Long Point Basin Land Trust Is Restoring Oak Savannas

In Ontario, oak savannas occur in scattered locations, often as tiny remnants. Most savannas in Ontario have been converted to conifer plantations or other uses.

Long Point Basin Land Trust (LPBLT) was created 25 years ago with the goal to protect nature and biodiversity, which it does through land purchases and donations. To date, LPBLT has acquired ten properties, three of which historically supported dry oak savannas and are currently being restored or enhanced using ECCC funding through the Open Country Working Group.

One property is the 50-acre Stead Family Scientific Reserve, which was formerly 50% in marginal tobacco production and 50% Black Oak Woodland. Ken Stead purchased it to create an oak savanna insect reserve in memory of his father. In 1994, with the help of volunteers from the Norfolk Field Naturalists and funding from Carolinian Canada and TreePlan Canada, locally collected seeds, seedlings, and roots from the woodland edges were planted in the fields. Now, 27 years later, the planted area is a functional Black Oak Savanna with much of the expected native plants and animals returning, and even some surprises worth noting. Bait stations have revealed two new moth species for Canada, the Shivering Pinion (Lithophane querquera) and Roadside Sallow (Metaxaglaea viatica), and the rare Thaxter’s Sallow (Psaphida thaxterianus). These discoveries show that Kevin Costner’s quote in the movie Field of Dreams: “if you build it, they will come,” can also be applied to ecological restoration. Work continues on the property to remove the invasive exotic Autumn Olive and Eurasian cool-season grasses. In 2018, Ken Stead generously donated this wonderful place to LPBLT as a scientific reserve in honour of his family.

Local volunteers begin planting acorns in April 1995 at Stead Family Scientific Reserve. Photo: Mary Gartshore.

Another oak savanna reserve managed by the LPBLT, Spring Arbour farm, was partially cleared and replanted. Approximately half the property of Spring Arbour farm is open old fields with some regeneration of prairie grasses, Black Oak, American Hazel, Winged Sumac and Shagbark Hickory. Invasive exotic trees and shrubs are being removed and the non-native, cool-season grasses controlled. Once this is complete, new seed will enhance the site. Even now it is a great place to bird watch and there are nice views of the ravines and floodplain below along Venison Creek.

The third oak savanna newly acquired by the LPBLT is a 193-acre Trout Creek Nature Reserve northeast of Pinegrove. It has been used for commercial conifer plantations and forestry in the past. It is mostly overgrown Black – Hill’s Oak savanna. This property is adjacent to Norfolk County forests and together they are large enough to protect many significant species. In recent years, we have noted singing Whip-poor-wills and Hoary Bats, Ontario’s largest bat. In the openings, understory and edges are remnant populations of oak savanna plants ready to reclaim their place. Trout Creek Nature Reserve has a lot of regenerating Red Maple and White Pine that compete seriously with oak savanna habitats. These stands will be thinned so oaks, New Jersey Tea, Rock Rose, Arrow-leaved Violet and many other oak savanna species can flourish.

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