White trilliums, The Happy Valley Forest, ON (Photo by NCC)

White trilliums, The Happy Valley Forest, ON (Photo by NCC)

Why urban nature matters

Colpitt Lake in the Shaw Wilderness Park (Photo by Adam Cornick, Acorn Art & Photography)

Colpitt Lake in the Shaw Wilderness Park (Photo by Adam Cornick, Acorn Art & Photography)

When you hear the word “nature,” do you immediately think of grandiose, picturesque landscapes? What if we said nature is, in fact, all around you, even in informal green spaces like boulevards and roof gardens in our cities?

Urban nature, as defined by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, includes the “areas in urban environments that are home to plants and non-human animals.” In and around cities we find forests, marshes and grasslands, much like their rural counterparts. These spaces are our cities’ lungs and kidneys, purifying our environment by absorbing pollutants. They reduce the risk of flooding by retaining water from the spring thaw and heavy rainfall.

Nature is more than the physical space; it is also the human experience and emotional connections we make in it. Numerous studies have emerged about nature’s benefits to our physical and mental well-being, including stress reduction and improvement to attention span. Healthcare providers can also prescribe nature as a way to improve their patients’ health. Urban nature gives people in cities easy access to these benefits.

A recent survey of 27 Canadian cities reported a total of over 15,000 hectares (37,065 acres) of natural parkland — an area approximately the size of Bruce Peninsula National Park, with an increasing demand for park naturalization projects.

Leslie Street Spit is a popular birding spot in the heart of Toronto, ON (Photo by Wendy Ho/NCC staff)

Leslie Street Spit is a popular birding spot in the heart of Toronto, ON (Photo by Wendy Ho/NCC staff)

When it comes to nature, cities might be perceived as a barrier to conservation, when they can actually be part of the solutions. Cities are one of the few ecosystems where the state of nature is often improving, thanks to regulations that improve water quality in many rivers, to unearthing and restoring creeks that have been buried for decades, to removing invasive species and building new wetlands. Some of Canada’s largest and most innovative ecosystem restoration projects are happening right here in our cities, such as Toronto’s Leslie Street Spit, which was once an industrial site.

Here are some of the many services that urban nature provides:

  • removes air pollution
  • filters and stores water
  • holds back flood waters
  • food security
  • cultural services, such as recreation, education, spiritual and aesthetics
  • carbon sequestration
  • biodiversity

Species at risk in and around urban areas

Did you know many species at risk live near big cities? Blanding's turtle, for example, can be found in the Ottawa region. In late July of this year, the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) hosted the annual Big Backyard BioBlitz, a cross-country community effort to document the natural world. Together, participants provided over 34,000 observations of wildlife, including more than 4,000 species observed, from their backyards, nature getaways or local green spaces. Overtime, their observations can contribute to science and conservation efforts. Learn more about species that reside near urban areas and some fun facts in the slideshow below (click to expand each slide).

  • American bumble bee (Photo by Sylvia Keesmaat, CC BY-NC 4.0)
    Click on the image to enlarge.
    American bumble bee (Photo by Sylvia Keesmaat, CC BY-NC 4.0)
  • Western painted turtle (Photo by David Bradford, CC BY-NC 4.0)
    Click on the image to enlarge.
    Western painted turtle (Photo by David Bradford, CC BY-NC 4.0)
  • Chimney swift in flight (Photo by Josh Vandermeulen, CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)
    Click on the image to enlarge.
    Chimney swift in flight (Photo by Josh Vandermeulen, CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)
  • Barn swallow (Photo by scaup, CC BY 4.0)
    Click on the image to enlarge.
    Barn swallow (Photo by scaup, CC BY 4.0)
  • Bank swallows (Photo by Dennis Gallant, CC BY-NC 4.0)
    Click on the image to enlarge.
    Bank swallows (Photo by Dennis Gallant, CC BY-NC 4.0)
  • Common snapping turtle (Photo by samuelrgk, CC BY-NC 4.0)
    Click on the image to enlarge.
    Common snapping turtle (Photo by samuelrgk, CC BY-NC 4.0)
  • Monarch butterfly caterpillar (Photo by pec_c515, CC BY-NC 4.0)
    Click on the image to enlarge.
    Monarch butterfly caterpillar (Photo by pec_c515, CC BY-NC 4.0)
  • Butternut (Photo by David Clements, CC BY-NC 4.0)
    Click on the image to enlarge.
    Butternut (Photo by David Clements, CC BY-NC 4.0)
  • Eastern milksnake (Photo by Sue MacDonald)
    Click on the image to enlarge.
    Eastern milksnake (Photo by Sue MacDonald)
  • Midland painted turtle (Photo by mhalsted, CC BY-NC 4.0)
    Click on the image to enlarge.
    Midland painted turtle (Photo by mhalsted, CC BY-NC 4.0)

 

Urban nature starts at home

Map of NCC properties and their proximity to urban centres

(Click on the image to enlarge)

We can all play a role in restoring urban nature. As individuals, many of us manage little parts of the city ecosystem. It might just be one tree, a balcony garden, or a small backyard, but every natural space counts. Conservation is about collective impacts, and our small acts of nature conservation matter, whether it’s planting native wildflowers, participating in a community tree planting event or being on the lookout for invasive plants.

NCC works to protect our country’s most precious natural places that are habitat for many plants and animals, including species at risk. Among our properties from coast to coast to coast, many are within 100 kilometres of major urban centres (*defined as a city with a population greater than 100,000, based on the 2016 Census) and accessible to the surrounding communities where people can connect with nature.

 

Check out these NCC projects within 100 kilometres of an urban centre*:

British Columbia

Water flows past a trail at Chase Woods, BC (Photo by Chris Istace)
Chase Woods Nature Preserve

Closest major urban centre: Victoria, BC (65 kilometres)

Alberta

Bunchberry Meadows Conservation Area, AB (Photo by Kyle Marquardt)
Bunchberry Meadows

Closest major urban centre: Edmonton, AB (approximately 30 kilometres from city centre)

 

Katie Billingham at Hopkins property (Photo by NCC)
Hopkins

Closest major urban centre: Edmonton, AB (approximately 100 kilometres)

Saskatchewan

Asquith North 03 Natural Area in Saskatchewan (Photo by Branimir Gjetvag)
Asquith

Closest major urban centre: Saskatoon, SK (approximately 55 kilometres)

Big Valley, Saskatchewan (Photo by Branimir Gjetvaj, http://branimirphoto.ca/)
Big Valley

Closest major urban centre: Regina, SK (approximately 43 kilometres)

Fairy Hill South Complex, SK (Photo by Carmen Leibel)
Fairy Hill South

Closest major urban centre: Regina, SK (approximately 40 kilometres)

Manitoba

Stony Mountain Prairie, MB (Photo by NCC)
Stony Mountain Prairie

Closest major urban centre: Winnipeg, MB (approximately 11 kilometres)

 

Forks Prairie Garden, Manitoba (Photo by NCC)
The Forks Prairie Garden

Closest major urban centre: downtown Winnipeg, MB

Ontario

Backus Woods, Ontario (Photo by NCC)
Backus Woods

Closest major urban centre: London, ON (approximately 97 kilometres)

Quebec

Île aux Cerfeuils, Hochelaga Archipelago, QC (Photo by Immophoto - Patrice Bériault)
Hochelaga Archipelago

Closest major urban centre: Montreal, QC (300 metres from Bonfoin Island)

Pointe de Saint-Vallier (photo by Claude Duchaîne)
Domaine Pointe-de-Saint-Vallier

Closest major urban centre: Quebec City (60 kilometres)

Fall at NCC's Alfred-Kelly Nature Reserve, a Nature Destination in Quebec (Photo by NCC)
Alfred-Kelly Nature Reserve

Closest major urban centre: Montreal, QC (60 kilometres)

Atlantic Canada

Musquash Estuary, NB (Photo by Denis Duquette)
Musquash Estuary

Closest major urban centre: Greater Saint John, NB (approximately 29 kilometres)

Boardwalk at the Johnson's Mills Shorebird Interpretive Centre, New Brunswick (Photo by NCC)
Johnson's Mills Shorebird Reserve and Interpretive Centre

Closest major urban centre: Greater Moncton, NB (approximately 59 kilometres)

Lincoln Wetland Natural Area, NB (Photo by Claire Ferguson)
Lincoln Wetland Natural Area

Closest major urban centre: Greater Fredericton Area, NB (approximately 9 kilometres)

Colpitt Lake, Shaw Wilderness Park, NS (Photo by Irwin Barrett)
Shaw Wilderness Park

Closest major urban centre: Downtown Halifax, NS (approximately 9 kilometres)

Maddox Cove, NL (Photo by NCC)
Maddox Cove

Closest major urban centre: St. John’s, NL (13 kilometres)

 

Ways you can contribute to urban nature:

 

Supporter Spotlight

Gifts of Canadian Nature