Bogs play a vital ecosystem role. Acting like a sink, they absorb rainwater, store it underground and then slowly release it into nearby streams. Bogs are also key to flood management and prevention since they absorb runoff and help to prevent soil erosion, hence the need to preserve and restore these important greenspaces.
World Bog Day is celebrated every year, on the fourth Sunday in July. This year, the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (NPCA) joined the celebrations with a week-long social media campaign to shine a spotlight on the importance of bogs and the unique ecological gem that it proudly takes care of – the Wainfleet Bog.
The Wainfleet Bog Conservation Area is located in the Township of Wainfleet and City of Port Colborne and is part of the only bog wetland in the Niagara Peninsula. It is provincially, regionally and locally significant and is the largest remaining bog within Southern Ontario, providing habitat to a variety of unique plants and animals. Its existing peat layer and past site uses also contribute to the historical record of the area. The underlying peat material has live sphagnum moss and other bog plants growing on top, like Labrador tea, cotton grass and leatherleaf, making it different from other wetland areas. These environmental, social and economic aspects attest to the unique natural and heritage value of the Wainfleet Bog.
Relatively young in geologic terms, this domed bog was formed between 12,000 and 5,000 years ago as the glaciers from the last Ice Age melted and retreated. Water ponded in the low, flat land behind the adjacent Onondaga Escarpment, which prevented surface water from draining south to Lake Erie. Over time, this open water area filled in as plants died and provided habitat for flora and fauna able to withstand the acidic and low nutrient soil conditions.
As a result of more than 200 years of expanding agriculture, peat extraction and transportation activities within and around the bog, it decreased in size and function. The remnant bog is presently 1,460 hectares (3,607 acres).
Since 1996, NPCA has dedicated immense efforts to restoring the Wainfleet Bog and slow the factors degrading this unique ecosystem. The west half of the property has received rehabilitation activity, while the east half is maintained as status quo for existing species to adapt to changes.
Recovery and rehabilitation
The following recover and rehabilitation activities were completed for the Wainfleet Bog:
- Several internal peat canals were blocked and bare peat fields were treated with shallow surface indentations to maintain water levels at the site.
- Surface indentations were planted with native plant material to provide food and expand habitat and cover for plants and animals at the bog. Plantings included seeds, hard stem cuttings and plugs of leatherleaf, Labrador tea, sheep laurel and blueberry. Weed-free straw mulch was used to maintain moisture and minimize frost upheaval.
- Half of the non-native European Birch trees on site were cut to help maintain water levels, minimize soil temperatures, and provide surface cover for small mammals, reptiles and amphibians.
- A monitoring program was established to evaluate rehabilitation activities, including ground water levels, vegetation changes and sensitive animal populations.
The involvement and assistance of many partners and stakeholders has made this rehabilitation project a reality and includes local community members, nature and conservation clubs, schools, partner municipalities and government agencies through funding, on-site labour, and assistance with surveys, inventories and monitoring.
The rehabilitation and recover activities were were completed by NPCA Staff. Others that helped with providing funding or volunteering for the recovery work included: Township of Wainfleet; Port Colborne and Welland Fire Departments; Niagara Helicopters; R.E. Law; Toronto Zoo; Wetland Habitat Fund; World Wildlife Fund; Ontario Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake Recovery Team; Brock University; Environment Canada; Habitat Stewardship Program, Parks Canada; Ontario Community Fish and Wildlife Improvement Program; Ontario Works; and more.
The NPCA is committed to preserving and restoring the Wainfleet Bog, which functions as the heart and lungs of the Niagara Peninsula watershed. Further to the Steering Committee goals, the NPCA established the Wainfleet Bog Advisory Committee in 2022 to enhance collaboration and expertise in the rehabilitation of the site.
For those looking to explore a natural and historical landmark, the bog is worth a visit. When guests are not looking at the unique wildlife growing around them, they can see the historical machines and railroad tracks used for peat extraction. The site is also explored by environmental scientists, as they can see strips of preserved peat soil and learn first-hand from NPCA staff about the Wainfleet Bog’s ability to absorb large amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, in addition to a lengthy list of unique environmental benefits.
What’s in store for visitors to the Wainfleet Bog? Trails and boardwalks await to wind hikers through this wet, wild and wonderful place. There is also plenty to see and experience as bog plants, butterflies, migrating songbirds and animals make their homes in the restored habitat of the area.
For further information, or to arrange a visit, click here.
This piece was authored by Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority staff, a collaborative effort of the communications staff, with input from various departments such as ecology and land care.