Biodiversity in Rural Landscapes

Working in harmony with natural systems

Landscape stewardship, simply stated, means that Canadians - including landowners and other individual citizens, private companies and volunteers - are caring for our land, air and water, and sustaining the natural processes on which life depends. Across Canada's working landscapes, in agriculture, forestry, fisheries and wildlife management and other natural resource sectors, involvement with voluntary stewardship activities - ranging from sustainable forest management to conservation tillage - is one means through which Canadians are committing to improving the quality of life and fostering vibrant, healthy communities.

A wealth of resources for landowners on best environmental management practices on subjects such as agricultural crops, forestry, water management, pest management and soil conservation can be accessed through provincial governments' websites.

Canada's Stewardship Agenda: is a plan that proposes a national vision and operating principles for stewardship. The Agenda outlines four key goals and identifies a set of priority actions that recognize and empower stewards. This includes establishing a national network of stewards, improving coordination among stewardship programs and efforts, and supporting the capacity of individual stewards to carry out conservation activities.

Sustainable forest management: The Government of Canada, through the Canadian Forest Service, launched Canada's Model Forest Program to address the challenge of balancing the extensive range of demands that we place on our forests today, and the needs of tomorrow's generations. Found in nine provinces, model forests offer a variety of activities and sites accessible to visitors, and serve as demonstrations of partners representing a diversity of forest values, working together to achieve sustainable forest management. National parks such as Jasper in Alberta and Gros Morne in Newfoundland are among the partners of the Canadian Model Forest Network. Visit a model forest and learn how Canadians are developing innovative approaches that respect our forest heritage.

Streamkeepers: Development of the Streamkeepers Program began in 1993 as an initiative of Fisheries and Oceans Canada. The objectives of the program are to provide volunteers with the training and support required to protect and restore local aquatic habitat; to educate the public about the importance of watershed resources; and to encourage communication and cooperation in watershed management. The Streamkeepers Handbook and Modules, an easy to use resource for getting actively involved in your local stream, is the program flagship, and a comprehensive education and awareness program has developed around the manual. The handbook is available through the Pacific Streamkeepers Federation, a non-profit society initiated in 1995 to support community groups involved in Streamkeepers activities throughout B.C. and the Yukon.

Agricultural practices have an enormous impact on biodiversity. Modern industrial agriculture involves the replacement of the diversity of native vegetation with a small variety of plants on huge tracts of land around the globe. But alternative methods of working are increasingly taking hold in agricultural landscapes:

  • Help preserve rare breeds: Rare heritage breeds are important for their valuable genetic traits such as disease resistance, birthing ease, good milk production, superior mothering abilities and an ability to thrive on poor pastures. You can raise rare livestock breeds on your farm or support rare breed producers by purchasing their products.

  • Farm organically: Organic farming maximizes soil, plant, animal, and human health by working in harmony with natural systems and using sustainable agronomic practices. It involves building healthy, biologically active soil which will grow strong plants that can successfully compete with weeds, discourage pest infestations and resist disease without the use of petrochemicals. Soil is improved through such methods as incorporating compost and planting cover crops. Livestock is raised with adequate space for exercise and access to fresh air and sunshine, without using growth hormones or preventative low level antibiotics.

  • Farm ecologically: Often used as a transition to organic agriculture, ecological farming methods work with nature to create a sustainable food system. This involves growing a variety of crops in a rotation for crop diversity and keeping some wild areas and natural field borders to provide habitat for a diverse mix of natural pollinators and predatory insects and birds. By not using pesticides, some weeds and a variety of insects, amphibians, reptiles, small mammals and birds are better able to find uncontaminated habitats and food.

  • Crop rotation practices: Crop rotation involves changing the crops grown in a particular area each year in order to reduce weeds, insect infestations and disease by breaking their natural cycles. It keeps soil healthy, because crops such as alfalfa and other legumes replace some of the nitrogen that corn and other grain crops remove. Crop rotation also builds soil structure, improves water infiltration, and works well with less soil tillage, thereby reducing soil erosion.

  • Companion planting: Companion planting is a method of discouraging harmful insects by planting specific vegetables together to provide natural protection from their pests. For instance, potatoes can be inter-planted with collards to reduce flea beetle damage. French marigolds discourage insects that are attracted to tomatoes and potatoes. Garlic repels many harmful insects and can be planted with anything except onions, and onions can also be used in this way. There are also varieties that should not be planted together, such as cauliflower and broccoli, as they attract the same pests. Including herbs and flowers in your vegetable garden increases its diversity and attracts a wider range of insects; this can help control vegetable pests in addition to being visually attractive. Beneficial insects are attracted, for example, to fennel and dill.

  • Use integrated pest management: Integrated pest management is an ecosystem-based strategy that focuses on long-term prevention of pests and their damage through a combination of techniques such as biological control, habitat manipulation, modification of cultural practices and use of resistant varieties. Pesticides are used only after monitoring indicates they are needed and according to established guidelines, and treatments are made with the goal of removing only the target organism. Pest control materials are selected and applied in a manner that minimizes risks to human health, beneficial and non-target organisms and the environment.

  • Use conservation tillage techniques: Conservation tillage (reduced, zero or minimum till) has the potential for increased crop yields, reduced input costs, soil and water conservation, reduced labour requirements and better economic returns. It also reduces erosion and soil compaction, improves soil condition and conserves soil moisture. It is best if integrated pest management is used with this system in order to reduce the potential reliance on herbicides to control weeds.

  • Undertake an Environmental Farm Plan (EFP): Completing an EFP will provide a basis for determining the best way to preserve biodiversity on your farm. The EFP process helps farmers to highlight environmental strengths on their farm, identify areas of concern and set realistic goals and timetables to improve environmental conditions.

  • Donate ecologically-sensitive land: Environment Canada's Ecological Gifts Program enables individual and corporate landowners to protect ecologically-sensitive land by donating it to an environmental charity or government body. The land is managed by the recipient according to mutually agreed-upon conservation goals and objectives, and donors are eligible to receive income tax benefits for their donation. Another option may be to grant a conservation easement - a voluntary legal agreement between a landowner and a qualified conservation agency, under which the landowner continues to own and manage the land with benefits to both the owner and the environment.