Speeding up old field succession in Bruce Peninsula National Park

What’s the issue?

A man removing a shovelful of mulch from the back of a small buggy.
Fresh mulch is applied to recently planted saplings to help retain soil moisture and control weeds in an effort to restore an old hay field back to a forest.

As in most of southern Ontario, early settlers to the area surrounding Bruce Peninsula National Park cleared forests to make way for agriculture. Since the park was established in 1987, parcels of adjacent land have been purchased in a bid to restore natural ecosystems and help protect the park. One 21.2-hectare hayfield acquired in 2011 is typical; after the forest was removed it was sown with non-native hay grasses and clover for livestock forage. Left alone, the old field would eventually shift back to forest – shrubs and trees replacing the grasses – but that would take centuries. Meanwhile, invasive grasses would continue to jeopardize the ecological health of the neighbouring forest. By accelerating restoration of the forest, Bruce Peninsula National Park aims to increase the ecological value of the land and provide visitors with opportunities to learn and participate in a hands-on conservation project.

What’s our approach?

  • Plan and initiate forest restoration to jump-start the process of old field succession throughout the 21.2-hectare parcel.
  • Control the spread of non-native invasive grasses to protect the neighbouring forest from intrusion.
  • Plant a diversity of locally sourced native tree and shrub species throughout the field.
  • Provide meaningful opportunities to local youth by engaging them in restoration planting and site monitoring.
  • Use local and social media to provide informative, regular updates on progress.

What’s been accomplished?

  • Removed 2.9 hectares of non-native invasive species around field perimeter.
  • Planted 3,500 native trees and shrubs, including eastern white cedar, service berry and staghorn sumac.
  • Monitored and maintained planted trees and shrubs to help ensure their successful establishment; documented results to learn and adaptively manage throughout project.
  • Engaged Scouts Canada, a local high school and community members to assist with tree and shrub planting.