By way of introduction for these who do not know who we are, Natural Heritage Conservation – Prince Edward County (NHC-PEC) is an environmental group formed about a year and a half ago with a mandate to promote the conservation of hedgerows and treelines in the County.
In August of this year, Council and the Planning Department responded to a petition from NHC-PEC by endorsing several amendments to the draft Official Plan confirming the importance of treelines and fencebottoms to the County’s natural and cultural heritage. In the course of these discussions, the legal protections provided to farmers by the Province, with respect to agricultural land and practices were acknowledged.
The new clauses highlight the importance of these natural features and provide some protection, however there is no bylaw governing fencebottoms and we, NHC-PEC, will not be seeking one. We prefer to talk with farmers and try to work with them to find solutions.
An environmental study, led by the Ministry of Natural Resources and comprising multiple stakeholders, including representatives from the agricultural community, was done in 2011 and produced a map showing, among other natural features, the fencebottoms that served as vital connectors between wooded areas. To be clear, the 2011 study used data from 2001 as that was all that was available to them at the time. Nevertheless, this map provides a good baseline for going forward.
It’s important to keep in mind the value of fencebottoms is not just an esthetic, historical one. They provide many other important ecological functions. But not all fencebottoms are created equal. Some are simply inconsequential vegetation that has grown up along old wire fences or in areas that farmers have not had the time or resources to deal with in the past.
Although the non-farmers in the community may value all of these features in the landscape, NHC believes their conservation will depend on engaging in a flexible dialogue and acknowledging that most farmers are already doing a very good job as stewards of their land.
It is also important to remember hedgerows are not being removed exclusively by the farming sector. Development, alternative land use projects and private, new home builders must also be bound by the same constraints that we as a community expect farmers to comply with.
Ultimately, NHC hopes to persuade the small segment of the agricultural community that has clear-cut vast swaths of land that this practice goes far beyond what is reasonable and places an untenable strain on the County’s fragile natural heritage systems. In past discussions, NHC has been gratified that more than one farmer has mentioned they would be willing to conserve those fencebottoms that truly are vital to the County’s natural heritage system if a fair and reliable means of identifying them could be found.
In this regard, NHC is now seeking to update the 2011 map to understand the extent of the implications of fencebottom removal over the past 18 years. When the new map is complete, the community as a whole will be able to assess the current state of the landscape and the challenges this community may be facing.
It’s the hope of NHC the updated map will serve as a valuable tool for determining the impact of past and future alterations to the landscape and will encourage the conservation of these vital features of the County’s remarkable natural heritage systems.