June 09, 2010

Take care of your land (and save your planet)

As published in The Erin Advocate

I've been thinking of letting part of my back yard grow a little wild, but really don't know where to start. The goal is to have it look attractive – not like a weedy patch of untended grass that I was too lazy to cut.

Of course, one person's weed is another's wildflower, but I really need a plan that will give some design to the project. So when I heard that Credit Valley Conservation (CVC) is hosting a free workshop on ecological landscaping, Your Green Yard – Discover the Possibilities, I signed up to attend.

It is on June 16, 7-9 pm, at the Orangeville and District Seniors Centre, 26 Bythia Street, presented in partnership with the Orangeville Sustainability Action Team. Register on the CVC Stewardship Hotline, 1-800-668-5557, ext. 221, or at www.creditvalleyca.ca/bulletin/events.htm.

Of interest to both urban and rural residents, the event will provide fact sheets, design tips and plant lists. The idea is to create a diverse landscape that will improve local air, water and soil quality, conserve energy and water, avoid flooding and even reduce the impact of global warming.

Using native plants, you can have a low-maintenance area that enhances the habitat for birds, butterflies and other wildlife. You can branch out, so to speak, with green walls, living fences, natural pools and permeable paving.

The workshop is one of many presented by the CVC during the year, for those who are keen to learn about the local environment. There is a monthly email newsletter from CVC called The Source, covering various events.

Another of particular interest is a free workshop called Your Guide to Caring for the Credit, helping rural residents who are not farmers learn how to be better "stewards" of their land. Designed for those with more than two acres of land, it will be held at Terra Cotta Conservation Area on Winston Churchill Blvd., June 24, 7-9:30 pm. Register by June 17 at 1-800-668-5557, ext. 221. There will be another one on November 13 in Alton.

Participants get a self-assessment manual produced by the University of Guelph, aerial photos and maps showing natural areas and features on their own property and a stewardship kit with free samples of environment-friendly household products. They will also be eligible for free on-site advice from CVC experts and free admission to a follow-up expert speaker series.

People sometimes buy rural property without a full understanding of how to care for the land, and how their actions could either enhance the environment or put themselves and their neighbours at risk. The workshop will help people see how their property fits into the local ecosystem.

A series of worksheets will deal with rural issues like wells, septic systems, ponds, woodlots, drainage, meadows, wetlands, wildlife, wind breaks, stream banks, energy conservation, fertilizers, fuels, pesticides, invasive plants and the benefits of native plants. The goal is an action plan, tailored to the individual property.

The CVC is concerned about the impact of climate change on the watershed, which is already under a lot of stress. Since most of the land is privately owned, the CVC has increased its educational efforts in recent years, urging residents to take more responsibility.

"We need to get the watershed into the best shape possible, to withstand the effects of climate change," said Lisa Brusse, CVC's Headwaters Stewardship Coordinator.

On the final night of the Fast Forward Environmental Film Festival at the Erin Legion last month, Liz Armstrong of the Climate Change Action Group of Erin, urged both governments and individuals to act boldly to reduce the negative impact of human activity on the planet.

"Climate change is real, and happening faster than most scientists predicted," she said, claiming that the Baby Boom generation, which was spared the trauma of war, is now "rolling the dice" on the well-being of their descendants.

"Previous generations put their lives on the line in the face of grave danger. We need to take radical action that will have future generations thanking us, instead of spitting on our graves. Let's answer the call, and be remarkable."