Getting Muddy: Wetland Restoration Work in Action

Around 97% of wetlands in Windsor-Essex have already been lost.

A restoration site in Leamington, Ontario brought us a bit of mud, a ton of lessons, and a unique hands-on opportunity to appreciate just how important wetlands are for watershed health.

In early October, community volunteers, including our local Lake Erie Guardians, Niagara Coastal Community Collaborative, the Gordon Foundation, and Water Rangers, joined forces at Essex Region Conservation Authority’s (ERCA) wetland restoration site to plant native, wetland loving plants.

Clockwise from top left: A volunteer planting at the wetland site; Blue Flag Iris plugs among other native plant species; Gina Pannunzio, Partnerships & Outreach Coordinator for ERCA explaining the selection of plants chosen for the site’s conditions / Photos: Micky Chow.

The restoration site, the Solcz Family Foundation Forest, is a 32-acre plot located close to Lake Erie’s shore and adjacent to Hillman Marsh Conservation Area. The land was used as farmland up until 2016, and as you can tell from the photo below, it’s undergone a lot of changes since then. Habitat restoration and the reintroduction of native plants to the landscape are of key importance to the project. Some of the native, riparian plants chosen for the day’s planting included: swamp rosemallow, blue flag iris, obedient plant, bonset, multiple milkweed varieties, and golden alexander.

ERCA’s Solcz Family Foundation Forest restoration site. / Photo: Kelly Laforet.

After the planting was completed, we enjoyed a tour of the wetland area to learn more about the site’s history from ERCA, spot deer tracks, identify the variety of birds flying by, and check for any invasive phragmites cropping up. Of course, with our Lake Erie Guardians present, we couldn’t resist the opportunity to grab a water sample, too! Gabi explained the parameters covered in our Guardians’ test kits, including conductivity and pH, which provide an overview of current water quality conditions. With the help of a few excellent volunteer samplers, our first results for the site were collected. Keep an eye on the Water Rangers website for the data to be uploaded soon!

Clockwise from Top Left: Gabrielle Parent-Doliner, Director of Water Rangers assessing water sample results with some team support; Volunteer Nate collecting a sample; the Lake Erie Guardians’ citizen science kit in action / Photos: Loretta Sbrocca.

Why Wetlands?

About 97% of wetlands in the Windsor-Essex region have already been lost due to development. That fact is staggering by itself, and it’s even more troubling when you consider just how many benefits wetlands bring to our ecosystem. They support an incredible amount of biodiversity through all seasons, and since they can collect and slowly release water, wetlands help protect against flooding. Importantly, wetlands also help filter out pollutants before they enter into larger bodies of water. This restoration site is in the Lebo Creek watershed which directs to Lake Erie, so this restoration work helps protect our water quality in the Lake Erie watershed.

Clockwise from Top Left: A volunteer from Leamington Secondary School’s EcoTeam preparing to plant; some of the existing plant life at the restoration site; A volunteer prepared for the muddy conditions; Some of our wonderful volunteer team! / Photos: Micky Chow (1&4) & Loretta Sbrocca (2&3).

We are so grateful for all of the wonderful volunteers who joined us to plant native species and learn more about the amazing importance of wetlands. We can’t wait until the next event!

Wetlands like this one act as sinks, retaining phosphorus and other nutrients and preventing them from leaching into Lake Erie, where excess phosphorus is the main cause of the increasingly common blue-green algal blooms. 

We're calling on the Ontario government to provide an updated timeline on when they will act on tackling the phosphorus loads in the Lake Erie watershed. Please take one minute to add your voice today.