More cash available for farmers to create natural spaces


Mary Ellen King believes that if you aren’t awed by nature something must be wrong with you.
While she admits she borrowed the quote from game show host Alex Trebek, the Watford-area farmer has made the credo her own as proven by the seven-acre wetland she and her brother, John, have created on the family’s fifth-generation farm on Churchill Line.
A soft rain fell over the official unveiling of the wetland Sept. 19, as conservationists and government officials gathered to admire the picturesque landscape.
Set in the gentle roll of farm fields, three large ponds are connected on Brown’s Creek, a winding tributary that empties into the nearby Sydenham River.
The water flows amidst tall grass prairie and indigenous trees, planted in a bid to return the land to its original condition.
The creek was excavated to enhance water collection and flow.
The Sydenham River watershed is renowned for its unique plant and animal life. It’s home to a number of aquatic species at risk, like the eastern spiny softshell turtle and northern riffleshell mussel, some of which are not found anywhere else in Canada.
The Kings’ now have a bird’s eye view of area wildlife and they’ve built a few small cabins of reclaimed barn board to view the area.
Mary Ellen has witnessed the return of bald and golden eagles. “They’ve come back tenfold,” she says.
John, an avowed tree lover, agrees the project has turned out well. It’s a labour of love the siblings have worked on for seven years.
The King project is an example of what conservation groups and landowners can accomplish together, says Ontario Nature Executive Director Carolyn Shultz.
Similar ventures are needed since development has significantly damaged natural habitat, she says.
Southwestern Ontario is the most densely populated area in Canada and it also boasts the country’s most productive farmland. It is also the most bio diverse area in the nation.
“Since European settlement, 80 per cent of woodlands, 70 per cent of wetlands and more than 98 per cent of original grassland has been lost to clearing and development,” says Shultz.
Because most of the province’s land base is owned by farmers, Shultz says it’s “vital to engage farmers” in conservation efforts.
Ontario Nature has secured a $695,900 grant from the Ontario Trillium Foundation to expand ALUS – Alternative Land Use Service – Canada across the province.
Three established ALUS programs are now running in Ontario and five pilot projects including the one in Lambton are taking root.
Chatham-Kent and Niagara pilots will be added next year.
ALUS Canada is a national program dedicated to supporting farmers and ranchers to develop projects that produce cleaner air and water. Farmers receive financial backing for conservation projects on agricultural land and are expected to maintain them as well.

Pam Wright Photo