Here are some words from our stewards on why they volunteer with TNS.
The Globe and Mail
Toronto Nature Stewards volunteer to protect ravines (link to Globe and Mail) pdf copy of article
Joel Rodriguez, September 10, 2022
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.
Ellen Schwartzel, August 21, 2022
Click link to read full article
M.L. Bream, September 8, 2022
Click link to read full article
Josie Kao, March 7, 2022
Click link to read full article
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.
- Site Stories – Ashbridge’s Bay Park
- Site Stories – Betty Sutherland Trail
- Site Stories – Cherry Beach
- Site Stories – Glen Stewart Park
- Site Stories – Highland Creek Park
- Site Stories – Middle Mill
- Site Stories – Northline
- Site Stories – Sunnypoint-Neilson Park
Photo essay: From Landfill to Nature Renascence by the Northline Nature Stewards
My Experience as a First-Year Lead Steward by Laura Muntean, Betty Sutherland Park
West Woodbine Beach, Dune and Meadow Habitat, Biodiversity and Damage Report, Summer 2022 by Clyde Robinson, Ashbridges Bay and Noam Markus
Articles and Recordings
Discover Toronto’s Ravines with Ellen Schwartzel
Recording of presentation on Oct 14, 2022
At approx. 44 minutes, the talk describes the good work of TNS and also the City’s CSP.
TNS has over 30 sites in 2023 and around 100 trained Lead Stewards (in 2023) but there is much more to do. There are 6,600 hectares of public ravine land and we are stewarding approximately 74 hectares on 23 sites (2022). 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.
Anna Hoad, Lead Steward
This spring we thought our site at Cherry Beach was doomed. The empire (of invasive plants) strikes back!
We took off half the old phragmites stalks in one area, but the rhizomes were so thick they had killed off all the undergrowth and were in the process of choking out the bushes and trees. Seeing the completely bare earth was sobering… garlic mustard, wood avens… Dog strangling vine was springing up and I thought, that’s it. We’re doomed! This site’s just too disturbed. It’s invasives ALL the way down.
Then I remembered Paula Davies telling us that the natives were hiding there; waiting to be released. So, we went on a hunt in areas we’d just cleared. And there they were … baby raspberries, currants, cottonwood trees, sumacs, and clumps of bergamot. They’re thrilled to have light and nutrients to themselves and are thriving. There were also non-natives, like comfrey and valerian, hopefully fitting into the ecosystem and feeding someone. There was even a little orchid (eaten too soon to be identified. As well as clearing the weeds around it, I should have been building a branch fence!)
Now every day we’re out stewarding, we point out to each other the plants we’ve discovered and released. It keeps us going.
Posts from the Cherry Beach Stewards
Projects with Plants
One day when we were stewarding, I admired Louise’s shirt, and she said she made it. Louise dyed this lovely pattern using leaves and flowers. The dramatic dark one is sumac, and the smaller yellow ones are the flowers and stems of Coreopsis tinctoria from her garden. She lays the leaves and flowers on the shirt, wraps it tightly around a dowel, ties it tightly with string, and then lets it steam over water for an hour. Some fabrics accept dye readily and others need help. I’m so impressed. And, I want to make one! Maybe next summer we’ll persuade her to show us how.
Specialized Police Units at Cherry Beach
Specialized Police Units
by Anna Hoad, November 10
I saw the Canine, Marine and Bomb Units recently. The Canine Unit was training their dogs. There are between 32-35 dogs, though only a few come out to train each time. They’ll take any kind of dog, but many are German Shepherds from eastern Europe, who are bred for police work. Chasing and biting come naturally to dogs, so of course the training was focused on them stopping both on command.
I was attending a water sports safety session at Cherry Beach put on by the Toronto Windsurfing Club. Stacy Kellough, Detective Constable in the Marine Unit, said here’s about 35 people in the unit but only 2-3 boats out on any shift. She congratulated the clubs on ensuring members know how to enjoy water safely. She said the people they rescue tend not to belong to clubs. Aside from the safety gear specific to your sport, she recommends bringing a cell phone in a dry bag. If you call 911 to report people in trouble, your call converts to latitude and longitude within 10 miles of shore. They’ve rescued people that have blown miles offshore that way.
I saw the Bomb Squad cruising by. Love the anarchist drawing on the van. Happy they didn’t need to stop!
by Clyde Robinson, Lead Steward Oct 28, 2022
Thank you once again for another super successful stewarding effort at Ashbridge’s Bay Park.
As you remember how glum we all felt (tee hee hee), when confronted with the Phragmite patch (please see the first picture below). Then our jubilation and thank you to all for it’s removal.
Unfortunately I did not have a “before” picture but here is the “after” picture from our event, I believe in 2019.
You can see how much bigger the Ash tree (more to the right of the picture and yellowing in our up to date picture) has grown. If you look closely you can see Bob, Paula Davies the Lead Steward from the Todmorden Wildflower Preserve http://www.hopscotch.ca/tmwp/ and myself.
When you walk by here from now on, on your leisurely tour of the park you can remember and say to yourself I removed that Phrag. It will come back, not as strong, but over time we will prevail!!
2022 Wrap Up: Burdock, birds and special observations in Ashbridge’s Bay Park
Glen Stewart Park – A Year in Review
By Sylvie Dion, Lead Steward
We completed our last work session of the season on Oct 27. The weather was really beautiful for a fall day. The leaves in the trees were a mix of golden colour, dark orange and bright red. The sun came out shining brightly as the temperature went up. Lovely!
We have attached some photos from our last work session. You can see our volunteers working with the pullerbear which is a specialized tool to pull out small trees. The pullerbear was lent out to us from the stewardship at Cherry Beach. We are grateful for this help, since using that tool really made a difference. We were able to pull out a large number of invasive saplings, so many that we lost count of them.
In total during the season,
- We had 37 field work sessions.
- We collected about 2.5 garbage bags full of litter.
- We disposed of 60 garbage bags of invasive plant matter.
- Our team of stewards collectively worked 230 hours of field work.
- The number of registered stewards is 28.
- The average number of stewards who came to our work sessions is 3.6 per work session.
- We have removed all mature garlic mustard, DSV, mature burdock, Norway maple saplings and buckthorn saplings from both Glen Stewart Park and the Balsam Entrance.
- We have removed some non-native wood avens from Glen Stewart Park and a few lily-of-the valley from Balsam Entrance.
- We had no reportable safety incidents
Photo essay: From Landfill to Nature Renascence
by the Northline Nature Stewards (October 14, 2022)
The thrill of spotting wildlife takes on new meaning when you find it at a site that you’re stewarding. Two regular Northline stewards, Paul Reeves and Conrad Barrington, are also talented nature photographers who have been capturing the magic at “our” site. Their images offer a tantalising glimpse into some of the flora and fauna at Northline this fall, and underscore the site’s gradual transformation from former landfill to wildlife haven.
This juvenile Cedar Waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum) was one of a flock that was attracted to the berries of a large Common Buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica) tree at the site on October 3. Any berries ingested will, unfortunately, help spread the invasive buckthorn far and wide via bird droppings. A wasp augmented the berry feast. Photo: Paul Reeves
Lynne Barrington, Lead Steward (August 11, 2022)
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!
Update October 3, 2022 – Disc Golf Course Removed
On Monday Oct. 3, 2022 the Waterfront Park Manager declared the removal of the Disc Golf Course to be permanent! He also stated that any other courses to be installed in Toronto will now go through the process of due diligence and public consultation.
The rare shoreline habitat that is a migratory stepping stone, stopover and nesting area of birds and insects can once again be enjoyed by nature lovers. Unfortunately the disc golf course will have to be relocated, but we always said you cannot move a natural habitat, but you can move a recreational activity.
The pressing question asked of TRCA, PFR and the Councillor’s Office in July 2022 which we have not received an answer for yet, is whether the Phragmites will be treated or addressed as in Oct. 2019.
West Woodbine Beach, Dune and Meadow Habitat, Biodiversity and Damage Report, Summer 2022
Report prepared by: Noam Markus and Clyde Robinson
We are pleased to present to the City of Toronto and TRCA a biodiversity report from the West Woodbine Beach Habitat in Toronto.
To date, 596 species of flora and fauna have been documented in INaturalist on the beach habitat.
In the report you will see:
* 25 plant species rated L2 – L3 – L4, species of regional and urban conservation concern by TRCA.
* A list of nesting birds, pollinators and mammals.
Also in the report is evidence of damage to the habitat and examples of long term damage from the use of disc-golf both at Ashbridge’s Bay Park and other parks in Toronto.
Please see the report here: West Woodbine Beach, Dune and Meadow Habitat, Biodiversity and Damage report Summer 2022.
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).
Help us Restore Toronto’s Ravines and Natural Areas
As a Lead Steward, you will be able to lead your own site or co-Lead with another Lead Steward. Preference will be given to those who are current TNS stewards, or have relevant stewardship experience. To Request to be a Lead Steward please use this form.
- Passionate about nature
- A community builder
- A problem solver
- Form a team
- Plan events
- 10 hours of free online training (Winter 2023)
- Hands-on stewardship
(approx 3 hours/week)
What you do in the Field:
- Remove invasive plants
- Nurture native plants
- Build micro habitats
My Experience as a First Year Lead Steward by Laura Muntean (Betty Sutherland Trail Park)
Join the Team!
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.
August 30, 2022
Happy Monday to our Sunnypoint Stewards!
** 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
Salima Pirani, Lead Steward
The Highland Creek Stewards have their own website with additional photos and information
August 31, 2022
*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? A sign-up form will be available in the fall.
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.
July 27, 2022
Sun is shinin’… weather is sweet
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!
July 20, 2022
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!).
July 13, 2022
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.