Top 10 nature hot spots in Ottawa

Ottawa River

Ottawa River

Cities have traditionally been considered separate from nature. But recent studies have shown that cities can provide important habitats for some species, such as pollinators. Over 100 species at risk can be found in Canadian cities, and several are now almost restricted to these urban environments. In Ottawa, more than 50 nationally at-risk species have been identified.

Nature and green spaces in cities also provide significant ecosystem services, including holding back flood waters, cooling and removing air pollution, and have significant economic value. Urban conservation is also important for connecting to nature the 80 per cent of Canadians who live in cities. Truly, these natural spaces are gems for many reasons.

The Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) has identified top 10 nature hot spots in Ottawa, based on suggestions from the public and information from a variety of sources and databases, including regional studies, Important Bird Areas, iNaturalist, eBird and the Global Biodiversity Information Facility.

Nationally and globally imperilled species and habitats, wildlife and ecological corridors can be found at these hot spots. Not only are these places important for wildlife, they are accessible to urban residents and help rekindle or enhance their bond with nature, contributing to the quality of life in our cities.

Top 10 nature hot spots in Ottawa (Infographic by NCC)(Click on the image to enlarge)

Ottawa is unique among the other Canadian cities in that its Greenbelt, which includes large areas of forests, wetland and other natural habitats, is within the city’s boundary. Most of the city’s natural areas feature diverse habitat types, such as alvars and wetlands, and host a great number of species of conservation concern.

These 10 nature hot spots were revealed on November 5 at NCC's NatureTalks speaker series event at the Ottawa Art Gallery.

Learn about Ottawa’s top 10 nature hot spots, below:

Cedar Grove Trail in Malborough Forest (Photo by Meg K. of adventurereport.ca)

Cedar Grove Trail in Malborough Forest (Photo by Meg K. of adventurereport.ca)

Marlborough Forest

Marlborough Forest is the largest area of forest within the city of Ottawa. It is a 200-square-kilometre complex of forests, wetlands, old fields and other habitats, including alvars. Several plants of global conservation concern have been found here, including American ginseng and eastern prairie fringed-orchid. Old field, shrub thickets and alvar openings provide habitat for many species of declining grassland birds, such as common nighthawk.

Burnt Lands Alvar

Burnt Lands Alvar, Almonte (Photo by Wikimedia Commons)

Burnt Lands Alvar, Almonte (Photo by Wikimedia Commons)

The Burnt Lands Alvar straddles the boundary between Ottawa and Lanark County. Shallow and exposed limestone bedrock supports a 300-hectare (741-acre) alvar complex. This open habitat is dominated by globally rare vegetation communities, including a large open grassland dominated by northern dropseed. Many species that only occur in alvars are found on the site. NCC secured a large area of the alvar, which is now part of the Burnt Lands Alvar Provincial Park. A smaller alvar site, the Panmure Alvar, is located north of this area.

Carp Hills

The Carp Hills include over 4,000 hectares (9,884 acres) of forests, wetlands and rock barren uplands in the rural northwest of part of Ottawa. Unlike most of the city’s natural areas, the Carp Hills support a Canadian Shield ecosystem similar to that found in Gatineau Park and parts of Algonquin Park. They provide habitat for several species at risk, including western chorus frog. Carp Hills also provide habitat for the globally endangered Blanding’s turtle.

Constance Bay Dunes

Hairy puccoon (Photo by Owen Clarkin, CC BY-NC 4.0)

Hairy puccoon (Photo by Owen Clarkin, CC BY-NC 4.0)

The Constance Bay Dunes are on the Ottawa River. The open dunes support several nationally imperilled plants, including Houghton's umbrellasedge and hairy puccoon. Over 200 hectares (494 acres) of the area is owned by the City of Ottawa, as part of the Torbolton Forest. The size and quality of the dunes have declined because of past reforestation and lack of natural disturbances. As a result, two nationally and globally at-risk insects, mottled duskywing and northern barrens tiger beetle, that once occurred here appear to have been lost. Fortunately, there are on-going efforts to restore this unique ecological community.

Ottawa River

Ottawa River (Photo by Ottawa Tourism)

Ottawa River (Photo by Ottawa Tourism)

The Ottawa River connects the city to the watersheds of central Ontario, including Algonquin Park and Lake Temagami, and to the St. Lawrence River and beyond to the Atlantic Ocean. The Ontario portion of the Ottawa River was designated as a Canadian Heritage River in 2016 for its cultural values. Canada’s eighth largest river plays a critical role in the biodiversity of the region. Its waters provide habitat for several at-risk fishes and mussels, including hickorynut, river redhorse, channel darter and lake sturgeon. The endangered American eel migrates from the Sargasso Sea in the Atlantic Ocean to the Ottawa River in one of the most spectacular wildlife migrations in the world.

Shirleys and Brittannia Bays

Shirleys Bay is on the Ottawa River. The area includes shallow waters in the river and a large complex of wetlands and associated upland habitats. Several parks are located along the bay, including Britannia Conservation Area and Andrew Haydon Park. This area is part of the Lac Deschênes-Ottawa River Important Bird Area. Over 260 bird species have been observed, more than anywhere else in Ottawa. There are records of large congregations of waterfowl sighted — over 1,000 black scoter and brant — in a single day.

Stony Swamp

Stony Swamp is perhaps the most ecologically diverse protected area in Ottawa, and includes a wide variety of habitats. The area has more than 700 species of plants, which is the highest number counted in any part of Ottawa. This includes two plants of global conservation concern: ram’s-head ladies-slipper and St. Lawrence grapefern.

Pinhey Sand Dune Complex

This inland dune system was formed along the shore of the Champlain Sea about 8,500 years ago. The area of this unique sand barren community has been greatly reduced by development and tree planting, but significant areas remain and are being restored. In addition to several provincially rare plants, the globally imperilled ghost tiger beetle can be found here.

Albion Wetlands

Leitrim wetlands within the Albion Wetlands, Ottawa (Photo by Wikimedia Commons)

Leitrim wetlands within the Albion Wetlands, Ottawa (Photo by Wikimedia Commons)

The Albion Wetlands complex, located just south of the airport, may have more species than anywhere else in the city.  Over 1,000 species have been identified including several that are rare in Canada, such as marsh valerian. The complex includes unique plant communities and pockets of old-growth forest.

Mer Bleue Bog

Mer Bleue Bog (Photo by Tours Expedition Ottawa)

Mer Bleue Bog (Photo by Tours Expedition Ottawa)

The Mer Bleue Bog is protected within a 3,447-hectare (8,517-acre) conservation area that is owned and managed by the National Capital Commission. This peat bog includes many plant communities that are unique in southern Ontario. Mer Bleue Bog was designated as a Wetland of International Significance under the Ramsar Convention in 1995. The globally endangered spotted turtle can be observed here.

To learn more about NatureTalks and to register for upcoming NatureTalks events, click here.

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