Category Archives: Community & Outreach

The Return of Wildlife: Wetland Restoration at Conservation Halton

Written by: Karlee May, Digital Media Coordinator, with contributions from Chelsea McIsaac, Watershed Restoration Technician

Wildlife is coming back. Volunteers and staff of Conservation Halton were busy this past fall restoring protected wetlands. We need to protect our wetlands because healthy wetlands are resilient in the face of climate change and development. Staff at Conservation Halton  are dedicated to preserving and protecting our natural heritage through shoreline planting, wetland planting, and building fish habitat on our protected wetlands like Kelso Quarry Lake.

This past autumn the Watershed Restoration team and volunteers worked together on four separate occasions to restore wetlands in order to encourage biodiversity to thrive.

Their efforts are already paying off! An Eastern Newt, in eft stage, was recently spotted by staff on the shoreline of Kelso Quarry Lake. Newts aren’t necessarily an indicator species, but they are a healthy sign of high quality water. Newts breathe through their skin which means that newts will not thrive in a less-than-ideal wetland environment.

At Kelso Quarry Lake, Conservation Halton staff and volunteers have been busy building fish habitat structures. A natural lake, in this area, would have features such as fallen trees, stumps, branches, and leaves within the lake and on the shoreline. Since Kelso Quarry Lake isn’t a naturally formed lake, we have to introduce those missing features, in the form of habitats, into the lake. The habitat structures, built by volunteers and staff, will provide places where spawning fish can lay their eggs, and juvenile fish can hatch. Thirty volunteers came out to create the structures by building log cribs out of cedar logs, brush, and Christmas trees. Instead of letting  Christmas trees go to waste, we put them back into use in nature. The log cribs are stood up vertically. This placement is necessary to provide different heights for different fish uses. We will install the structures at a later date near areas where fish spawn.

Did you know a ‘shoal’ is a collection of rocks and sand where fish lay their eggs?

Volunteers also planted 1300 trees and shrubs on the Kelso Quarry Lake shoreline. Trees provide cover and also keep the temperature of the water cool. The trees help more wildlife than just the fish taking cover in the water. Other wildlife will hide from predators under the tree branches, and drink from the water. The trees also naturally support the food chain. Invertebrates eat on the fallen leaves and twigs and then the fish feast on the invertebrates. Shoreline vegetation is so important and supports the overall health of the ecosystem.

Shoreline planting, and fish habitats are not the only measures to restore the wetlands. The wetlands need aquatic plants to feed and shelter juvenile fish, and other critters like the Eastern Newt. Before the volunteers and staff planted the wetland with over 3000 aquatic plants, the wetland was dominated by an invasive and aggressive species: the Common Reed (also known as phragmities). It was a monoculture, and monocultures are bad news for biodiversity. Now the wetland has ten different native species. We used a special matting made of coconut fiber to hold the plants in place during the winter. Not only does the matting provide the plants with stability, the coconut fiber is biodegradable and will decompose over time. It was amongst these plantings that staff discovered the Eastern Newt mere months after the wetland was planted.

There are profound and real benefits to wetland restoration, especially in the face of climate change. By taking care of our wetlands, they will take care of us. Wetlands absorb the water from severe storms and are a major component of the groundwater system: the fresh water we drink and use every day.  Clean, high quality water affects Eastern Newts, and us.

Thank you to the wonderful volunteers and staff who work so hard to restore our wetlands.

Funding for this project has been provided by Fisheries and Oceans Canada

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Halton Forest Festival teaches students about all things in the forest

By: Norm Miller, Manager Communications Services

The fourth annual Halton Forest Festival took place in October and reached more than 3,000 people between the four education days and the public day. The festival aims to inspire youth and engage the community about the benefits and importance of our local trees and forests.

The educational portion took place October 15, 16, 19 and 20 at Rattlesnake Point Conservation Area with 1,200 grade 6 and 7 students participating, as well as more than 300 volunteers, including high school students who helped deliver the activities.

The Forest Festival education event presented 26 different activities to complement in-class learning with curriculum-linked outdoor, experiential education for students. The activities covered six themes, Biodiversity and Species at Risk; Climate Change; Forest Ecosystems and Interactions; Forest Resources; Stewardship and Conservation; and Urban Forestry.

The Halton Forest Festival also featured a Public Day on Sunday, October 4 during the first weekend of Conservation Halton’s popular Fall into Nature Festival. The Public Days featured children’s activities, bird house building, a cross cut saw demonstration, children’s tree climbing, archery, as well as guided hikes through the amazing forest at Rattlesnake Point. More than 1,800 people visited Rattlesnake Point on the public day. To find more information on the Forest Festival Public Days, including all the activities, visit

The Halton Forest Festival would not be possible without the support of many partner organizations in the community who contribute money and/or resources. We would like to thank the following organizations who were Old Growth and Tree Level:

The Festival wishes to acknowledge the following organizations at the Tree Level:

Aird & Berlis LLP, Baker & McKenzie, Borden Ladner Gervais, Town of Halton Hills, Hicks Morley, Hydro One, Town of Oakville, Thomson Rogers and Union Gas. The festival has five levels of sponsorship and more information can be found at

Conservation Halton is a leader in outdoor environmental education with between 50,000 and 70,000 students of all ages participating in programs like the Halton Forest Festival. More information is available at the Forest Festival website,


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Halton Children’s Water Festival celebrates ten years of water education

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“The great aim of education is not knowledge but action,” Herbert Spencer (English philosopher).

Written by: Norm Miller, Communications Advisor

The Halton Children’s Water Festival (HCWF) was launched in 2006 with the intent to teach elementary school children about water, and also inspire them to be stewards of this most precious resource. The water festival does this by teaching children about water through activities which engage them in a fun and interactive way.

This past week (September 30 to October 2) the HCWF celebrated its tenth year with 2,700 students in grades 2 to 5 participating over three days at Kelso Conservation Area in Milton. (The festival is normally four days however organizers had to cancel a day due to weather). The HCWF has seen more than 34,500 elementary students attend since its launch.

The majority of the activities at the festival are led by high school students. This experience provides the high school students with a leadership opportunity, presentation experience, and teaches them about water at the same time. The HCWF features 60 activity centres which incorporate four main water-related themes:

  • Water Science and Technology
  • Water Conservation and Protection
  • Water Health and Safety
  • Water and Society

One of the neat aspects of running a festival for ten years is that you witness the beginning of the legacy. Students who attended as elementary students return a few years later as high school students to lead activities. The students who attended the first Water Festival in 2006 as grade 5 students are now in university and may even be studying something related to the environment. What will be seen is the positive impact created in our community by the HCWF by teaching these children about water and instilling in them the desire to take action to conserve and protect it.

About the Halton Children’s Water Festival

The HCWF was first held in 2006 and was launched with the assistance of a grant from the Ontario Trillium Foundation. The Festival is co-hosted by Conservation Halton and Halton Region in partnership with, the Halton District School Board, the Halton Catholic District School Board, the City of Burlington, the Town of Halton Hills, and the Town of Oakville. Conservation Halton Chairman John Vice and Regional Chair Gary Carr serve as the Festival’s honorary co-chairs.

The Festival is sustainable thanks to in-kind and monetary support from organizations in the Halton community. Thanks to the following community businesses for their support of the HCWF:

Thank you also to Aird & Berlis LLP, Borden Ladner Gervais LLP, City of Burlington, Town of Halton Hills, Me to We, Nalco Canada, R & M Construction, R. V. Anderson Associated Limited, Terrapure, Thomson, Rogers.

For more information on Festival supporters visit the HCWF supporter page,

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Haudenosaunee Clans…Extended Families of the Iroquois Celebrating National Aboriginal Day at Crawford Lake Conservation Area

©Raymond R. Skye

©Raymond R. Skye

On June 21st Crawford Lake Conservation Area will be celebrating National Aboriginal Day! Join us as we honour the traditions, past and present, of Ontario’s First Nations. As part of the celebration Crawford Lake is pleased to present Haudenosaunee Clans…Extended Families of the Iroquois by Tuscarora artist Raymond R. Skye (on until July 1st, 2015).

With many thanks to Raymond for sharing the following beautiful teaching about his personal experience with his own father – Crawford Lake is grateful for the friendship. A fitting piece as Father’s Day and National Aboriginal Day are both celebrated on June 21st this year; the perfect day to reflect on the importance of National Aboriginal Day to all Canadians.

©Raymond R. Skye

©Raymond R. Skye

My father was a member of the Seneca Nation, and a strong adherent of his culture. He felt it was necessary to pass down as much of our Haudenosaunee culture as he could to me. Our cultural teachings follow an oral tradition. We acquire our teachings through the spoken word. I remember my father sharing a short story relating to the clans. I’d like to share that story here.

“Many species of wildlife exist in this world, and they were all put here for a reason. Say for example the birds. Each kind of bird knows it belongs to a certain group. Robins, sparrows, crows, hawks, and every other type of bird knows what family it belongs to. But, because they are all birds, they are all related. It is that way with all the creatures of the wild. Whether they are of the land, the water, or the air, each species has many relatives. This also includes the many different kinds of trees and plant life that dwell upon the earth and in the water; even right down to the smallest of creatures such as the insects. They are all part of this world, and they serve a purpose. It is nature’s way of maintaining balance in the world, to keep it functioning the way it is meant to. The Creator made and placed all those living things upon the earth, and that includes human beings. He gave all of his creations instructions as to how they should function; a purpose and duty to fulfil. We understand that life will prosper as long as those instructions are faithfully adhered to. 

As Onkwehon:we people we realize the importance of our relationship to one another, and to the natural world. That is why the clans were formed. As people it gave us a means of expanding that relationship, clan to clan, across every nation. In times of need we could provide support to our extended clan families no matter what the situation; especially in times of personal family loss. It is that connection that has kept us united as Onkwehon:we people, and increased our survival rate so we could still be here today. 

Nature can be an excellent teacher if we only take the time to stop, listen, and observe. That is how the clan system originated. Our relationship with the natural world is equally important, for it ensures our continued existence. Respect and compassion is something we owe to all of creation. It is not just exclusive to humans. That is why our Thanksgiving Address is inclusive of all the elements of creation. We are to be thankful. It is all our Creator asks of us.”

Raymond R. Skye

Come out to the park to learn more in the Haudenosaunee Clans…Extended Families of the Iroquois exhibit or visit, for more information on Raymond Skye and his work.

Guests will also have the opportunity to learn from special guests Iroquois Lacrosse, Chief Top Leaf, and Wawashkesh Drums. Crawford Lake’s National Aboriginal Day celebration begins at 10am and runs until 4pm on June 21st, 2015.

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Chimney Swifts – An Avian Species at Risk Found in Halton: Volunteer for Halton SwiftWatch!

Written by: Emily Dobson, Halton Regional SwiftWatch Coordinator

Living in Halton, an incredible phenomenon happens at night in the spring; you just have to know where to look. If you happen to be out as the sun is setting, perhaps strolling in the older section of town, dozens of soaring birds high in the sky may catch your attention. If you’re patient you may notice them circling in the air, gathering close together in an intricate and social dance. Suddenly, as a group they descend, disappearing one by one down the chimney flue of an old church, school or residence.

These birds are chimney swifts, a species at risk that has declined by 95% since 1968 (COSEWIC 2007).

Chimney Swifts

Figure 1. Chimney swifts (above) soaring overhead, and (below) descending into a chimney to roost for the night. Photo credit: Halton SwiftWatch Volunteer

Chimney Swifts

Bird Studies Canada is conducting a long-term monitoring program, called SwiftWatch, with the goal of raising awareness, monitoring known roosts, and finding new roost sites. The 2015 National Roost Monitoring Program is a continent-wide effort to study this species. If you would like to volunteer, you will be assigned to a known roost site in Halton that’s easy for you to get to, and will spend one to four evenings monitoring it for bird activity. This year, monitoring will be taking place May 20, 24, 28 and June 1. If you are interested in volunteering with the Halton SwiftWatch Program, or if you think you’ve seen a chimney swift or found a roost site, and would like to know more, please contact Emily Dobson.

We will also be having several Swift Night Out events, which provide a chance for families, community members, biologist, and naturalists to enjoy the spectacular evening display of swifts. If you’re interested in joining us, please bring a lawn chair, camera, and binoculars and RSVP with Emily for more information. These will be taking place on the following days:

  • Acton: Monday, May 18, 2015 from 8-9:15PM
  • Milton: Saturday, May 23, 2015 from 8-9:15PM
  • Oakville: Thursday, June 4, 2015 from 8-9:15PM
  • Oakville: Monday, August 10, 2015 from 8-9:15PM

There are several possible reasons for the decline of this species:

  • Habitat loss: Chimney swifts have historically roosted and nested in old growth trees, which have been significantly reduced. In urban areas, roosting more commonly occurs in chimneys, however these are increasingly being capped, lined or removed, to dissuade other creatures like raccoons from wreaking havoc and making noise, or being entirely removed due to disuse resulting in loss of habitat.
  • Food availability: Chimney swifts are aerial insectivores, meaning they catch their prey while flying. Reduced insect availability can greatly impact their survival.
  • Climate change: Mortality along their migration route and during the breeding season can occur due to climate change that affects the timing of insect emergence, reducing the availability of food sources.

Over the past three years, Bird Studies Canada has been monitoring population numbers during the spring migration in Halton to understand changes and trends which will help to inform a species recovery strategy. With the help of Conservation Halton staff and a very dedicated team of volunteers, we have found some interesting results.

Figure 2 shows the total number of swifts recorded in each town, based on the maximum number at each roost during the spring migration. New roosts were located in Acton and Georgetown, while in Oakville and Burlington, some chimneys have been capped, removed, or were not monitored, possibly contributing to lower counts.

Figure 2. Peak number of swifts during the spring migration. 

Figure 3 shows the proportion of habitat types used by chimney swifts in Halton. Schools are the most commonly used, and also house the two largest known roost sites in the region.

Figure 3. Halton chimney swift habitat by building (2014).

Figure 3. Halton chimney swift habitat by building (2014). 

Figure 4 further explores changes in roosting over the last three years at the largest known sites in the region. In Burlington and Oakville, numbers of swifts were at their highest in 2013, with lower numbers observed in 2014, possibly due to mortality or relocation to more desirable habitat, while in Milton, the number of birds has remained fairly constant.

Figure 4. Change in swift numbers at specific roost sites

Of particular concern is the state of the Oakville roost, a derelict high school that provides habitat for the largest number of swifts in the Halton Region. The building has fallen into disrepair, with mold, rot and rodent issues. The related structural issues mean the building could become a safety hazard in the coming years. Additionally, the central location make the lot a prime development opportunity. Artificial chimneys have had little success in Ontario for a variety of reasons. However, with planning and community and government support, it would be wonderful to erect an artificial chimney prior to the removal of the existing structures, which may enable the birds to transition to the new habitat.

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Pillars of Community: Trees for Watershed Health

Written by: Robert Leone, Festival & Community Outreach Assistant

With spring just around the corner, our green thumbs here at Conservation Halton are twitching in anticipation as we gear up for this year’s largest community tree planting event – Trees for Watershed Health!

Launched in 2006, Trees for Watershed Health is a Conservation Halton community outreach program designed to engage local residents and community groups in tree planting. The goal of the program is to bring communities and nature together to help increase forest cover in the Halton watershed. Over the course of nine consecutive years, the program has seen more than 4,600 volunteers plant over 47, 000 trees and shrubs at various sites throughout Halton. These large-scale planting projects contribute to Conservation Halton’s broader mandate to achieve 30 percent forest cover within our watershed.

Why 30 percent? It is the minimum forest cover required to sustain species diversity within our watershed. Conservation Halton recognizes the vital role forests play in maintaining the health of our watershed. Trees purify our air, filter our water, and protect against regional flooding. Trees provide homes for wild creatures; they shade us on hot summer days and act as natural playgrounds that boost our physical and emotional well-being. By increasing our regional forest cover, we work to sustain these benefits for future generations to enjoy.


Now in its tenth year, Trees for Watershed Health is partnering with the Town of Milton. We are calling on 300 volunteers to help plant over 2,000 native trees and shrubs at Lions Sports Park on Saturday May 2nd. The event presents a fun way for friends and families to reconnect with the urban forests that surround our homes, parks, and workplaces. By participating in this year’s planting, you will help strengthen Milton’s resilience to storm water runoff while also improving nesting sites for some of the region’s wild bird populations.

We welcome all individuals, families, and small groups to participate. No prior planting experience is required. The event is free of charge and includes lunch for all registrants. Registration is mandatory and scheduled to open at the end of March. Please visit our website over the coming weeks for more information on how to get involved.

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Looking for a Free Native Tree for your School Grounds?

Written by: Sasha Benevides, Festival Coordinator

Calling Primary and Secondary Schools in the Halton Watershed!  Our School Ground Greening Program is looking for participants to receive a free native tree from Conservation Halton.

Not only are these trees a beautiful addition to your school grounds, they help us to increase forest cover and green space within the watershed for students and the community to enjoy.


A happy tree our team planted, mulched and protected with a tree cage to prevent any damage 🙂

How Schools Can Participate:

  1. Contact us at to get in touch with one of our friendly staff
  2. Contact your area supervisor to notify them of the proposed planting to make sure the new tree won’t interfere with any scheduled changes to the grounds
  3. Contact Ontario 1-Call ( or 1-800-400-2255) at least a week prior to our visit to make sure that there are no underground facilities that could interfere with the planting

Program Details

Plantings are carried out at the end of May and June and make for a great outdoor activity for classes or eco-clubs (the whole process takes between 1-2 hours). Pending availability, staff may also conduct a site visit at your request, should schools need guidance on tree and site selection.

Looking to plan a larger School Ground Greening project? We allow schools to purchase additional native trees/plants at a cost, using our discounted prices.

Interested in getting students involved? Our staff welcomes student participation, and love to share information about the importance of trees and the environment with booked groups and provide an anti-vandalism cage to help prolong the tree’s life and help it get established.

Pauline Johnson in Burlington

Benefits to Greening your Grounds

Students spend roughly 25% of their school day outdoors. Creating a naturalized school yard supports emotional and physical health to the local environment and school community. Improving local air quality, preventing erosion, and creating shade for students. School Grounds Greening also gives students the opportunity to immerse themselves in a natural environment, providing a calming space which has been linked to decreased anxiety and stress.

Photos from previous year’s projects:

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Taking Care of Your Tree and the Importance of Mulch

Like most plants, our donated trees will need to be watered the day of planting and about 1-2 times a week (if there is no rain) following our visit. If you’re worried about your tree getting enough water, feel free to use a rain gauge, or have the students monitor rain fall and extend the planting into a fun educational activity.

Oh, and don’t forget the mulch! Mulch is usually made up of decaying leaves, bark or compost that you spread around or over plants to build or insulate soil. Mulch helps trees to:

  • Retain moisture around its roots (very important during a drought)
  • Reduce the effects of soil compaction and protects the tree from lawn mower damage

Mulching isn’t just for new trees; it’s great for any tree on your grounds. Conservation Halton can provide contacts for the school to arrange free or inexpensive loads of mulch delivered right to the school, should you need it.

If you are a school in the Halton watershed looking for an environmental project at NO COST, please send an email or call us at 905-336-1158 EXT. 2329 or 2251 for more information on our School Ground Greening program.

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