Essex Forests and Wetlands Natural Area, ON (Photo by NCC)

Essex Forests and Wetlands Natural Area, ON (Photo by NCC)

Marianne Girling Nature Reserve

Short-eared owl in flight (Photo by Tony Campbel)

Short-eared owl in flight (Photo by Tony Campbel)

A special part of Essex County

Located northeast of the community of Harrow, in Essex County, lies 41 hectares (102 acres) of rare wetlands, woods and meadows.

The Marianne Girling Nature Reserve was named in honour of the late Marianne Featherstonhaugh Girling (1927-2018), whose generous gift in her Will was instrumental in helping NCC raise the money to conserve this property.

Girling, born and raised in Windsor, grew up exploring the fields and waters of Essex County with her family. She also cherished her time spent at the family’s Muskoka cottage, where she spent a lifetime of summers paddling and swimming.

“Mom loved spending time in nature and supported many causes that helped children to have the same experience," said Karen Girling, Marianne's daughter. "She would be pleased that this important natural habitat has been protected so close to her native Windsor.”

At an early age, Marianne Girling learned from her mother the importance of giving back. Girling spent decades as a professional volunteer — in her church, hospital and grassroots community organizations. Her lifelong love of nature and her commitment to community inspired her to leave a generous donation to NCC to support habitat conservation in Ontario.

The Marianne Girling Nature Reserve adds to an important connected stretch of habit along Cedar Creek, including Marshfield Woods, an Area of Natural and Scientific Interest and a large, intact forest — a rarity in the county.

Home to species at risk, such as barn swallow, eastern foxsnake, monarch, short-eared owl and yellow-breasted chat, the reserve is situated within the headwaters of Cedar Creek and includes a portion of a Provincially Significant Wetland.

While much of the surrounding landscape has been used for generations for farming, this NCC project is an uncommon naturalized gem that contains important wildlife habitat. Part of the property was farmed, which presents a unique restoration opportunity.

Protected natural areas are extremely rare in the county; very little of this biologically diverse place is conserved and few opportunities exist to connect to existing wildlife habit. Cedar Creek represents one of the best examples of connected natural areas in Essex County, making the conservation of its headlands extremely important, as headwater conservation can influence the health of the entire watershed.

Essex forests and wetlands

A priority for conservation

Monarch butterfly on aster (Photo by June Swift)

Monarch butterfly on aster (Photo by June Swift)

Located in the southwest corner of Ontario lies a rich collection of Carolinian forests, wetlands, prairies and Lake Erie shoreline. NCC’s Essex Forests and Wetlands Natural Area is an area of important biodiversity bordered by Lake Erie to the south, the Detroit River to the west and Lake St. Clair to the north. Currently less than four per cent of this area is protected for conservation.

The Essex Forests and Wetlands Natural Area is part of Carolinian Canada — a region that supports over 2,200 plant species, including 70 types of trees and over half of Canada’s bird species. The natural area’s 90,031 hectares (222,466 acres) are home to more than 75 species at risk, 11 of which are globally rare. The area also includes Provincially Significant Wetlands, Areas of Natural and Scientific Interest and several Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas.

NCC, along with our partners, has conserved 344 hectares (855 acres) in the Essex area since beginning our work here in 2000. Of that, 130 hectares (321 acres) have been restored to natural habitat.

Quick facts

Location: 6 kilometres northeast from the community of Harrow, Essex County, Ontario.

Habitat type: Forest, wetland, meadow

Size: 41 hectares (102 acres)

Species: barn swallow, eastern foxsnake, monarch, short-eared owl and yellow-breasted chat

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