Growing Some Weed(s) in My Village

It’s not officially illegal, but some question whether it should be. It can grow in between you and your partner, splitting you into camps, for it or against it. It can ruin a life or more; it can nearly take down an entire ecosystem.

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Strangely, after cutting a ‘Mother Tree’ of European Buckthorn, a Great Blue Heron appeared in the forest to inspect our work. Near Wortley Village, Old South, London, Canada.

I’m talking about weed(s). The weed in question is European Buckthorn. A beautiful shrub in its own right and in its homeland in England, this plant that grows to the size of a small tree. It becomes loaded with dark blue berries that are favoured by many of our birds. E. Buckthorn has wreaked havoc on our natural areas and has quietly infiltrated Wortley Village (London, ON) via bird droppings. It often goes unnoticed and unidentified by homeowners. Before you know it, you’ve received a complimentary bird-planted Buckthorn for ‘free.’ The cost, however, of keeping this plant around in this neck of the woods or neighbourhood, is exorbitant. The City of London (Canada) alone has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to remove it from our sensitive natural areas. From one little 2.5 acre plot at the corner of Rachel and Phyllis Streets, just south of Emery, the city and the Friends of the Coves Subwatershed removed several dozen tons (see pile in photo below) of this plant from the forest understory.

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E. Buckthorn seedling I found in my garden this morning (5:30am) when I thought about this article. I pull them often and can almost always find one ‘one demand.’

By definition, E. Buckthorn is an invasive, non-native species It outs competes our native plants for space. So you might be wondering, are our native plants just wimpy and unable to hold their ground? No, this isn’t the case. What happened in this case is that E. Buckthorn was commonly planted in fencerows when it was first introduced in our area in the late 1800s to keep cattle in specified fields. While some large native trees were left, there were next to no natural areas kept fully intact. When grazing pastures and orchards were abandoned, E. Buckthorn were among the most common plants remaining, enabling birds to seed them across our landscape. As such, this plant has taken our over natural areas.

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Note the large pile of cut European Buckthorn and the dark understory in the background – that’s all E. Buckthorn as well! The white ground herb in the foreground is Goutweed, resulting from an adjacent landowner dumping garden clippings on the edge of this natural area.

Other detrimental non native species that we have commonly growing in Wortley Village and S. Ontario that majorly impact our natural areas include Japanese Honeysuckle, Burning Bush, Goutweed (white plant in above photo), and Periwinkle. I jog a 5km route around Wortley Village with my wife. Today I paid attention, noticing from the sidewalk, about fifty E. Buckthorns either growing ‘rogue’ along the edges of various houses, or stealthily in peoples hedges, or overtly as manicured lawn trees. See this great guide ( put out by the Ontario Invasive Species Council called, “Grow Me Instead” to give you ideas for replacement native species. For starters, I’ve highlighted a native shrub that will nicely replace your E. Buckthorn, should you chose to move towards native plants; Pagoda Dogwood Cornus alternifolia. Its form is a beautiful multi-tiered stacked ‘pagoda’, while the flowers are whitish-green in spring and the berries are blue.

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Alternative-leaved or Pagoda Dogwood. Wortley Village, Canada. Plant it instead of E. Buckthorn.

Glenn, a friend and neighbour on my street inspired this article. He reminded me that a weed is really an unwanted plant, or one for which we haven’t yet found or identified a use. I find this wholeheartedly true. While I have reverence for E. Buckthorn, there is a proper place for it. It turns out it is sorely needed in England, where a species of butterfly (Brimestone Butterfly – below) is in decline, astonishingly and ironically because E. Buckthorn is vanishing from their countryside! Yes human induced landscape changes everywhere are having large ripple effects causing extinctions and inducing climate change. One sure fire way to mitigate these trends are to get ‘In the Zone’ ( and plant one or more native plants on your private landscape.

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The Brimestone Butterfly; it’s desperately in need of Buckthorn (in England). Photo Copyright Matt Berry.

A slightly modified version of this appears in the Wortley Villager Magazine, September Issue.

London, Canada (Day); 150 and 300 Years Ago

This article was recently published in Wortley Villager and also on my LinkedIn (apologies if this is a triple repeat):

Surprisingly, in 1867 in the area now called Wortley Village (London, Ontario, Canada), we didn’t have the virgin old growth forests transected by pristine freshwater streams and rich pockets of tallgrass prairie that we might imagine. In fact, 150 years ago was about a decade after the vast majority of the systematic removal of the deciduous forests of eastern North America, including most of the natural cover found in Wortley Village. At this monumental time in our history, many farms were well established. London was a barren place. Remaining woodlands and other natural wonders were few and far between.

Between the 1820 and the late 1860s many settlers suffered through the removal of our forests, felling trees many of which were over 35m (120 feet) tall and over a thousand years old. While some of this wood was sent to a few saw mills to build the early houses of our region, the vast majority of these ancient, giant trees was stacked and burned, since the necessary infrastructure wasn’t in place to saw, transport, store and sell the wood. Hundreds of piles of trees were stacked and burnt in what today is Wortley Village.  Species in the pile would have included American Chestnut, several species of oak, cherry, maple, beech and elm to name a few. Burning, going up in smoke, each pile would have been worth tens of thousands of dollars in today’s market.

Forest clearing was tough and dangerous endeavour. Many early settlers were maimed or killed in the 30 to 40 years of the process of removing nature for farmland and industry. New town and city streets and the edges of farms were void of ground cover, shrubs and trees. The thinking was, “Why plant a tree after the decades-long misery and struggle in the bush with the saw, horses and overworked men?” Also at this time, many streams and wetlands in the village were sent underground by infilling by these early settlers.

How about a glimpse of what Wortley Village looked like 300 years ago? The Iroquois lived in the area in Long Houses and certainly had some influence on the appearance of what is now called Wortley Village. The Village Green may have been one of a few small fields cleared for cultivating corn. Vast tracks of old growth forest (see photo above; courtesy Appalachian Forest Museum) would have grown across most of the current neighbourhood, providing this culture a huge array of wild plant edibles and medicines, like Paw Paw (Fruit) Trees, Wild Ginseng, Mayapples and literally hundreds of others. These woodlands were also natural depots for home construction materials. Streams leading to Antler River (now called Thames by many) would have been crystal clear, healthy enough from which to drink and rich enough to catch fish literally by wading into the water. Black Bears, Eastern Wolves, Eastern Cougars, Timber Rattlesnakes, Wood Bison, and Woodland Elk, kept the Iroquois on their toes; both for safety and for hunting opportunities. Transportation happened either by water (canoe) or by foot on trails that, in some cases, were hundreds of years old and stretched hundreds of kilometres, with a number of trees tethered and pruned when young, to point in certain directions and called, ‘marker trees.’

Nature was indeed a respected repository for sustenance and quality of life; the more intimate one was with nature, the smoother and more enjoyable life was. Considering climate change, erosion, issues with invasive species and other environmental challenges and crises, our community and greater society are well served to look to cultures that exhibit strong stewardship values and practice conservation. This way of life is a daily commitment to a solid legacy for seven generations of people to follow.

Climbing Up 25′ Where I Dropped An Acorn 25 Years Ago

In terms of hope, there’s much to be felt from the simple task of clutching an acorn in one’s hand.

A saying I recently read on the trailer used by ReForest London to transport trees, popped into my mind: “The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago. The next best time is today.”

A few weeks ago I went back to visit the trees from the acorns that I dropped in an open farm field close to a quarter of a century ago. It was exhilarating. I found it hard to stop smiling. I was literally filled with wonder from the cause and effect of a few simple actions. Get some land. Collect some seeds. Plant them in the right place. Then, patiently wait….

Of the 12,000 tree seeds dropped in 1994, it looks like about a thousand took hold. They include many types of Oaks, Hickories, Walnuts, Hawthorns, Cedars, Maples, Sycamores and more. Squirrels, Blue Jays, the wind, and other vectors planted additional trees and other plants. The vision was clear; plant the land with trees and watch the birds (…snakes, salamanders and toads) return.

“The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago.
The next best time is today.”

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I might be wrong, but it’s hard to fully understand the impact you can have on a landscape until you see it in person more than a couple of decades later. Here I rest against a Red Oak wider than my waist. Not long ago, the seed of this very tree snugly fit into the palm of my hand. Photo by Jarmo Jalava

After a few months of working with the amazing people at Carolinian Canada, I’m passing over the reigns of the program Landowner Leaders to it’s returning champion. There’s much opportunity to get support to plant trees, build wetland or prairies, or help out specific Species at Risk. Maybe you have some land? Maybe you’re thinking of getting some? Even if this is not the case, take a simple nature-supporting action and watch the fruits of your labours over time. I assure you that much joy and many rewards will be yours.

Making A Lake Great Again: Erie Prospects for Un-fresh Waters

It was 1993 – the year I first really got intimate with Lake Erie. As an aspiring graduate student, our accommodations were meek tents on Pelee Island. Showers were hard to

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Lake Erie off the tip of Fish Point, Pelee Island. May 2017.

come by. The island’s sandy, limestone and broken boulder shorelines were excellent launching pads for some serious and not so serious bathing sessions. We’d float in the calm waters of small inlets to ease the frequent pain of poison ivy blisters.  Wading in the waters would soothe the lashes the brambles had repeatedly incised on our shins. After riding dozens of kilometres on our bikes each day, the water cut the dust and settled the saddle strain.  During days of great winds, we’d feebly body check the ‘big rollers’

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Cooling off my fieldwork legs in the clean waters just off Fish Point, Pelee Island, 1993. Thanks to Ilford Film for the black and white 35mm support. Photo by Bo Porchuk.

– massive waves – that thrashed us like rag dolls onto the soft sandy lake bottom. A video made in the latter half of 1993 indicated that water just off the shore of the Erie islands was ‘near drinking water quality.’ In short, Erie to us was a great lake, in spite of what many of us had heard to the contrary.

Brought back from the brink in the 1970s when a highly contaminated section of the Cuyahoga River caught on fire (1969) in Cleveland, the late 80s early 90s saw the alien Zebra Mussels ratcheting up the water quality through their combined efforts to filter millions of gallons of water per day. The word on the street was that these bivalves were in fact making the water too clean; local fisheries, especially in the shallow section of the lake, the western basin, were suffering from a lack of food particles and increased solar penetration. Wow. One extreme to the other.

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What’s a Porchuk post without a snake? Here, the gentle, yet sometimes curious Endangered Lake Erie Waternsnake awaits her fate based on our  human-induced contamination of her home (dah, dun, dahhhh). Enough learning. Time to clean up our waters for good.

As reptile researchers, we saw good signs for the endangered water snake populations and their prey. Their overall numbers were down from several decades earlier, but they were still abundant.  We had noted occasional evils resurfacing from the dark days past. Extreme winds, with ensuing mega-waves, would stir sediment from the shallow lake bottom, bringing up heavy metals laid down over several decades previous, from careless industrial pollution.

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It is photographs like this that keep us in denial that everything, at least on the surface, is ok. (for the record, this isn’t Lake Erie).

And of course recently, there was yet another rubber flip flop oscillation in the waves of water quality. Was it around 2015 or so? Toxic water returned yet again. You couldn’t even filter the water to drink (did you know, millions of people get their household water from L. Erie?). Thousands of cases of bottled water were handed out in lakeside communities mainly on the southern shores. Algal blooms bloomed big time. Beaches were littered with green. Fish died, washed up smelly. Get out the bell-bottoms. Fire up the Ford Fairlane. The 1970s have returned.

My kids outright refused to beach at Port Stanley, Long Point, and even beautiful Rondeau Provincial Park was struck off the list. Situated with luxurious choice in London, Ontario, selection power was indeed in our favour. Forty-five minutes to Lake Erie or 55 minutes to Lake Huron? The choice was easy and I really felt for the residents, the merchants, the communities, and the entrepreneurs using Erie as a drawing card.

The culprit? Agricultural runoff of nutrients (excess fertilizer); Phosphorus. Simply put, for better yields, farmers/farm corporations flood their fields with fertilizers. Added to this, was excess animal waste from pig, cow and chicken farms. More frequent and intense rain storms (hmmm…., climate change?) then wash it away through the tile drains, into the drainage ditches and canals, into streams, creeks, rivers, and thence into the big water bodies. These nutrients feed algal blooms. Algal blooms suck up the oxygen in the lake, causing huge death zones and deadly, in-consumable (inconceivable! too) waters. Before I go all big and angry against agro-business, I remember how much I


Perfect pack of peppers; just the way we like ’em…always available, blemish free, bright and big. Changing expectations of ‘perfection’ will go a long way to helping us conserve our landscapes and save our Great Lakes.

appreciate inexpensive food. I have to remember the erroneous, blemish-free high quality produce I (often subconsciously) demand.  I am still a willing member of society that wants high quality, ever present stocks, and low price. Are you one of these people too? I am one tiny but important cog in the wheel that supports efficiency at all costs on our landscape.  An algal bloom in Lake Erie is one of the products of our choices.


Snapping Turtles are harbingers of bio-accumulation; do you know what water-soluble contaminants may have concentrated within you?

What can be done? At the grassroots level, these are exciting times. Consumers and citizens have power on either side of the drainage basin. With more and more urban communities providing spaces for community-share gardens and food forests, the more our populations are getting reconnected to the wonderful process of growing food and caring for the land. Offering organic and locally grown foods facilitates education and more and more people are becoming aware of the problematic issues and impacts of some larger scale farms. This is one key shift that is happening and will continue to grow.

If you have a hand on the make up of any piece of land, from either a small front or backyard to a larger rural property* of few acres or more, your positive impact can be magnified hugely; put in some native plants. If you don’t have any land at your disposal, volunteer on some land that is looking for the help ( Native plants filter water and clean it. They prevent further erosion. They are glue in the resiliency of ecosystems. I recently learned that most of our southern Ontario streams carry hundreds of thousands of tons of farmland soil with them out to the Great Lakes. This is a new thing (like within the last couple hundred years, new); plants used to hold the soil on the landscape.

And to stop the large scale problem right now? To my knowledge both US and Ontario farmers in the watershed grow mainly cash crops; corn, soybeans, wheat, canola. Many large scale animal farm operations are spread out across the watershed. Not all pollute, but many do. To date, the only real tentative plan that may see Ohio and Ontario to agree to reduce the Phosphorus runoff by 40% by 2025. How does this sit with you? I find it a tough pill to swallow; ‘let’s plan to plan for less than a half reduction in 7 years.’


The Thames River as it flows through London, Ontario. It not only will end up carrying much Phosphorus with it from the surrounding farmland, but it will carry some raw sewage from London to Lake Erie as after affects from many summer storm events. Gross, yes.

In the meantime, algal blooms will continue. It’s been largely cools so far for late spring and early summer 2017 but the consistent rains have likely carried much Phosphorus to the lake where it resides and waits for warmer water temperatures.

There’s more we can do. We can start or continue to be a voice with your local government. Many politicians are big fans of Simon and Garfunkel (The Sounds of Silence). One doesn’t have to be a radical to mention this story to a councillor, a mayor, an MP, an MPP or a senator. Start a conversation. Connect with them personally first. Then, if the opportunity presents, lay out the plain facts. The more sound bites that come from all different walks of life, the less the message sounds radical and the more it sounds reasonable.

I saw our mayor the other day sitting, having a beer by himself. He waved and said, “Hi there!” to which I replied a friendly greeting. I kicked myself later for not engaging him at least in an introductory conversation about how he’s doing personally and maybe even get to the wet weather we’ve been having lately…

Lastly, spread pieces of writing commentary like this. I’d love to infiltrate this voice in a number of small communities. Do you know anyone rural you couldn’t kindly annoy with this? Please share. We are on the precipice of destroying the world’s 13th largest freshwater lake, or choosing to make it Great again (for real).

* Rural property owners may qualify to get funds for habitat restoration here –

Making Southern Ontario Wild Again?

It was a journey a long time ago for me. Wilderness completely surrounded me for hundreds of miles. Sitting on a lichen-covered rock outcrop overlooking the flowing water of a creek, I was in heaven watching a pair of Otters play in the rapids. Ok, in actual fact, I was really enjoying watching these animals, while simultaneously trying to kill several Deer Flies that wouldn’t stop trying to suck my blood!

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Moose sleuthed all around me in the rugged landscape of Georgian Bay in the early 1990s. Not long ago, they used to freely strut their stuff in what is now Toronto. Photo by Dr. Martyn Obbard.

All of a sudden, nearby screaming in the opposite direction sent chills down the back of my neck. The Otters scattered. Snapshots of Ravens through the canopy of oaks and maples dappled the sunlight even further, a the shiny black birds scattered the scene.

The screeching stopped as the animal raced through over-sized ferns towards me. I could just see a tall, brown tail shredding the plants as it neared. At the last second before impact, the animal skidded abruptly to a stop. We were face to face for a seemingly long time. It was a Fisher. I was a Human (and still am). In that moment, the small but feisty carnivorous mammal and me stared wide-eyed into each other’s core as one being. It left me with a deep picture of all things. It felt like a miracle view into the connectedness of the rocks, the river, the trees, and animals sharing it all. It was a miracle that likely exists in every moment if only viewed with the proper lens. It was also the kind of experience that deep, widespread nature affords.

It was only a few days earlier that I sat quietly picking Wild Blueberries on the edge of a patch of Sphagnum moss when an Eastern Wolf trotted by with a bear’s paw clutched gently in her mouth.

Forest Creek after Rain

On the road to Georgian Bay, there are many stops in central Ontario that will take your breath away.  Southern Ontario still has a few gems in Carolinian Canada, but we’ve lost thousands of wild treasures that we don’t even know about.

This happened about 25 years ago, in central Ontario’s much celebrated eastern Georgian Bay region, a place that has always had a wild side to it, thanks to the rugged rocky and twisting wetland terrain. While there certainly are development pressures on this landscape, I’m so grateful that in my absence all these years, I know Georgian Bay and all its wildness is still there and likely will be for a long time. It is truly a landscape populated with signature animals that both keep you on your toes, and inspire you deeply at the same time.

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Face to face (face to zoom lense?) with a Black Bear. Photo by Dr. Martyn Obbard.

While Georgian Bay is a biologically diverse, vast, and blanketed by a high percentage of land with habitat (over 75%), it doesn’t hold a candle in comparison to the diversity found in Southern Ontario’s Ecoregion 7E. This is the region defined by a trapezoid shaped area covering the landscape from Windsor to Sarnia to London to Toronto and over to Niagara Falls; it is dubbed Carolinian Canada. It’s just about the size of Switzerland. Most of the Carolinian Life Zone’s natural cover has been removed – only 18% of habitat remains in comparison. Even with most of its habitat denuded, it is the richest place in the country for plant and animal diversity, and the dubious winner of the longest list of Species at Risk.

Fishers are few and far between in Carolinian Canada, as are many other larger species that need big tracks of habitat – like Moose, Bears, and Wolves (these three are all fully absent). Maybe 50,000 people live in eastern Georgian Bay, from Midland to Parry Sound. In staggering contrast, about a quarter of the country’s population, or 7 million people, live in Carolinian Life Zone. Similarly, roads are densely webbed in the south, vs. the north that affords much bigger tracts, largely without asphalt and automobiles.

While a few parks are found in The Carolinian Zone, 95% of the lands are privately owned. Georgian Bay and other more northerly areas have is large tracts of publicly owned lands either in Parks or government owned Crown lands.

All of this begs a few key questions; how can we recover nature so that Ontario’s diverse south can provide these types of ‘deep nature’ experiences that inspire, rejuvenate and offer a health-inducing natural landscape? How can we recover rare habitats and missing species in this critical zone when it is largely owned by urban residents in cities and towns, and large farm operations in the countryside? Further, with nature literacy at an all time low, how do we get people familiar with the language and raw experiences of nature? And so, in consideration of all of this, can we ever get back to a largely wild landscape in southern Ontario?

The road to get there won’t be simple, but my five second rule answer (from the guy, not the head) tells me ‘yes’ – we can – get a lot of it back. But as a society, do we really want bears, moose, and wolves in a mix of what may be 10 or 12 million people in the next few decades?

It’s possible, but likely not, at least in the next few decades. This may be sad to some, but a major shift of perception in land sharing mentality would have to have been established. Moose aren’t teddy bears. Bears aren’t always as friendly as Elliott Moose. Cougars don’t always respond without retaliation to intense human encroachment. Cities likely won’t get smaller. Very few roads will be closed, or diverted.

But – there is room for renewed hope. While ecological literacy is low, education on climate change is really increasing. Many people now about the benefits of conservation. And after being an advocate for native plants for some time, it’s plain to see how people are resonating with the message of rebuilding nature, one native plant at a time. Thus, it is more than possible to foresee a future in which the cover in Carolinian Canada moves form 18 to 25% in the next few decades.

Whether this means we get our large predators and keystone species like bears and moose or not, it does mean at least our grandchildren will relish in the return of many smaller species. In the context of Carolinian Canada, this is really encouraging and dramatically exciting. There are many small species that dazzle and inspire.

How will we get there? It actually feels like we are moving into a new renaissance of ecological recovery. In recent years, we’ve seen the resurgence of Badgers in and around Long Point and in Brant County. We all watched Southern Flying Squirrels repopulate a tiny national park just outside of Windsor. A pond I observed being hand-dug in the middle of a barren farm field by high school students in the year 2000 quickly turned into one of the top breeding sites for Smallmouth Salamanders (Ambystoma texanum) in all of Canada. The salamanders were not introduced; they found the site on their own.

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The Smallmouth Salamander; Endangered. They recently moved into a pond constructed by high school students in 2000.

And if you try out creating habitat in an urban centre, be prepared for the onslaught; not before long, you may have Screech Owls nesting in your backyard. Not before long, you may see a fox sipping from the water’s edge of your urban pond. Not before long, you will have dozens of warblers stopping in spring to bath and drink from the water trickle of your urban wetland system.

It might not be a bear or a cougar, but it certainly could soon be a Fisher spotted moving along the edge of a creek in a city’s Environmentally Significant Area. The experience of nature back in our midst is real and happening today, piece by piece in Southern Ontario. Yes, it won’t be as rugged and wild as Georgian Bay for quite some time if ever. But if you’re here, certainly feel free to join the tide, and watch the swell grow as we bring back more and more animals, one experience at a time. And for your own good, and that of the people around you, find a relatively quiet spot nearby and sit there regularly. You’ll be amazed at what you experience in solitude in nature and how you will start to wear this calmness and groundedness with you throughout each day.

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After adding about 200 species of native plants to our urban, land-locked yard, Screech Owls nested in an old tree. Returning most years, the diversity of wildlife attracted by native plants has meant a large increase in local wildlife.

*** Two key programs for gearing you up to contribute are In the Zone Gardens ( and the Landowner Leaders Program (see



Boost Urban Ecology, Reduce Eco-Footprint, Juice Your Connection With Nature…One Event, One Day

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Seeds of change; Blue Cohosh ripening in the morning dew.

Boost, Reduce and Juice….Are you in Detroit, Toronto, or Buffalo (or anywhere in between)? Looking to find a way to transfer your yard from a carbon emitting source to a sequestering sink? Are you ready to invite fascinating wildlife back to your chunk of the urban landscape? Afraid to camp, or don’t know where to go on a Forest Therapy walk? One event is offering the complete inside scoop to these and many other worthwhile personal endeavours.

Smack dab in the middle of these worldly cities is London, Ontario – home of the universe-shaking, Go Wild Grow Wild Green Expo to be hosted this coming Sat. April 8th at Western Fair District’s Agriplex. That’s a lot of hype, I know. It might just be worth it.

Taking first steps in areas that aren’t one’s expertise are often troubling. Made easy for you, Carolinian Canada, an overachieving (for its small size), small non-profit has pooled together experts in gardening, outdoor adventure, ‘going green’ and for you under one roof. London’s Western Fair District is home to the convergence event of native landscape expertise, nature lovers, green designers and advisers, and recreation masters.


Three Screech Owlets. 

Here’s a snippet of what I’m talking about:

  • Native Plant Gardening; access experts through talks, native plant nursery tables, expert landscape designers and installers, purchase native plants; join the awesome, soon to be launched, World Wildlife Fund-backed, “In the Zone” gardening program for your access to loads of free gardening advice, services and network support
  • Wildlife Access; live hawks, owls, vultures, eagles, snakes, turtles, frogs – learn to identify, conserve and learn how to help foster respect and help recover declining populations
  • Green Living; tips, demonstrations, leaders and access to new products and services – learn what it’s like to live off the grid and how to apply this to daily living to save money, environmental impacts and to add a little character to go against the grain in the age of mass consumption
  • Adventurers; discover hidden locations for hiking, cycling, camping and paddling…climb an indoor wall, learn about geocaching, get a Discovery Pass from Parks Canada and so much more
  • Families; loads of stations, crafts and events for kids including a creepy crawly, up close bug encounter, hands on snakes and turtle feature and woodworking for wildlife to build homes for birds, bats and more
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Male American Toad calling in a backyard pond. Photo courtesy Mathis Natvik. 

Alternatively, you could go on your computer and Google for a few weeks, read about some ideas, wondering if it’s all just ‘fake news.’ Make an optimal appointment to get glasses from all your eye strain. Then, make a bunch of calls to find that you can’t find the personal expert insight that is fully assessed at Go Wild Grow Wild. Yah, come join us in person!

Saturday April 8th, 10am – 4pm, at Western Fair District’s Metroland Media Agriplex. $5 for adults, kids 12 and under are free.

Washing Our Hands of Coral Conservation

It’s just a vacation. A deserved rest in the sun. What beautiful sites there are to take in, to consume.

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This sunset photograph was taken moments after a late afternoon dive on a reef. We were overwhelmed, and breathless as we breached the water’s surface in awe of diversity and beauty of marine life. And yet coral conservation weighed heavily on our conscience.

Five years earlier we visited this site for a solid day of snorkeling, and while we are now still treated to a living expo of colour, light, texture and drama, we are really just seeing shades of the reef’s former self. What happened? Climate change. Warmer water. More intense solar rays. Experts say it will destroy 90%+ of the reefs anyway. It’s really out of our control.

It’s still a little uncomfortable. Maybe there’s something we can do? I wonder. I hear a few others at the resort wonder. Something we’re doing wrong?

Many reef sections are now devoid of living coral. They are bleached coral skeletons. To see a fish or two is rare. That’s ok, we swim with dozens of others to the ‘better’ sections. Yes, with others. People. Lots of them, swimming. I can’t help to think of the definition of a zoo. A facility with usually outdoor settings where living, typically wild animals are kept especially for public exhibition. We witness and are a part of the ‘coral reef zoo.’ We can go right up to the ‘cage’, eye-ball the animals closely and then move on to see more. Unlike the zoo in the city, this one, we can actually impact the display. Thrashing, joyful human bodies miscalculating their zoo-going, crash against the exhibits. Learning, telling others, who in turn, learn their lessons by their own ‘minor’ mishaps.

As often the case, this place is loved so much it suffocates from the well-intention, but twisted intimacy we impart.

Wow! There are birds too! Wetland birds circle our resort several times a day. There’s no where to land. Herons, egrets, frigatebirds, pelicans. I research. I find that the resort used to be a wetland. Parts of an ancient mangrove swamp, that used to inextricably support this reef – maintain it – in a critical symbiosis now well understood. These former wetlands remain a part of these birds ancestral memories. Well….we didn’t know that part.

This Central American country is too poor. Too poor for conservation measures. Too poor for regulations. Too poor for nature protection. A few non-profits have stepped in. They face many pressures. They aim to protect remaining mangrove swamps. They can do virtually nothing about climate change. They can just make recommendations on how to use and avoid abusing these marine worlds of wonders. We watch as the recommendations do next to nothing for those of us seeing the sheer beauty in the water.

Are there other ways? Who is responsible? Can we let this slip away from our planet?

While we still revel in this tropical experience like an amazing dream we awake from, we almost don’t want return in five years time. It hurts too much. It says too much about what we know we must do, vs. what we chose not to do.

It’s just a vacation.

One Action To Save Millions

If I told you there was one kind of plant you could put in the ground that would save the world, would you do it?

Even if you live in a condo with a balcony, have house with a yard, own a farm or are a factory owner with some extra land, putting one of these plants could just tip the scale.

The scale isn’t only imbalanced, it has a Sumo on one side, and the mini, Koodo cartoon wrestler on the other. Newsflash: Ecosystems are failing. Pollinator insects are plummeting. Climate change won’t only cost you tons of money, it just may deeply, detrimentally impact your life fairly soon.


Get in the driver’s seat. Avert disaster. Take action. Plant native. Plant often!

The choice, the action, the plant? It’s a native plant. Work with me business types; I’m getting to your millions in savings.


Native plants are not only important, but they are attractive too! Large Yellow Lady Slippers.

Ecology 101: native plant; one that has grown in your area usually for thousands of years. Sounds simple. It’s not – it’s kinda like backwards day.

For some reason, not too many nurseries here sell them. I mean, if you want a plant native to South America, or Asia, you can find them in North American nurseries. Go to England, and you can buy lots of plants that are from North America. When we buy these they are called, non-native plants. Put one in the ground and it does squat for ecosystems, a pittance for pollinators, and next to nothing for climate change.

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Berries of a Blue Cohosh native plant.

Ecology 201: native plants know to feed our native insects, including the pollinators for which we are completely reliant upon for our food production. Yep, too few native plants, stressed out, hungry, sick and then dead pollinators. Sad. Hungry. Scrappy. Humans. LinkedIn lovers, get out your smartphones and start collaborating for a mission to Cryntauhn (soon to be discovered planet with loads’o native plants still in tact).

Avoid catastrophe. Duck the loss of millions of dollars. Employ native plants for food sake.

Ecology 301: ecosystems link well-established partners, like native plants. Feeding pollinators and other insects, native plants beat the drum to nature’s resiliency. This means many trees to produce oxygen, to take in CO2, roots to hold soil from eroding and simply complex systems to clean water and air.

Detour from devastation. Go native.

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Butterfly Milkweed. Behold the beauty of native plants in the summertime.

Ecology 401: native plants know how to grow with the flow of local weather. Happy plants live long. Happy plants suck and horde carbon. Happy plants spread joy. Joy binds ecosystems in a family like manner, providing many …are you ready for this…provisions for people …or the waffle like term, EGS – ecosystem goods and services (a real mouth full).

Bring climate change to its knees (firmly, but gently). Establish locally adapted, climate-tested, forest-friendly plants of the native persuasion. Ok, one native plant put in per person won’t fully cut it. But it’s a start. It’s a great start.

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Hepatica (Liverwort). An early spring native plant.

If I told you there was one kind of plant you could put in the ground that would save the world, would you do it?

Well…there really is and it’s really easy! Stay tuned on where to find these wonderful natives and their superhero allies.

The photos above are from my urban native plant garden (except for the car shot!).

Leadership for Life Saving Rural Lands

Without rest, regeneration, conservation and some preservation, systems tire, stop producing, and inevitably fail.


Adding hundreds of seedling trees to a crippled under-story choked out by E. Buckthorn.

How much rest, regeneration, conservation and preservation are we giving our land? In southern Ontario, not enough. More often than not, the adage is, “How can we make our lands produce more? How can we capitalize on what our lands can do for us?”

Looking at land usage in the Carolinian Life Zone (from Windsor to Toronto) over the past hundred years or so we see tired, over-used lands, largely catered to agricultural production. Yes, farms and farmers are critical for our survival! And yet, there’s much room to allow nature. Less than 20% of southern Ontario is covered in its natural form. The rest (80%), is heavily taxed by overuse. This wasn’t always the case.

Before the 1950s and 60s, farms ranged in size from 50 to 100 acres. Thousands of families lived on these small farms, cultivating not only crops and livestock, but firmly cementing their connection to the land. Many woodlots were maintained for important family provisions, products and places for nature.


Jack in the Pulpit

As we know, farming changed. It became bigger, more ‘efficient.’ Machines replaced people. Fertilizers and pesticides replaced any needed ‘hand’ labour. Farm sizes rose to several hundred acres or more. While most farmers of huge land plots certainly know their land, it’s difficult to know it on the fine scale anymore. Instead of needing the land for 25 functions, large farms only need it for a few; crops, possibly firewood, and maybe to go hunting.

What impact did ‘big farming’ have? Maximize the yields. Reduce or completely remove the hedgerow. Thin the bush (if any remains). Spray and spray again for better yields and less competition. These chemicals hampered what wildlife was left – especially amphibians, but birds, reptiles and mammals as well. The Carolinian Life Zone is the place of highest biodiversity in Canada. It’s by far where most of our endangered species are found.

With mighty large farms, city life became more prominent for those who had to move off the rural landscape. Even through today, the trend continues. Except for the important blips here and there.

Blip….organic farms….blip….hobby farms….blip…. people really interested in recovering nature on tired, worn out, overused landscapes. These are the life-saving lands.

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Marsh Marigold in the wet forest of a private property.

The natural areas in ecology are known as ‘refugia’ for rare plants and animals. Relatively small rural parcels (from an acre to maybe a hundred or more), some of which was too difficult to clear, have been bought up by a whole new breed. Most don’t farm but rent out any active crop land. Most of these people aren’t environmentalists per se. But they are people; people interested in a mix of rural living, with still quite a few ties to cities.

At Carolinian Canada, we call many of these people, “Landowner Leaders” (

While they come from many different walks of life, they all share a passion and pleasure for recovering nature, for getting away from squeezing production from the land, while relishing in the return of prairies, grasslands, flowers, trees, wetland, forests, frogs, butterflies and more.

Are you an owner of rural lands in the Carolinian Zone? If so, connect with Carolinian Canada Coalition (CC). CC assists you in mapping out a detailed conservation plan, link you to interesting and important networks, and in some cases, find funding to help recover nature on your landscape.

Some landowners have built extensive tallgrass prairies, established wetland complexes, planted thousands of trees or linked important habitat refugia with neighbouring lands. The sky is the limit with what we can do on many of the ‘blank slates’ that exist in our degredated rural landscapes.

We’ve heard some remarkable stories of wildlife loss, restoration, and recovery from our ever growing network of Landowner Leaders.

One family with 25 acres on the southeastern corner of L. St. Clair recently made plans to recover a choked out five acre wetland. In the area around this wetland, Long-nosed Gar, a pike-like fish with a long beak, spawn a few feet off shore in the hundreds. Instead of extensive non-native grasses covering their sandy shorelines, they now watch the endangered E. Spiny Softshell Turtles lay their eggs.

Another Landowner Leader (LL) near Long Point regularly gets Eastern Rat Snakes, Canada’s longest reptile, visiting her property seeking egg-laying sites.

Near Ridgetown an innovative couple have sought our help to create the largest privately-owned tallgrass prairie in Ontario, providing critical habitat for nesting birds, such as Bobolink, Meadowlarks and several species of grassland sparrows. Indeed, the passion is out there. We can match it to help create a partnership to recover habitats and wildlife.

Contact us if you are interested in joining this beneficial landowner network or if you know of someone who may be interested.

Five Habits for Eternal Happiness (Everything-ness)

There are so many top lists for this and that, I had to distill it for my own little brain and soul. After 30 seconds of breathing, this is what spilled out on my screen. Please feel free to add anymore in the comments section below.

  1. Be.
  2. Be kind.
  3. Be generous.
  4. Be considerate.
  5. Be intimate with everything.
  6. Be grateful for every moment you have on this planet.

Simple enough (I know, I just counted too and there are 6 – what fun it is to leave a mistake right in the open)? Yah, I’ve been kinda busy so this is what I could muster up. Likely more effective than a long drawn out piece…I’d love any feedback.


Funky artwork Copyright Bernice Gordon.