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Ontario Nature looking to purchase land and create Sydenham River Nature Reserve

Chatham Daily News,
Louis Pin,
May 31 2016

It might come as a surprise that southwestern Ontario is home to one of the most unique bio-diverse areas of land in Ontario – a 78-hectare section along the Sydenham River, just south of Alvinston.

And local environmental groups want to keep it that way.

Lambton Wildlife Inc. and the Sydenham Field Naturalists, in partnership with Ontario Nature, want to purchase the land and turn it into the Sydenham River Nature Reserve. The land is home to numerous at-risk species, including the spiny softshell turtle and freshwater river mussels.

As soon as the land came for sale, the two groups came together to discuss a plan – and to get help.

The province-wide conservation group Ontario Nature was more than happy to lead the project. They have established 24 reserves in the province, some far larger than the proposed Sydenham Reserve.

This would be the first of theirs to have river flowing through it.

“It’s unique in the sense that it’s a real hot spot for really rare species,” said Caroline Schultz, executive director of Ontario Nature. “Having that whole water component, and having that river [is] so important – a really important bit of green natural area.”

Schultz emphasized that in southwestern Ontario, much of the land has been developed – more so than in much of the province. For that reason, preserving areas like the Sydenham River Natural Reserve is especially important.

“Also people can visit the reserve by canoeing through it,” she added. “People do it now, but we really want to preserve that opportunity.”

Ontario Nature needs $900,000 by Sept. 1, but through private donations and help from organizations – especially Lambton Wildlife and the Sydenham Field Naturalists – they already have $600,000.

The money will go towards buying the land, and will help offset costs to properly survey the area.

“We’re thrilled with the progress so far,” said John Hassell, with Ontario Nature. “Some of that includes money to do stewardship – to look for the best way to rehabilitate the land, accentuate the natural features. A lot of work will go in over the next couple years.”

Taking a complete inventory can take up to three years, but for an area like the Sydenham River Nature Reserve a full analysis should take only two.

That includes cataloging any reptiles, amphibians, and birds, as well as an ecological land classification, mapping out vegetation types on the reserve.

It almost involves identifying invasive species, especially those who put the wildlife at risk.

“At least 22 to 23 species that are on the reserve [are at risk],” Schultz said. “The one species that is very unique globally are a number of freshwater mussels … many are found only in the Sydenham River.”