Trent campus – crucible for Ecology

Achingly beautiful”. With just two words, Peter Gzowski described the splendour of this campus and his love for it. And we know this place, too: the seasons of the Otonabee, the architecture of Ron Thom, and the serenity of the Nature Areas. Without them, we also know, Trent just wouldn’t be Trent.

But a campus needs more than admiration and appreciation. It needs thoughtful planning, leadership, and care. And, the future of our campus is being forged now. The name may be dry (“The Trent Land Use Plan”) but the implications are big – as big as the notion that a university should set an example for society.


I am an ecologist. And in the Land Use Plan, I see both opportunity and challenge. This Plan is a chance to address the most prominent ecological issues of our time … where guiding principles of environmental conservation and stewardship could provide a much needed model for innovation and leadership. It’s not just about Trent, but well beyond this campus.

Given the environmental crisis and a looming, disrupted climate, the time for leadership and innovation is now. The headlines are clear. In the last year there have been massive wildlife die-offs in caribou and antelope, as well as numerous fish and bird species. Less dramatic but equally alarming is the erosion of wildlife around the globe …. with an average decline of almost 60% in birds, fish, mammals, reptiles and amphibians since 1970.

We know why. Habitat loss and fragmentation continue to be the principal threats to terrestrial and fresh water species and recent studies indicate that our global landscape is now fragmented by roads into over half a million parcels; half of these parcels are less than 1 square kilometre. Roads are projected to increase 60% by 2050, exacerbating the trend.

Notably, threats are cumulative. Roads encourage development; the access gives rise to habitat loss, over-exploitation, noise and chemical pollution, and road mortalities. Bit by bit (literally), the natural environment is divided, degraded and replaced.

Back at home, this trend — habitat loss, fragmentation and urban sprawl — is evident in the Trent Land Use Plan. The recent clearing of trees along Pioneer Road is the precursor for a campus conversion to commercial, industrial, and residential developments. Forest, wetland and open green space – equivalent to 315 football fields – is targeted for development. Given the ‘green’ reputation of Trent …. it is hard to believe.

If you haven’t seen the Trent Land Use Plan it is likely because it is difficult to pull together. In general it’s a map … supported by various documents and presentations that span over a decade … and yes … a one-page document that identifies the guiding principles of the Land Use Plan. At number 4 is “to protect and enhance the nature areas”.

Innovation Park_From Presentation_1

But what does this mean on the ground? Good question. There is not one document that outlines how the environment and its integrity will be conserved. What we witness on the ground (literally) is that integrity is unlikely a priority. Integrated environmental planning and site review have not been part of the process. The expansion of Pioneer Road, the 85-acre “Innovation Park” and Arena Complex are moving in fast-forward. I see no pause button, no Environmental Assessment on any of the projects – at least not yet.

The transformation of our natural environment and the loss of wildlife populations are often likened to – Death by a Thousand Cuts – the slow-motion reductions, with little or no concern for the larger picture. It is happening around the world; it is happening at Trent. And it is not the first time. Concerns were once raised about wetlands and wildlife with the development of private residences and even (ironically enough) the building named after our former Chancellor, Peter Gzowski.

Paths can change. They change when people get involved and demand better. I say… let’s be leaders in this area. Let’s provide an example of real innovation – in our own academic backyard. You can contact me at and learn how to become involved. Let’s have our student voices heard.