that there is no need to alter the boundary of the greenbelt to provide adequate housing. It is my hope that the government will change course, and remove the proposed changes to the Greenbelt from Bill 23.

Author’s Note: Sorry I haven’t been active much lately. I’m sure many of you have found the world an overwhelming place lately, and I’m right there with you. I was also a little bummed out in the spring after getting ghosted by the newspaper, but I’m in the process of finding another home for some of my writing. Anyways, that’s all to say I haven’t had much of a spark for writing for a little while, but here’s hoping I can change course on that one going into the winter.

Column: The Joys of Wintertime Birding

Cardinal in a Tree

When one thinks of going out on an outing to look for magnificent birds, the imagination may conjure images of green fields, trees full of leaves, with beautiful songbirds chirping among the grasses and branches. Would you be surprised to learn that one of the best times to learn about birding might be the depths of winter? When I first started birding many years ago, it was a cold December day that I joined some friends to drive around the countryside looking for a snowy owl that was spotted the day before. Although I might not have been dressed quite warm enough for the occasion, it was one of the best introductions to a hobby that I’ve ever had. If you’re looking for a reason to stay active this winter, you too may want to consider birding as a new hobby.

Learning to identify birds during the winter may help you quickly build confidence in your skills. During the winter months, fewer bird species make it much easier to learn the common local species. Phone applications such as “Merlin” can help you learn the ropes by helping you identify birds by colour, size, behavior, and body shape. Joining a Christmas Bird Count can be another great way to partner up with an experienced birdwatcher to help you into the hobby. You also can’t go wrong with a good old fashioned field guide to birds such as the ones produced by the Audubon Society.

With guide in hand, you’ll find Peterborough is a delightful playground for the aspiring birdwatcher. Within the city, places such as Jackson Park, Beavermead Park, Rotary Trail, the Otonabee River, or the Fleming College Campus will all provide ample opportunities for observation. You might be surprised at the abundance of different bird species that you can find. Woodpeckers, birds of prey, ducks, or songbirds might all make an appearance on any given winter day. When paying attention, you’ll likely discover new birds that may have previously gone unnoticed.

Some of the more common winter species such as black capped chickadees, cardinals, hairy woodpeckers, or nuthatches often will forage through the forest in groups. If you see one, be sure to keep looking, as the others may also make an appearance. One of the added benefits of winter birding is the absence of leaves and greenery on trees and shrubs. The ease of spotting birds at this time of year will give you plenty of opportunities to identify a tricky bird, or really commit your sightings to memory. Once you learn a few of the common species, I’m sure you’ll start to spot them often.

If you’re looking for a reason to get out and about this winter, enjoying the company of winter birds in a local park can be a great motivator. You don’t need to be an expert, but perhaps given some time you will be!

This was originally published as a column in Peterborough This Week.

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

Jackson Park got its Heritage Designation!

Hey Peterborough! Hey Jackson Park! Congratulations! We did it! On December 6th 2021 city council voted to add Jackson Park to the official heritage register under the Ontario Heritage Act. For over 100 years Jackson Park has been a fixture in the Peterborough community. Envisioned by the Nichols Trust as a respite from the growing city; this beloved park has more than fulfilled it’s role.

Tomorrow we’ll get back to work, but let’s celebrate this beloved park. By the numbers, Jackson Park is an impressive place. A summary to date (December 2021):

  • 143 Bird Species have been catalogued on the Jackson Park Ebird hotspot
  • 1232 iNnaturalist observations
  • 244 identified species of plants
  • 4.5 hectares of Old Growth Forest
  • 15 degrees cooler than the rest of Peterborough!
  • 250+ year old trees
  • 4.5km of Trans-Canada Trail
  • Countless annual visitors

All of these things add such great value to Peterborough, and it is all worth protecting for the future. There is lots of hard work to be done to further protect and restore this important heritage location. From invasive species, trampling of the undergrowth, to climate change, or even just trails in disrepair there is still lots to do. I’m personally looking forward to tackling these challenges to pass this space along to future generations.

Thanks so much to councilor Kim Zippel to bringing this motion forward from the Heritage Committee. And thank you to council for seeing this motion through to completion.

A Huge Opportunity for Jackson Park

Monday December 6th 2021 will hopefully be a momentous occasion for Jackson Park. Peterborough City council will sit down to vote on a heritage designation for Jackson Park. The implications of this are huge for one of the most cherished locations in Peterborough. In September 2019 the City’s Architectural Conservation Authority Committee recommended that Jackson Park receive this illustrious designation and hopefully this will come to fruition on Monday.

It should come as no surprise to anyone that Jackson Park more than deserves this designation. The park has been a fixture in the Peterborough ever since it was donated to the city by the Nichols Trust 1893. It features prominently in the shared memory of the city. One is hard pressed to flip through any historical account of Peterborough without stumbling upon several references to the venerated park.

Indeed there are many parks on the continent that have received special protections that Jackson Park does not have. Parks built and designed in the same period by Frederick Olmsted generally receive substantial heritage recognition and protections. Meanwhile, Jackson Park has yet to receive protections (or attention) afforded to significantly younger designs and buildings in the city of Peterborough.

One hopes that this can be a first step towards protecting and enhancing Jackson Park for future generations. There are many threats facing the park, and hopefully this designation can assist in pushing the envelope for greater attention to those threats. If you haven’t already, take a moment to go sign the petition being passed to city council. Or write to your councilor to voice your support for this designation.

Is This A Horror Story For Ants? The Carnivorous Plants Of The Kawarthas

If you’re paddling through the Kawartha Highlands or taking a jaunt through Peterborough’s Jackson Park, you may have the chance to bear witness to one of the coolest (spookiest?) adaptations of the plant kingdom, carnivory! I’m sure many of you are aware of the infamous Venus Fly Trap, but perhaps you may not be aware of some of the carnivorous plants that may live in your own backyard. Here in the Kawarthas we are host to several groups of carnivorous plants, all of which have their own unique “hunting” strategies. Generally, carnivorous plants are found in areas that have poor nutrient availability.

Because of their unique adaptation, they are able to gather nutrients from insects (or even salamanders!) and out-compete nearby species that rely on nutrients available in the soil or water. When more nutrients are abundant and available for plants to use, carnivorous plants find themselves quickly out-competed by other vegetation. Therefore, these plants have very specific habitat requirements. Bogs, alvars, and groundwater driven ecosystems are all prime areas in which to find these elusive plants.

Unfortunately, human activities can force these beautiful carnivores out of their habitats. Many human activities mobilize nutrients within the soil or atmosphere allowing other species to out-compete them in their habitat eventually leading to their demise. Agriculture can lead to an increase in nutrients through animal excrement making its way into waterways, fertilizers spreading off farms through rainwater runoff and carried by the wind, or nutrients deep in the soil brought up to the surface through tilling. Urban developments can also lead to an increase in available nutrients, through maintaining landscaping, increased soil erosion, or rainwater runoff carrying sediment.

Surprisingly, it is still possible in some secluded places to find carnivorous plants south of the Kawartha Lakes, in an area dominated by agriculture and urban development. So let’s meet these interesting plants, and learn where might you find them.

Pitcher Plants

In the Kawarthas there are two species of Pitcher Plants that are commonly found. These were my introduction to native plant carnivory for a good reason; they are stunning! Often found in the nutrient poor lakes and bogs of the Canadian Shield, you can often see them peeking out from clumps of moss to show insects the entrance to their watery grave. Fine hairs point downward into the pitcher forcing insects towards a small pool of water filled with digestive enzymes. Once a bug is trapped at the bottom of the pitcher, they are gradually digested and used by the plant for the nutrients that they carry.

South of the Kawartha Lakes, it is possible to find these plants in secluded wetlands that have been mostly spared from human activity. I personally have a hunch that there are pitcher plants hidden somewhere in Harper Park. If you happen find some in there, let me know and there may be a (little) prize for you!

Bladderworts

Common Bladderwort. Image courtesy of: Kirill Ignatyev

I’ll admit, I often forget about Bladderworts when it comes to local carnivores. Their unassuming little yellow flowers don’t invite much suspicion, until you realize that they’re a plant with no (apparent) leaves! Floating across lakes and ponds, most of this plant’s biomass is beneath the surface. If you look at the plant below the water surface you will see little round clumps that are capable of trapping passers by. Initially, these “bladders” are deflated sacks with tiny hairs that act as triggers. When an unassuming daphnia or other tiny aquatic critter touch one of the hairs the bladder quickly inflates, sucking in the creature to be digested. There are several species of Bladderwort in the Kawarthas and some can be spotted nearby Peterborough, Lindsay, Orillia, or other towns in the Land Between.

Sundews

Sundews are unassuming little plants, with such a pleasant sounding name. However if you’re an insect tempted by the dew looking nectar on the tips of it’s hairs, you might be in for a sticky surprise! Once insects land on the leaves and are trapped, the sundew secretes enzymes to slowly digest it’s prey. Somehow this plant knows the difference between a tasty treat, and inedible material, as it will not secrete enzymes to digest items such as dirt, or tree bark.

These little plants can often be found clinging on to floating woody debris in wetlands, or among the mosses and lichens commonly found in bogs. There are a few sightings of sundews south of the Kawartha Lakes, but they are much less commonly than in places such as the Kawartha Highlands.

I hope you enjoyed this spooky insight into some of our local carnivores. Happy Halloween!

Is Your Neighborhood The Hottest In Peterborough?

On August 15th 2021 it was 23.9°C at the Peterborough Municipal Airport. By all respects, an average summer temperature. If you looked at a thermometer outside your house though, it might paint a much different picture. In the downtown core and areas along Lansdowne St. temperatures reached as high as 40°C. This represents over 15°C temperature difference! What is happening and how can it be stopped?

The urban heat island is a phenomenon we’ve long known about. It occurs when natural land cover such as forest or meadows are replaced with surfaces that retain heat such as asphalt, concrete or pavement. These surfaces then radiate the heat back out into the local environment, warming the surrounding area. The effect can increase the cost of heating, and put elderly or other vulnerable citizens at risk of heat stroke, and even death.

The urban heat island effect often puts the most vulnerable populations at risk. Some of Peterborough’s lowest income census areas have the highest recorded temperatures. You’ll notice on the map that areas directly south and north of the downtown which are characteristic as lower income neighborhoods, have some of the highest recorded temperatures, while some of Peterborough’s more affluent neighborhoods have much lower recorded temperatures.

Image #1 characterizes a neighborhood south of downtown. Census Canada considers between 35% and 43% of the population to be low income. This neighborhood is one of the hottest in Peterborough, coming in at a 15°C temperature deviation. Meanwhile Monaghan Ward represented in image #2 only recorded a 5°C temperature deviation. It is clear that land cover and tree canopy have a huge impact on temperature deviation. With the additional pressure of climate change, these deviations are likely to become more pronounced over time.

What can be done about urban heat though? Luckily we have some solutions! Planting trees is once again, a major winner in this regard. Not only does tree planting decrease average temperatures, it can lower heating and cooling bills year round for residents, overall a huge win for the climate. Removing asphalt and other “high heat” surfaces can also benefit neighborhoods, replacing asphalt with grass is even a viable solution for combating urban heat. Depave projects around the country have made major inroads in this regard, and perhaps focusing on lower income neighborhoods could have an additional impact.

In all, reducing the urban heat island effect gives us one more incentive to restore ecosystems, plant trees, and protect our natural areas. Perhaps years from now, when you look at the thermometer outside your house, it may more accurately reflect the temperature across our city.

Data provided by USGS through LANDSAT 8.

Earth Day Project 2021: An Autonomous Seed Planting Drone for Environmental Restoration

Back in 2014 I had just graduated from my environmental science degree and was eager to start a career in the environmental sector. I had more ideas than time back then, which is obvious from the notes that I was keeping. Fast forward to 2020, I had just completed my masters in sustainability studies, am looking for work, and there is a province wide lockdown. Despite languishing for most of the year, I figured with the time that the lockdown afforded me, I could try to create something epic. I dusted off my old notebooks, and decided this project was worth my time.

It has become increasingly clear that conservation is no longer enough when it comes to our current biodiversity crisis. We need active environmental restoration to solve the problems we are facing as a society. I wanted to create a tool that could scale to produce results for huge environmental restoration projects and be accessible for people and organizations for a reasonable cost.

For the past 4 months I’ve put in hundreds of hours to produce the Aspen. Its a fully autonomous drone capable of quickly broadcasting seed across large areas. The broadcasting wheel is interchangeable allowing users to spread up to 2.5kg of various seed types including treated tree seed, tallgrass, wildflower, clover and anything else you can imagine! (Edit: The Hopper in the video is a small one for testing) The drone is controlled by a base station that uploads a flight plan to the drone. Once the drone is ready, it takes off and completes the flight plan fully autonomously, spreading seed as it goes. The base station is capable of controlling multiple drones simultaneously, opening up possibilities for multiple drones to work in tandem to cover a huge area for restoration projects.

Broadcasting seed is never going to replace planting trees directly, but there are several methods for treating seed to increase their success rate that I have been researching. The University of Alberta has created an interesting seed coating that seems to increase the success rate of tree seeds to as high as 70%. This is definitely something that I would like to experiment with, as it may also assist with even broadcasting of the seed.

There’s still testing to carry out, and some refining to complete the design, but it is a working prototype ready to be put to the test. Please watch the video and let me know what you think! If you or your organization would like to work together to test the drone out on your project or a portion of your project, please let me know and I’m sure we can come up with an arrangement!

Also, if you or your organization are looking for a talented employee capable of making huge projects like this a reality, please reach out and lets have a conversation!

Bonus FAQ: I don’t understand, but several people have all asked “how high does it go?” Lets just say, I’m not going to test it out, but in theory it could ascend at 2m/s for 20 minutes. That works out to about 2.4km in altitude. At that point it would crash to the ground, probably never to be seen again.

Calculating π Using Lakes from the Land Between

Hey folks! I know I’m late to the party, but hey I post on the last week of the month, so happy π day! In addition to environmental shenanigans, I also enjoy some good olde mathematics goofiness, especially when there is some great geometry involved. So in celebration of this year’s π day, I thought I’d try and find some lakes in the Land Between that will give us as close an approximation of π as possible working backwards from their surface area.

For those of you unaware, π day happens every year on March 14th (3/14) due to the numerical date’s similarity to the value of π (3.14….)

The first problem to overcome when calculating pi from a lake’s geometry is the shoreline fractal problem ie. the coastal paradox. Essentially, depending on the length of the ruler you use, you can get wildly different results. A shoreline is a curved fractal that looks very different depending on the scale at which you view it. From an airplaine, details on the shore you could see at ground level totally vanish, while details under a microscope reveal even more intricate patterns within the shoreline. All of this means that it is actually quite difficult to measure the actual length of a shoreline, take this exaggerated example:

Here is Little Lake in Peterborough. Using 2 different length rulers I get different results for the shoreline length. As I increase the detail, the length of the shoreline increases by 0.23km! Thankfully for us, the Ministry of Natural Resources produces standardized map layers we can use to calculate the area of different lakes. We’ll use the map layer meant to be viewed at 1:100,000 scale.

For those of you who need a refresher, the formula for calculating the area of a circle can be done with the following formula:

$latex A =\pi r^2 &s=4 $

In order to calculate π we need to do some rearranging. For this problem the two givens we have are the lake’s “circumference” and it’s area. Unfortunately, this is where we need to fudge things a little bit. In order to calculate π we will need to have a radius in addition to the lake’s area. In order to calculate the radius we will take the average of 3 measurements of the lake’s diameter and divide by 2. So now are formula looks like this:

$latex \pi = {A}\div{(\frac{r_{1}+r_{2} + r_{3}}{3}{)}^2} &s=4 $

Now that we know what our formula is, lets go find some lakes to measure. For starters, lets try the obvious, Round Lake near Havelock. Its in the name so it must be pretty close to a circle!

Is Round Lake the roundest? Stay tuned to find out!
$latex \pi = {5,613,882m^2}\div{(\frac{1075m+1441m +1077m}{3}{)}^2} &s=4 $

Plugging all of that into a calculator gives us a value of pi that is equal to 3.91! Pretty good for a natural object, but can we do better? Is Round Lake the roundest of the lakes?

I’ll spare you the math on this one. Longford Lake is in the middle of nowhere, I’ve never visited, but it sure looks nice from space! Maybe I’ll check it out someday if its pi enough.

Is North Longford Round Enough?

With an average radius of 524m and an area of 1,140,948m2 North Longford clocks in at a pi value of 4.15. So sorry Longford, may you rest peacefully in continued obscurity.

Next up we’ll try Halls Lake north of Minden off Highway 35. Its a deep lake that is quite round with some nice trails nearby. Lets give it a shot!

Halls Lake: Pretty round don’t ya think?
$latex \pi = {5,354,281m^2}\div{(\frac{1453m+1360m +1181m}{3}{)}^2} &s=4 $

All righty! We did the math (the monster math?) here at Stewards Notes and determined that Halls Lake is more round than Round Lake! Clocking in at a value of 3.02 for π! Congratulations Halls Lake! Be sure to visit Halls Lake some day and give a toast to how π it is.

What Might a Nature Based Recovery Look Like in the Kawarthas?

In 2020 the coronavirus devastated economies, put millions of people out of work, all at a time of global climate and ecological crisis. 2020 was also the year we entered into the UN’s Decade on Restoration that aims to “prevent, halt and reverse the degradation of ecosystems worldwide”. No matter where you sit on the political spectrum, you can agree that one way or another, we are in a time of crisis. A term that has been tossed around over the past year as a way out of the crisis is “a nature based recovery”.

Nature based recoveries are not a new idea, we can look to the past for models on what it might look like, putting millions of people to work while restoring our natural environments. One of the most ambitious conservation projects of all time was the Civilian Conservation Corps. Over the course of the program it employed nearly 3 million Americans while planting over 3,000,000,000 (Billion!) trees. A version of this program has been resurrected by the incoming Biden administration and is expected to present a plan within the next several months. It will be exciting to see it take shape over the coming years.

Embed from Getty Images

Closer to home, we can look to similar projects that helped employ masses of Canadians while enhancing our natural environment. Following the Guelph Conference and the subsequent establishment of the Ganaraska Region Conservation Authority there was a resolution to seek any practical project that would employ civilians in the post war era. The Ganaraska region had become a dustbowl due to the high rates of erosion caused by rampant deforestation and the underlying sandy soils easily being swept away by wind or rain. Restoring the Ganaraska Watershed seemed like an obvious candidate for the project. Over the next several years the Ganaraska Authority reforested over 10,000 acres of land while employing thousands of unemployed Canadians.

The benefits of these programs have extended far into the future. Today the Ganaraska watershed is a popular outdoor tourism destination, and is no longer subject to the destructive flooding it once was. Indeed, a University of Oregon study found that for every million dollars invested in watershed restoration it resulted in 16 new or sustained jobs and up to 2.5 million dollars in total economic activitiy. There are very few public sector investments that have rates of return that scale in a similar fashion.

Locally, what might a project of this scale look like that could employ many people while creating enormous ecological benefit? One such project that comes to mind is the Kawarthas Naturally Connected. The KNC is a natural heritage system plan developed over the past decade that aims to provide a linked network of conservation corridors across the Kawarthas. Perhaps a project that restores a ecological corridor from the Oak Ridges Moraine or Rice Lake in the south to the Kawartha Lakes in the north could be a great starting point? As an added benefit, perhaps a multi-day hiking trail could follow the corridor similar to the way the Ontario Waterfront Trail is used as a platform for restoring coastal ecosystems along the great lakes shoreline.

History has demonstrated that these environmental projects can have an enormous environmental and social benefit, hopefully our recovery can help lead to a sustainable future for everyone. The Kawarthas is a leader in environmental expertise and stewardship, if anyone can accomplish a nature based recovery, it is us! In 2016, the UN designated Peterborough a Regional Centre of Expertise for sustainability, lets put that designation to use and carry out a decade of restoration.