Introducing the Long Point Walsingham Forest Priority Place

Ontario’s Priority Place for Species at Risk conservation

Located on the north shore of Lake Erie, Norfolk County is renowned for its fertile agricultural land, forests, beaches and coastal dunes, tallgrass communities and wetlands. The vision for the LPWF Priority Place is to create healthy, resilient, and connected ecosystems that support biodiversity, productive landscapes, and a thriving community. Photo: Leanne Gauthier-Helmer.

In August 2017, Long Point Walsingham Forest (LPWF) was selected by the federal government as Ontario’s priority place for species at risk conservation. Located entirely within Norfolk County, LPWF is 86,715 hectares large and includes the longest freshwater sand spit in the world, Long Point. Long Point is an internationally recognized Ramsar site (wetlands of international importance), an international Monarch Butterfly Reserve, a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve, and the first globally significant Important Bird Area in Canada. LPWF also includes the Norfolk Forest Complex, which is also recognized as an Important Bird Area. Over 400 species of birds have been recorded in the Long Point area.

While LPWF makes up less than 1% of Canada’s total land area, it was selected as Ontario’s priority place for the following reasons:

  • its high concentration of biodiversity, including over 80 species at risk;
  • the significant threats to its biodiversity; and
  • its highly engaged local conservation community.

The land cover in LPWF includes agriculture, forests, beaches and coastal dunes, tallgrass communities, and wetlands. LPWF has retained much of its natural integrity due to the conservation and stewardship initiatives spearheaded by private landowners, conservation authorities, not-for-profit organizations, and government. This conservation community has been addressing the numerous threats affecting species at risk and their habitats in LPWF. These threats include land use changes, fire suppression, roads, and invasive species.

Boundaries of the Long Point Walsingham Forest Priority Place.

What is a “Priority Place” anyway?

In Budget 2018, the Government of Canada invested a historic $1.35 billion to support work with other governments, Indigenous groups, non-profit organizations, and others in nature conservation. This funding will support Canada in reaching its biodiversity goals, which are to protect a quarter of its lands and a quarter of its oceans by 2025, to create healthier habitats for species at risk, and to improve its natural environment.

The federal government, in collaboration with the provinces and territories, has agreed to implement the Pan-Canadian Approach to Transforming Species at Risk Conservation in Canada. This new approach will shift from a single-species conservation approach to one that focuses on multiple species and ecosystems. Efforts will be concentrated on priority places, species, sectors and threats across Canada, thus enabling conservation partners to work together and achieve better outcomes for species at risk.

A portion of this funding supports conservation efforts in 11 priority places identified across Canada. Priority places are areas with significant biodiversity, concentrations of species at risk, and opportunities to advance conservation efforts. In each priority place, the federal and provincial or territorial governments will collaborate with partners to develop and implement a conservation action plan coordinating actions to address the greatest threats to species at risk. Such actions include habitat stewardship, habitat restoration, and education and outreach.

The Long Point Walsingham Forest Priority Place Collaborative

The LPWF Collaborative is a partnership of over twenty non-government and government organizations that are committed to improve biodiversity conservation in LPWF through the coordinated identification and implementation of priority conservation actions. The Collaborative has developed an Integrated Conservation Action Plan (ICAP) which identifies the highest priority actions for improving ecosystem health and conserving species at risk.  The knowledge and expertise of the Collaborative is integral to fulfilling the vision of the LPWF ICAP, which is to create healthy, resilient and connected ecosystems that support biodiversity, productive landscapes and a thriving community.

Within the Collaborative, there are five subset committees called “working groups”. Each working group is implementing conservation actions that address priority threats to species at risk and their habitats. The priority threats and important habitats and species include:

  • Threats: Roads, Invasive species, Agricultural Runoff, Fire Suppression and Logging and Wood Harvesting
  • Important Habitats and Species: Coastal Wetlands and Inner Bay, Open Country, Forests and Treed Swamps, Watercourses and Riparian Areas and Amphibians and Reptiles

Environment and Climate Change Canada has invested approximately $4.5 million in federal funding to conservation projects in LPWF from 2018-2021. The Collaborative has matched that investment with approximately $6.6 million.

Road Ecology Working Group

Members: Ontario Road Ecology Group, Long Point World Biosphere Reserve Foundation, and Canadian Wildlife Service
Goal: Reduce wildlife road mortality by enhancing road infrastructure to facilitate safe movement of wildlife across the landscape.
For additional information, or to get involved, please contact:

Mandy Karch, Executive Director, Ontario Road Ecology Group



Invasive Species (Phragmites australis) Working Group

Members: Nature Conservancy of Canada, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, and Canadian Wildlife Service

1.       By 2025, 90% of the vegetation in the Coastal Wetlands and Beaches and Coastal Dunes ecosystems is native.

2.       Maintain and improve the riparian zone so that 75% is vegetated with native plants

For additional information, or to get involved, please contact:

Eric Cleland, Director, Nature Conservancy of Canada



Agricultural Runoff Working Group

Members: ALUS Norfolk Inc., Norfolk County, Long Point Region Conservation Authority, Carolinian Canada Coalition, Long Point Basin Land Trust, Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, and Canadian Wildlife Service

1.       Maintain and improve the riparian zone so that 75% is vegetated with native plants

2.       By 2025, at least 50% of surface water samples meet the provincial water quality objective for phosphorus (0.03 mg/L for streams and rivers).

For additional information, or to get involved, please contact:

Stephanie Giles, Program Coordinator, ALUS Norfolk Inc.



Open Country Working Group

Members: Nature Conservancy of Canada, Natural Resource Solutions Inc., Tallgrass Ontario, St. Williams Conservation Reserve, Ontario Plant Restoration Alliance, ALUS Norfolk Inc., Long Point Basin Land Trust, Ontario Nature, and Canadian Wildlife Service
Goal: Maintain existing Open Country habitat and restore additional areas, prioritizing sites where: existing habitat patches can be increased in size, habitat patches >=5 ha can be created, patch connectivity is best achieved and/or there are opportunities for long-term management.
For additional information, or to get involved, please contact:

Kristen Bernard, Program Director – Southwestern Ontario, Nature Conservancy of Canada



Forests and Treed Swamps Working Group

Members: ALUS Norfolk, Birds Canada, Canadian Wildlife Service, Long Point Basin Land Trust, Long Point Region Conservation Authority, Long Point World Biosphere Reserve Foundation, Nature Conservancy of Canada, Norfolk County, Norfolk Woodlot Owners Association, St. Williams Conservation Reserve
Goal: Maintain existing 2018 Forests and Treed Swamps cover and where possible increase/improve interior forest habitat and connectivity through additional forested acreage and forested corridors by 2050.
For additional information, or to get involved, please contact:

Ian Fife, Ontario Forest Birds Program Coordinator


The importance of biodiversity and protecting Species at Risk in the Priority Place

Mating Monarch butterflies. Photo: Brian Craig.

Although we might not always recognize it, plants and animals play a huge role in keeping our environment healthy and balanced.

Biodiversity is a term used broadly to describe the enormous variety and variability of life on Earth. It can also be used more specifically to refer to all of the species in one region or ecosystem. The term “ecosystem” refers to groups or plants, animals, and other organisms that are found in the same area and interact with each other. These interactions form the environments we know and recognize, such as the different forests, wetlands, and other ecosystems around Norfolk County.

Balance within these ecosystems requires the continuation of these interactions, and the decline or loss of one species often triggers the decline or loss of others. This is why it is important to preserve biodiversity and all species, especially threatened or endangered Species at Risk.

Bald eagle perched in a Sycamore tree. Photo: Brian Craig.

When ecosystems are functioning well, they provide us with important benefits, including clean air, clean water, and fertile land to grow healthy food. They can also help mitigate the effects of climate change. For example, ecosystems such as forests, wetlands, and grasslands absorb and store carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.

The Long Point Walsingham Forest Priority Place is an incredibly biodiverse area. It is located in a part of Canada referred to as the Carolinian Life Zone. This fragile ecoregion is found in both the eastern United States and southern Ontario. It is characterized by mixed leaf forests, although deciduous (broad leaf) trees predominate. While this vegetation zone takes up less that 1% of Canada’s total land area, it contains a greater number of plant and animal species than any other vegetation zone in Canada!

Preserving the biodiversity of the Priority Place is essential to ensure that the benefits we receive from healthy and functioning ecosystems are preserved for future generations.

The Long Point Walsingham Forest Priority Place is within the Long Point Biosphere boundaries

Situated in Norfolk County, Long Point and the surrounding watershed has the largest diversity of plants and animals in Canada and is a world-famous location for migrating birds and rare Carolinian forests. These and other ecological features led to the designation of the Long Point area as a Biosphere Reserve by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 1986.

Biosphere Reserves are globally important ecosystems that are internationally recognized by UNESCO’s Man and Biosphere (MAB) program. Today, there are 701 World Biosphere Reserves spanning 124 countries, with 18 of these in Canada. While the Biosphere Reserve designation does not bring with it any new authorities over lands, water, or resources, its intent is to encourage local communities to combine conservation of biodiversity with sustainable community development.

In August 2017, a significant portion of the Long Point Biosphere Reserve was selected as a “Priority Place” for conservation of Species at Risk by the federal government. The designation as the Long Point Walsingham Forest (LPWF) brings with it funding from the federal government, in collaboration with provincial and territorial governments, to support the conservation work being done locally by various groups and organizations.

The LPWF Priority Place includes the Long Point Biosphere’s significant areas: the core areas on Long Point and Backus woods; the buffer zone, which includes the Big Creek National Wildlife Area and the Turkey Point marshes; and the zone of cooperation in the southwestern portion of Norfolk County.

Having multiple designations in one area may seem confusing, especially given that Long Point itself holds even more recognitions as an internationally recognized Ramsar wetland site, an Important Bird and Biodiversity Area, and more. Such recognitions are important avenues to receiving support and funding for conservation activities. More than that, they show broad recognition of the site as important in many ways and to many groups and people. Beyond these designations, Long Point and all of Norfolk County is important to the people who live here, have lived here, or visit here, and who appreciate the natural heritage this place has to offer.

Map of the Long Point Biosphere Reserve, showing the Area of Cooperation (black border), Buffer Zone (red), and the Core areas on Long Point and Backus Woods (orange).

A message from Long Point World Biosphere Reserve President Rick Levick

We acknowledge that we meet on the traditional territories of the Attawandaron, Haudenosaunee, and Anishinaabe peoples and show respect today to the communities of the Six Nations of the Grand River Territory and the Mississaugas of the Credit whose Treaty lands include the Long Point World Biosphere Reserve.

Long Point, the world’s longest freshwater sand spit and home to a wide array of species, biodiverse ecosystems, and incredible scenery. Photo: John Kindury

We should be proud that a significant portion of the Long Point Biosphere Reserve (LPBR) was selected as a “Priority Place” because it recognizes this community’s long history of conservation that goes back more than a century to the founding of Canada’s first forestry station in St. Williams. 

That tradition of conservation continues to the present day through the work of many local agencies and community organizations within their own mandates or as part of collective efforts to preserve this area’s significant biodiversity. Two recent examples are the success of the Long Point Phragmites Action Alliance in removing this invasive reed from the Long Point wetlands and the Long Point Causeway Project in significantly reducing reptile road mortality.

That’s probably why the Priority Place project has employed the same cooperative approach by forming Working Groups to tackle the greatest threats faced by the Species at Risk that live here. Together, the member organizations of these Working Groups form the Long Point Walsingham Forest Collaborative.

One of the LPBR’s most important roles is fostering collaboration and cooperation among the many groups that recognize and value this area’s natural heritage. Our involvement in the LPWF includes engaging in stewardship and outreach activities that help promote the conservation efforts of the Collaborative and generate public awareness and support for the project.

For example, we developed a public database of maps collected from several different agencies and conservation organizations showing many geospatial features of the Priority Place and Norfolk County.  We also created a story map in which Maya the Blanding’s Turtle explains the threats to her home in the Priority Place. The LPBR developed and manage the Long Point Walsingham Forest Priority Place website, social media content, and print materials including this very newspaper insert.

Our hope is that this insert helps people recognize and celebrate the incredible biodiversity of this area and take pride in this community’s long history of preserving it for future generations.

Rick Levick

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