Conservation Volunteer removing periwinkle, Lathrop Property, ON (Photo by NCC)

Conservation Volunteer removing periwinkle, Lathrop Property, ON (Photo by NCC)

Our work in natural areas

Annette Maher, assistant conservation biologist, south-western Ontario, Lathrop property, Ontario (Photo by NCC)

Annette Maher, assistant conservation biologist, south-western Ontario, Lathrop property, Ontario (Photo by NCC)

Ecoregions – vast areas measuring thousands of square kilometres – are made up of several individual natural areas that share similar characteristics and features.

Through our ecoregional planning process, the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) has identified close to 100 natural areas that are critical for the protection of Canada’s natural habitats and species. Our goal is to advance conservation within these priority areas.

Learn more about our conservation work in natural areas

At the natural area scale, we use our conservation process to gain a better understanding of the local species and habitats. We also identify the conservation strategies needed to maintain or improve their health. 

We use natural area conservation plans — our business plans for biodiversity — to steer our conservation work in these areas.

Our work in natural areas is not a solitary endeavour. Instead, by engaging partners, we ensure that our efforts are guided by the best available science and are as effective as possible.

Setting priorities

Piping plover (Photo by Gordon Prince)

Piping plover (Photo by Gordon Prince)

We begin our work in a natural area by identifying the specific species and habitats that we will conserve or restore. These could be nationally endangered animals such as piping plovers, or rare and highly threatened habitats such as alvars.

We look carefully at each of these species and habitats to determine their current health. For example, for the endangered piping plover we would want to know:

• how many individuals exist in the natural areas where this species is found?
• is the population size viable?
• how fragmented and disturbed is this species' habitat?
• what other threats are impacting the species' health?

Like going to a doctor for a checkup, this information lets us know whether our natural area has a clean bill of health or whether some form of intervention is required.

Developing strategies

Once we have identified and assessed the species and habitats we want to conserve, we come up with specific strategies to conserve or restore their health over a five-year period. 

Habitat conservation can happen through:

Campbell River Estuary, British Columbia (Photo by Tim Ennis/NCC)

Campbell River Estuary, British Columbia (Photo by Tim Ennis/NCC)

• conservation agreements
• land donations
• purchases

Other strategies to decrease the impact of threats and improve the health of a habitat or species often include strategies such as:

• restoring degraded habitats
• restoring wildlife corridors
• removing invasive weeds
• supporting the conservation efforts of other landowners and agencies

We try to find strategies that are the most effective, given the resources we have. As we identify strategies, we also work to describe what success will look like in the natural area and how we will measure it, to help us know if our conservation actions are working as planned or if we need to adjust our strategies.

Learn more about NCC’s work in the Campbell River Estuary and how we have used restoration techniques to bring this former area back to a healthy and productive ecosystem >

Big bluestem, Tall Grass Prairie, Manitoba (Photo by NCC)

Big bluestem, Tall Grass Prairie, Manitoba (Photo by NCC)

Taking action

It’s no good leaving our planning documents to gather dust on the shelf. With the brunt of planning behind us it’s time to get our hands dirty and implement and monitor the impact of our conservation strategies.

Learn more about NCC’s work in the Tall Grass Prairie Natural Area, where we use prescribed burns to improve the health and biodiversity of the prairie >

Measuring success

In the final step of the conservation process we evaluate the success of our conservation actions.

Each year we document our progress, consider how we have affected the health of the natural area and adapt our strategies and priorities accordingly.

After five years of implementation and monitoring, the conservation process begins again with the development of a new Natural Area Conservation Plan.

Measuring success ensures that the investments we make in a natural area translate into clear conservation gains, and that our next conservation plan for the area is informed by the lessons we have learned on the ground.

Read a case study of how we measured success in the restoration of alvar habitat in the Western Lake Erie Natural Area >

Learn about our work at the property/project scale >

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