(Originally published in Peterborough’s Greenzine)
This year City council has embarked on the process of revising the City of Peterborough’s official plan. The official plan will have far reaching consequences on the structure and function of our city far into the future. In the past few decades the province has mandated that a natural heritage system plan be integrated into the process of the official plan.
Over the past several decades environmentally minded planners have recognized that a healthy environment is not just made up of individual parks and greenspaces, but includes the connections between those spaces. Consider that many different creatures require different habitats as they progress through the stages of their life. A Blanding’s turtle for instance, will live its life in forests, wetlands, rivers and fields. If the turtle is not able to travel effectively between those spaces, it will be unlikely to reproduce and live a full life. A robust and effective natural heritage system will map out these core natural areas and recommend strategies to enhance and protect connections between them.
This wholistic approach to protecting healthy ecosystems acknowledges that natural communities require the ability of creatures to move from place to place. It also recognizes that humans are just as much a part of the environment, and that there are benefits to protecting our natural spaces. An effective natural heritage system can help a municipality meet health, recreation, and infrastructure objectives in addition to any environmental benefit. Therefore, it is critical that the official plan and the city’s natural heritage system strategy be completed in a way that is recognized and put into practice by all city departments.
In order to effectively implement a natural heritage system strategy there are a number of key principles that can help us protect our environment into the future.
Principle #1: The Natural Heritage System Should Be A Living Document
Nature is not static, and neither should our relationship with it be. In the past governments have allowed the destruction of critical habitat simply because it was not written down as such. The natural heritage of our community is too large for one person or company to map out or write down. Fallow fields and meadows can turn to wetlands or forests given time, it is therefore critical that as the landscape changes, so should the way that we protect it.
Principle #2: The Natural Heritage System Strategy Should Include Commitment To Improving Our Natural Environment
Currently the City of Peterborough is far below the recommended targets for natural space protection and connection. The strategy should set out objectives for the city and a plan to achieve them. With the ecological integrity of our environment under threat from climate change, habitat loss, pollution etc. we must work to improve the natural environment, not just maintain the status quo. A strategy to expand the natural heritage system of our city will provide benefits for years to come.
Principle #3: Citizens And Groups Should Be Involved In The Protection And Identification Of Natural Heritage Features
The city of Peterborough is full to the brim with some of the most knowledgeable and committed naturalists I have ever had the pleasure of working with. Again it is important to note that every single significant feature of our city’s natural heritage system would be impossible to map out and catalogue by any one group. With all of the work in this city being completed by so many talented people, it would be a waste to not include their input towards protecting our natural environment.
Our city still has a long way to go towards protecting and enhancing the nature which we all seem to cherish, a robust and important natural heritage system is an important first step. Whatever the results of our renewed official plan may bring us, there is no doubt that the citizens of Peterborough care very much about our shared natural heritage. Let us hope that council and city staff see the benefit of having a well protected and connected natural environment and that our shared passion for the environment is recognized in the process. Be sure to stay tuned to city hall and voice your support for a strong and resilient natural heritage system for the city of Peterborough.