A UNESCO site in the heart of southwestern Ontario

Backus Woods, Ontario (Photo by NCC)

Backus Woods, Ontario (Photo by NCC)

September 26, 2016 | by Kristen Bernard

Backus Woods added to the core of the Long Point World Biosphere Reserve

In the heart of the Southern Norfolk Sand Plain Natural Area in southwestern Ontario is a spectacular ancient Carolinian forest: Backus Woods, secured by the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) in 2011 in partnership with The W. Garfield Weston Foundation. This magnificent forest is home to some of the oldest living trees in Ontario, is a haven for many rare and at risk species and a forest treasured by the residents of Norfolk County. Exceptional stewardship of Backus Woods since the late 1790s by its original owners, the Backus family, laid the foundation for the continued management and enjoyment of this forest.

I am excited to announce that the United Nations Education, Cultural and Scientific Organization (UNESCO) has approved the addition of Backus Woods to the core of the Long Point World Biosphere Reserve (LPWBR). The LPWBR Foundation submitted a proposal to have Backus Woods added to the core of the Reserve in 2011. It has taken five years for UNESCO’s internal review of the application, but the decision to add Backus Woods to the core has finally been made.

What are biosphere reserves?

Simply put, biosphere reserves are areas comprised of ecosystems and working landscapes, where communities are working collaboratively to balance development with the conservation of natural resources. The biosphere reserve designation truly recognizes that conservation is seldom an individual effort and requires community engagement at many different levels in order to be successful.

How NCC became involved in biosphere reserves

UNESCO designated the Long Point area in Ontario a World Biosphere Reserve in 1986. To receive such a designation from UNESCO, an area must meet two major criteria:

  1. it must have a legally protected core area of international ecological significance – in this case, the Long Point National Wildlife Area; and
  2. the local community must be actively collaborating on the conservation of biodiversity and pursuing sustainable community development in the surrounding watersheds.

The Long Point National Wildlife Area is managed by the Canadian Wildlife Service. Due to the fragile nature of Long Point, public access is restricted.

The Long Point World Biosphere Reserve Foundation approached NCC in 2011 with a proposal to have Backus Woods added as an additional core area to the biosphere reserve.

The biosphere foundation felt it was important to have a core area of the reserve that is accessible to the public. Backus Woods was a great natural fit.

Ecological significance

Backus Woods, Norfolk, Ontario (Photo by NCC).

Backus Woods, Norfolk, Ontario (Photo by NCC).

Backus Woods is widely regarded as the finest example of mature Carolinian forest remaining in Canada and a well-known biodiversity hotspot. The property shelters habitat for a great variety of forest communities and rare species, including many nationally and provincially designated species at risk.

Backus Woods is accessible to the public. NCC has upgraded and expanded the trail system here and installed new interpretive signs to provide trail users with enhanced, self-guided interpretive experiences.

Why designate?

There is a lot of alignment between NCC’s mission and that of biosphere reserves. Our focus at NCC is to conserve the most significant natural landscapes across Canada. NCC recognizes that Canadians strongly identify with nature and with wilderness. As Canadians, we care deeply about having these places for our children and grandchildren to appreciate and enjoy. NCC shares these values with UNESCO and the biosphere reserve program.

NCC is honoured that Backus Woods has been recognized by UNESCO as an ecological site of global importance. We are thankful to our partner, The W. Garfield Weston Foundation, not only for its financial support but also for entrusting NCC to steward this natural jewel into the future.

To celebrate the addition of Backus Woods as a core area to the LPWBR, tune into the Striking Balance series "Celebrating Canada’s Biospehere Reserves" airing on TVO the evening of October 4th at 9 p.m. NCC is a proud partner of this documentary series that explores the breathtaking natural beauty of Canada’s biosphere reserves and the people that live and work within. Visit http://strikingbalance.ca to learn more.

About the Author

Kristen Bernard is the program manager for NCC in southwestern Ontario.

Read more about Kristen Bernard.

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