Debbie Jenkins is a PhD Candidate in the Environmental and Life Sciences Graduate Program at Trent.
Nature at Trent University is extraordinary – but maybe you already know this. Walking quietly and unrushed through campus, you may have surprised a young deer, heard Western chorus frogs singing after dusk, or seen a fox and her pups hunting in the field. With over 1500 species, Trent’s rich diversity is unique – and it’s irreplaceable.
Today, diverse habitat, large intact (roadless) areas, and limited human disturbance make Trent’s campus a refuge for wildlife. It’s a lush mosaic alongside the Otonabee River, boasting forests, meadows, and wetlands that are largely connected by natural spaces with little human activity (Figure 1). The combination is rare, and it could quickly disappear.
The new Trent Lands and Nature Areas Plan (TLNAP) proposes massive change. Development driven, it brags ‘green’ but fails to safeguard habitat and wildlife. Instead, it promotes urban sprawl, reduces natural areas and fragments the campus into increasingly smaller bits of land with an extensive network of roads and development. It feigns an environmental approach, ignoring what we know about biodiversity, environmental protection and conservation planning. It even ignores what we know about the past.
Bit by bit, Nature Areas at Trent are lost and more reductions are planned. Yet the draft TLNAP suggests that Nature Areas will be expanded. An examination of Trent’s lands over time reveals something different.
Firstly, the Highway 28 Woods Nature Area, 9.88 acres (4 ha), was recently sold or given to the City of Peterborough (Trent Nature Areas website; personal communication, Julie Davis) and the Drumlin Nature Area, approximately 7.4 acres (3 ha) was destroyed for Cleantech Commons (Figure 2). Stunningly beautiful, the Highway 28 Woods Nature Area included old growth beech, oak and maple; even endangered Butternut trees have been identified here. The Drumlin Nature Area was also important – storing ground water that slowly discharged to the adjacent wetlands; wetlands that have been evaluated as provincially significant. Still, the drumlin was excavated for the Cleantech Commons and Pioneer Road, projects where Trent has partnered with the City of Peterborough (Figure 2).
But these are not the only losses. Since 2002, Nature Areas have been reduced by over 57 acres (from 778.4 acres to 721 acres in 2020; Figure 3), with more reductions planned.
Interestingly, Trent University suggests that Nature Areas will be increased to 753 acres (305 ha) – but neglects losses to the Wildlife Sanctuary that could total 62-86 acres (25 - 35 ha). Let me explain. Developing across the existing Experimental Farm and Vegetable Gardens has been justified by moving these activities into the Wildlife Sanctuary where they are largely concealed by redefining them as “Nature Area and Green Space”. To be clear, areas previously identified as “Nature Areas” and “Green Space and Corridors” never included the Experimental Farm (see the 2013 Trent Land Use Plan) – nor should they.
Large developments and extensive road networks are being proposed across Trent’s Campus – which individually pose negative environmental consequences. Together, they paint a grim future for nature at Trent.
Sprawling over natural and agricultural spaces, these developments will advance habitat loss and divide natural spaces into small isolated pockets. Expanding roads throughout the campus (including University Road through the Wildlife Sanctuary/Canal Nature Area) will increase wildlife road mortalities, chemical and noise pollution, and alter the surrounding terrestrial and aquatic environment far beyond their actual footprint.
One of Trent’s approaches to wildlife and the environment is to mitigate and monitor, using “compensation strategies” to justify habitat loss, even for species at risk. In Part III of the TLNAP, for example, quick action to enhance habitat for threatened grassland birds such as Bobolink and Meadowlark, is identified. Yet, blocks of development entitled Cleantech Commons, Complete Community, Intensification of Campus Core, Seniors Village, and multiple roads (Figure 4) are proposed across their known breeding habitat at Trent. This also applies to Barn swallows and Blanding’s turtles. Instead of expanding Nature Areas to protect these habitats – the new TLNAP will destroy them. Our data (below) suggests that many species will be impacted.
Using multiple methods, from point counts, to amphibian call surveys and opportunistic sampling, over 10,000 observations of flora and fauna have been documented across Trent’s Symons campus, including 335 observations of Species at Risk (Figure 5). Our student led program started as a Bioblitz and quickly metamorphisized into a multi-year Biodiversity Monitoring Program. Students, faculty and community members have contributed to this project. Together we have documented over 1,500 species, including 27 Species at Risk (i.e breeding pairs of Red-headed woodpecker, Bobolink and Meadow lark, Wood thrush, Eastern wood-pewee, Snapping turtle, and Monarch butterflies to name a few). Such diversity is remarkable - but its future is tenuous.
The survival of wildlife at Trent University will primarily depend on the protection of large natural spaces and connectivity--but also on what is permitted as intervening land use. Land use planning is a powerful tool and we should be using it wisely, applying conservation principles to protect species and spaces, and the integrity of this habitat into the future. We know how to do this – (i.e. expand Nature Areas; place ecological buffers around wetlands, streams, and Nature Areas; protect roadless areas, limit road development, stop urban sprawl) - but it doesn’t show up here.
Yet, outcomes can change. By getting involved and working together, we can develop something better - a plan that serves as an example for society. Let’s extend the comment period, have an open and transparent process where ideas and knowledge are shared – and concerns resolved. The future of nature at Trent depends on it.
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