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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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Filed under Community & Outreach, Focus on Conservation, Nature's Spaces