Upper Cedar Creek wetland. (Photo by Brianne Curry/NCC staff)

Upper Cedar Creek wetland. (Photo by Brianne Curry/NCC staff)

Important wetlands and forests in Essex County now protected

August 23, 2023


Two new nature reserves established in one of Ontario’s most threatened areas

More than 25 years ago, Orfeo Lucchese purchased a rural farm and woodlot property in Essex County, near Harrow, Ontario. With great effort and insightful vision, he transformed it into a vibrant forest, meadow and wetland sanctuary. Now, these restored ecosystems will be protected forever.  

At an on-site news conference today, the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) announced it has bought the property, creating two new and permanent nature reserves: Upper Cedar Creek and nearby Hillman Sand Hills. These nature reserves provide habitat for wildlife and numerous species at risk, as well as important ecosystem services for communities in southwestern Ontario. 

The trees that have grown from the acorns that Lucchese and his family planted now shelter species listed under the federal Species at Risk Act, including some of Ontario’s rarest birds, like eastern wood-peewee (special concern). The restored wetlands now swirl with painted turtles (special concern) while the shorelines are dotted with the vibrant pink flowers of swamp rosemallow (special concern). Together, these ecosystems store and filter water, absorb carbon and help lessen the impacts of climate change on surrounding communities in southwestern Ontario. 

Upper Cedar Creek boasts more than 20 hectares of mature forest, thriving wetlands and meadows, and is surrounded by other conservation lands like Cedar Creek Provincial Park and NCC’s Marianne Girling Nature Reserve. Located near the headwaters of Cedar Creek, its wetlands and forests provide clean drinking water and flood mitigation for communities downstream, while its forests help sequester carbon and clean the air. 

Hillman Sand Hills is a 30-hectare ecological gem that contains pristine forest, ancient sand ridges and low-lying wet areas that offer habitat for salamanders and other at-risk species. Located near Point Pelee National Park and the Hillman Marsh coastal wetland complex, Hillman Sand Hills has long been recognized as an environmentally significant site in Essex County.  

Together, these two new nature reserves fit into a ribbon of green natural cover that cuts southeast from the Windsor area through a patchwork landscape of developed lands, all the way to Lake Erie.  

These projects were made possible by the Government of Canada, through Canada’s Nature Smart Climate Solutions Fund, the Government of Ontario, through the Greenlands Conservation Partnership program, and private donors wishing to remain anonymous.  

These projects showcase how NCC is accelerating the pace of conservation in Canada. In the past two years alone, NCC has influenced the protection of more than one million hectares (almost twice the size of Prince Edward Island), coast to coast to coast. Over the next few years, the organization will double its impact by mobilizing Canadians and delivering permanent, large-scale conservation. 

In the face of rapid biodiversity loss and climate change, nature is our ally. There is no solution to either without nature conservation. When nature thrives, we all thrive.


“Canada’s established wetlands and forests are essential for absorbing and storing carbon, while also sustaining plants, wildlife, and communities in southwestern Ontario, as well as throughout the country. Supporting initiatives such as the Nature Conservancy of Canada’s nature reserves in Essex County is an important step toward ensuring the health of these sensitive and critical ecological areas. By making investments through the Nature Smart Climate Solutions Fund, we are making progress toward Canada’s efforts to transition to a net-zero economy by 2050, while benefitting biodiversity and contributing to job creation in the green economy.”  – The Honourable Steven Guilbeault, Minister of Environment and Climate Change

“The Ontario government is pleased to work in partnership with the Nature Conservancy of Canada to support the protection of wetlands and forests of Upper Cedar Creek and Hillman Sand Hills. Thanks to the province’s made-in-Ontario Greenlands Conservation Partnership, our investment in these two projects will result in the permanent protection and conservation of these natural areas, leaving a legacy for future generations.” ‒ Hon. David Piccini, Minister of the Environment, Conservation and Parks.

“Southwestern Ontario boasts some of Canada’s highest biodiversity levels yet is one of the least protected areas in the country. Orfeo Lucchese’s vision and spirit of conservation has helped push back against this loss. He restored these habitats in the heart of a highly converted agricultural landscape, for the benefit of local communities, as well as for that of the plants and animals that live here. We’re proud to be able to secure his vision, long into the future.” – Kristyn Richardson, Program Director - Southwestern Ontario, Nature Conservancy of Canada


  • Conserving the Cedar Creek and Hillman Sand Hills wetlands and forests protects the fragile wetland and forest ecosystems in the area. The wetlands and forests filter water into Lake Erie and support habitat for many species including swamp rosemallow, butternut, eastern flowering dogwood, and eastern wood-pewee. 

  • NCC has been working in this natural area for more than 20 years and, along with its partners, has helped conserve 436 hectares of ecologically significant habitat in one of Canada’s most threatened eco-regions. 


The Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) is the country’s unifying force for nature. NCC seeks solutions to the twin crises of rapid biodiversity loss and climate change through large-scale, permanent land conservation. As a trusted partner NCC works with people, communities, businesses and government to protect and care for our country’s most important natural areas. Since 1962, NCC has brought Canadians together to conserve and restore more than 15 million hectares. To learn more, visit natureconservancy.ca.

Canada’s Nature Smart Climate Solutions Fund (NSCSF)is a $1.4 billion, ten-year fund (2021–2031) administered by Environment and Climate Change Canada to help conserve, restore, and enhance the management of ecosystems such as wetlands, forests, and grasslands, in order to help tackle the dual crises of climate change and biodiversity loss. The NSCSF will focus on three main objectives: (1) conserving carbon-rich ecosystems at high risk of conversion to other uses that would release their stored carbon; (2) improving land management practices to reduce their greenhouse gas emission-causing impacts on Canada’s ecosystems; and (3) restoring degraded ecosystems. Overall, these projects will contribute to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and increased carbon sequestration, while also providing benefits for biodiversity and human well-being. 

The Greenlands Conservation Partnership helps conserve ecologically important natural areas and protect wetlands, grasslands and forests that help mitigate the effects of climate change. Through the Greenlands Conservation Partnership, a total of $38 million has been invested to date by the Ontario Government. Additional match funds are raised from other sources, such as individual donations and foundation support through NCC and the Ontario Land Trust Alliance, and other levels of government. 

For photos and video, click here.

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Brianne Curry
Communications Manager, Ontario
C: 519-520-1340

Andrew Holland
National Media Relations Director
Nature Conservancy of Canada
C: (506) 260-0469

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