Toronto’s ravine system makes up a significant part of the city’s green infrastructure, as natural parklands and urban forests provide countless environmental, health and recreational benefits. However, the city’s ravines are in a critical state, threatened by invasive species, climate change and intensive land development.
In January 2020, Toronto City Council adopted the Ravine Strategy Implementation Plan to protect the city’s ravines. A group of volunteers formed the Toronto Nature Stewards (TNS) to help implement the plan and advance independent stewardship to restore the ecological health of Toronto’s ravines.
Hundreds of volunteer stewards work under the direction of lead stewards and meet regularly to pick up litter and remove invasive plants, such as lily of the valley, Japanese knotweed, and dog-strangling vine, which can crowd out native species.
Before the program started, only city park officials were allowed to remove invasive species from ravines. But the partnership allows volunteers to identify and remove these plants without supervision.
Geoffrey Chan and Catherine Berka are lead stewards at TNS’s Roxborough Parkette North site. Mr. Chan says the stewardship work has given him an appreciation for the rich variety of life that exists within the city’s ravine system.
“I used to think only of places like the Amazon as being powerhouses of biodiversity, but here in this part of Ontario, we have a wealth of biodiversity too,” he said. “Although I grew up in Toronto, I never knew this until now. It’s right in our backyard, and it’s a treasure.”
Toronto Nature Stewards now oversees 23 sites and has 60 trained lead stewards across the city. The stewardship year begins in April and runs until late October or early November.
Other related articles
Toronto’s parklands require more care, protection and expansion
Ellen Schwartzel, in the Toronto Star on August 21st. (https://tfngo.to/aug21star)
Woodbine Beach is exploding with a staggering variety of life in any season
M.L. Bream in the Toronto Star on September 8, 2022. (https://tfngo.to/torontostarream)
A Celebration of Stewardship and Volunteering is taking place on October 1 at Middle Mill from 10am to 1pm. 44 Beechwood Drive, Toronto, ON M4K 3H8
Join the Toronto Nature Stewards, Toronto Field Naturalists, A Park of All and many more. This will be a fun filled day with lots of nature and kid friendly programming. This is our opportunity to thank and recognize every steward, volunteer and all those that give their time and energy to make Toronto a world class city. More information from the Toronto Field Naturalists.
If you are a volunteer steward and would like to help TNS with our table please fill out this form.
Register on EventBrite (not required but it helps our planning) and view all the activities and partnering organizations.
The Toronto Nature Stewards are working hard but still having fun while removing invasive species in our ravine and park sites. Each Lead Steward organizes their volunteers and have many different experiences to share with each other. The following posts are specific to a site, how to improve the experience and personal reflections. Follow the links to these stories.
TNS has 23 sites (more than twice from last year) and 60 trained Lead Stewards but there is much more to do. There are 6,600 hectares of public ravine land and we are currently stewarding approximately 74 hectares on 23 sites. Each hectare needs active regular stewardship to improve biodiversity and ecosystem health. Each site has one primary Lead and other co-Leads as needed to keep our ratio of 1 Lead to 10 volunteers at any one time. We’ve had from 2 to 145 people at each session and they occur every day of the week and at different times so there are lots of opportunities for everyone. Each group has (or will have) a dedicated team but there are also pop-up sessions organized by the site Leads.
Each site works independently and organizes itself based on the needs of the Leads and the Volunteer Stewards but all following the same city approved protocols. You can view the sites, schedules and register to join on our Get Involved page (if you want to be an ongoing Steward) . Once you register for a site, the Lead Steward will contact you with details. People wanting to join a pop-up should contact email@example.com for more info.
Currently there are 10 specific invasive plants that we can remove on approved sites on public land. If you want more info on them you can find it on our website.
Toronto Nature Stewards has recently partnered with a U of T researcher, Michael McTavish, investigating the spread of invasive jumping worms, recently detected in Toronto. All are welcome to participate.
** As the sun is setting sooner and the mosquitos are coming out earlier, we are moving our start time to 6:30pm. We know that this may make it a rush for people coming home from work, so please just come and find the team whenever you can arrive at the park **
Thank you to the volunteers who worked so hard along the fence line last week. We know that this is an area that we cannot rid of DSV because we cannot cross the barrier. But it was a valuable lesson to see what unchecked DSV can do to the native plants in an area. It also gave us an opportunity to witness the DSV seed pods opening up and to see how quickly the seeds disperse over a wide area.
We would also like to welcome our newest steward, Gloria!
Toronto Nature Stewards was in the news last week as part of a Toronto Star article by TFN President Ellen Schwartzel describing the need to protect our green spaces.
Our goals for this week:
(a) Interested in learning more about native plants? Daniela will be taking one group into the woods ( MU1) to locate and map the native trees and plant species we are working so hard to protect. This will be a nice change of pace from cutting DSV.
(b) The second group will return to the north end (MU3) to check up on the native species and remove any remaining DSV and burdock.
Natasha, Daniela and Cheryl
August 1, 2022
Happy Holiday Monday to Our Sunnypoint Stewards,
We hope that you have had a great long weekend! We successfully tackled both burdock and dog-strangling vine in the northern section (MU3) of the park last Tuesday. The DSV was no match for Natasha, Debbie and Marcia…and the pictures prove it!
I have also attached a couple of pictures of second year burdock so you can see how tall it can grow, its wide leaves and the burs starting to form. Fortunately, there was not a lot of this in MU3, but we will keep an eye out for it.
Our goals for this week:
(a) try to clear out the last of the DSV in the meadow ( MU2)
(b) begin tackling the DSV along the guardrail in MU4 if time allows
Please pass this message along to any neighbours who might be interested in helping.
July 26, 2022
We hope everyone had an enjoyable weekend and that Sunday’s rain helped your gardens struggle through this heat wave. Tuesday’s weather forecast looks promising, so we hope we will be able to work in MU3 and MU4, just as we had planned for last week.
So….our goal for this week’s session is to have a little change of scenery and work at the north end of the park, removing the stalks of burdock and any other invasive plants at the top of the ravine. We’ve attached the information sheet describing how to identify and remove burdock. (It’s the plant that looks quite a bit like rhubarb.)
Please pass this message along to any neighbours who might be interested in helping.
Our goals for this Tuesday (June 14, 2022):
Hello to our amazing stewards!!
Thank you to all of the stewards who worked so hard last Tuesday. We hope you have had a wonderful week….and that pulling all of that garlic mustard is not taking its toll on your back.
(a) to remove garlic mustard in the north end of the park. (MU3 and MU4)
(b) to begin tackling the dog-strangling vine (DSV). We have attached an information sheet about this notoriously invasive species
*Apologies for the wonky formatting — my power is out and I’m typing on my phone*
Last week, Mark (he was still in town!), Sandy were greeted by deer (see attached photo) as we checked on the Japanese Knotweed.
With thorough scouting through to the perimeter, we found several short sprigs that had escaped our eyes and garden shears the week before. We also went across the path and found about seven JKW plants living their best life, pretty much undetected against a forest backdrop and unchecked DSV sprawl. Apparently whomever sprayed missed the edges of the patch and didn’t look across the path. All of these are now cut to contain the spread, and we’ll take one last look later in the season in case anything else slipped by us.
Several of you haven’t had a chance to make it out to stewarding this season. Send me your ideal timing and we could do either a pop-up event or add another regular time each week (which brings me to…)
2023 Lead Steward Training Update: I visited a sister site in the west end last week that has an Indigenous lodge and is partnering with them to create a seed bank of native plants. There, I spoke with Anna, who updated me on recruitment.
Current Stewards may now apply for Training to help Lead existing sites. There may only be a select few new priority sites announced by TNS next year. The strategy is to strengthen our existing sites with a team leading each one. This gives Leads an opportunity to share the work, recruit and work with more volunteers (10 stewards per Lead), offer more than one session per week and collaborate, monitor and evaluate impact more thoroughly. Some of our Site Leads across the City already do this and we’d love to encourage this at Highland Creek Park as it may be the biggest site TNS has!
Want to take the training on invasive species and learn about lead stewarding? Fill in the simple Training Sign-up Form.
Tonight’s Plan: Dog Strangling Vine seed pods are exploding right now so we’ll work on eradicating them either at the park entrance or closer to the oak tree. Either way, we’ll be close to the main path within a minute of the park entrance.
No heat wave tonight! We’ll continue taking down the dog-strangling vine and any other approved invasives along the park path. We’ve got some momentum going just as the seed pods are all popping up so we might prioritize lots of top-chopping. We’ll be less than a minute into the park, so anyone arriving late will not only see us but also our beautiful new TNS BANNER!
Four of us had a fun evening last week, with Mark on a mission to rid the forest of litter, as John, Penny and I took a moment to nibble on some yummy native black raspberries while decimating dog strangling vine (DSV) at the park entrance! We also met a local resident who wants to join us… which reminds me: If you or someone you know can help with outreach and recruiting (contacting local groups, cultural communities, UofT Scarborough, local schools — not just give ideas — please drop me a line!).
I’ve been away on silent retreat for close to a week in nature, with ZERO dog strangling vine or garlic mustard anywhere! I saw loads of milkweed, cattails, pines, cedars, native maple, balsam, black cherry trees and spent time on the trails in pure, lush wilderness. I wasn’t so spoiled — I got in lots of mindfulness practice and dirtied my hands removing weeds from the vegetable garden. Here’s a photo of the little chipmunk (I called him Charlie in my mind) that would visit asking for nuts I’m keen to get to the invasives in our park now!
Ready for tomorrow? There is so much to do in this beautiful park. We can really use all hands on deck! I’d like for us to roll up our sleeves and attack more of the dog strangling vine and garlic mustard around the park entrance and along the park path tomorrow. If you have a garden spade, then we can uproot some of the burdock too.
Bring your clippers if you have them! Anyone arriving late will spot us easily.
We’ve achieved a lot in the past two months at Northline. Many challenges still lie ahead, but, as you can see from the list below, when you document the collective work we’ve done, it’s truly quite impressive.
Water access for Northline secured
Rains on July 18 + 24 arrived in the nick of time for some of the recently-planted trees, which were wilting in the summer heat. But, thanks to the combined efforts of Paula Davies,Eduardo Lage and forrester Stephen Smith, we now have access to running water for the site. A business adjacent to the area we are focusing on, Oriole Landscaping, has kindly agreed to donate water for the trees. Going forward, we will be able to obtain water from their taps as needed.
Humane deer deterrents are working
All of the enclosures now have dead tree branches (and, even better, dead buckthorn!) secured along the perimeters. Together with the fencing, it seems to be making a real difference in keeping deer away from the precious native trees and shrubs that were planted at the end of May.
Many thanks to Paula Davies for the great suggestion, to Doug Wilson for the many hours he has spent cutting the branches and buckthorn to a suitable size, to Luciana Schuetze and Eduardo Lage for the idea of weaving them into the fence, and everyone else for putting them in place.
First signs that we’re defeating Dog-strangling vine
Facing a malevolent DSV monoculture as we do at Northline is daunting. But there are signs that we are winning against it in the tree enclosures – at last! Our stewardship event on July 31 marked the first time that we found only the odd DSV plant inside the enclosures when we arrived. Grasses and goldenrod were springing up in its place. Special thanks to Doug Wilson, Paul Reeves, Thomas Phillips,Conrad Barrington and Su Su Yin for your determined efforts to rid the site of this menacing invasive.
Contributing to our new plant inventory
Have you spotted anything other than DSV at Northline? Paula Davies pointed out some fox sedge (Carex vulpinoidea) recently, and I have duly added it to a plant inventory that I’ve started compiling for the site. As we continue with our stewardship activities, please let me know if you see any plants you think should be included in the list. Our goal will be to document all plants, including invasives, to create a comprehensive record and help monitor our progress.
Tackling phragmites at our next stewardship event on August 28 (9-11:00 a.m.)
A small patch of phragmites has taken up residence a short distance away from the trees we are nurturing. At our next volunteer event, we plan to take the first step towards eradicating it from Northline by cutting down the seed heads that are currently there. If you happen to have secateurs, it would be helpful if you could bring them along.
Thank you, once again, for your amazing dedication and hard work. See you on the 28th!
This report documents the rich biodiversity found within the habitat at West Woodbine Beach in Toronto, Ontario. The observations have been by citizen scientists, confirmed by local experts and through iNaturalist. It is hoped that this report will help the public and Toronto City Hall officials, be more aware of the rich biodiversity within the habitat as there is no current Environmental Assessment and no official plant inventory by Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA).
Background: I am a first-year lead steward that is working with Gary James, the other lead steward at the Betty Sutherland Site. Last year, I volunteered for several weeks at the Glen Stewart Site, where I learned much of my hands-on knowledge for stewardship from Cherie & Sylvie. Previously, I had very little knowledge of ecology or plants, and got started with the Toronto Nature Stewards when I was teaching students about invasive plants and discovered this program.
Stewarding has been a really rewarding experience. It’s been a great way to make an impact, learn more about plants and ecology in a hands-on way, and regain hope that we can all make a difference. It’s been so great to find so many people people that are also committed to getting involved.
The following are tips that I believe are helpful for successful stewarding (many of these are based off of slides from training that applied to my experience): Tips for Lead Stewards