please click here for an area map.

The Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) is a national land trust with 25,000 members. They have targeted the Carden Plain for protection due to its globally rare alvar communities. Starting with 200 acres donated by the MacDonald bothers twenty years ago, they have purchased the Cameron Ranch (2850 acres), then the adjacent Windmill Ranch (1500 acres), the Prairie Smoke Reserve (675 acres), the Little Blue Stem Alvar Reserve (710 acres), in 2008 McGee Creek Reserve ( 500 acres) was donated, then they purchased North Bear Alvar (800 acres) and in 2014 they purchased the Holt Reserve (200+ acres) named after Margo Holt who bequithed the money in her will.The Couchiching Conservancy working in partnership bought Wolf Run Alvar (200 acres), Blue Bird Ranch (200 acres).and Starr property abutting Queen Elizabeth II Park (100 acres) All together summing to over 7800 acres. In addition the Couchchiching Conservancy hold Conservation Easements on three properties totaling 600 acres. The expectation for 2015 is to add acquisitions and easements totaling another 600 acres. In 2005 Ric Symmes the regional director presented NCC’s grand ten-year plan for the Carden Plain. As shown on the map, NCC has defined a “project area” of 25,000 acres that includes all the quality alvar and borders Queen Elizabeth II Park (3,000 Sq. Km.) on the Canadian Shield. Their announced goal is, by 2015,to directly protect 12,000 acres, either alone or with partners such as Ontario Parks and Couchiching Conservancy, and indirectly protect the balance by deflecting aggregate development elsewhere. As of 2014 they will be two-thirds of the way there.

Much of this success is due to a Environment Canada grant to the Nature Conservancy of $225 million of matching funds over five years called the Natural Areas Conservation Program with the goal of acquiring and protecting 500,000 acres across Canada. Fortunately Carden is one of those target areas. Unfortunately this program has now expired and is not likely to be renewed.


In 2007 the Nature Conservancy of Canada, the Couchiching Conservancy, the Carden Plain IBA and Wildlife Preservation Canada began an initiative to expand the 25,000 acre alvar focused project to include the IBA boundaries into an area of 50.000 acres focused on species at risk as well as alvar. The goal is to develop a program that protects species and alvar within the target area while at the same time creating benefits to local landowners. The initiative is named the Integrated Carden Conservation Strategy (ICCS). Initial public meetings revealed that landowners fear that the designation of their property as environmentally significant will reduce its economic value. They fear if a Loggerhead Shrike is spotted on their land they will lose control. With Bobolinks and Medow Larks added to the endangered species list, landowner concerns have intensified. Bird watchers present another landowner irritant sometimes slowing or blocking traffic and occasionally trespassing. Landowners question why bird watchers can’t be directed onto conservation lands and away from private property.

Taking advantage of several new sources of funding (Species at Risk and Lake Simcoe Restoration) to address some of these issues. A “Birder’s Code of Conduct” was published in 2008 addressing many birder behavioural concerns. In addition some parking pull-off areas were built on Wylie Road and Prospect Road to facilitate traffic flow. A viewing blind was constructed at Box #10 on Wylie Road to focus attention toward conservation lands. A parking area and a 3.5 km nature trail was built on the Cameron Ranch to provide access while keeping birders and cattle separated.

A grazing seminar was sponsored and well attended. It offered suggestions to improve grazing productivity. Prompted by the seminar, a number of landowners have become partners in property improvement programs such as fencing, water supply and hawthorn thinning partly paid for by government programs accessed by the Couchiching Conservancy. In an enterprising initiative, landowners that host breeding shrike were offered $15.00 rent for each acre they owned within a 600 metre radius of the nest. Of the thirteen landowners qualified in 2014 five took advantage of the offer resulting in one pay-out of $1000 The plan is to repeat the program in future years in the hope more landowners will participate .


he last weekend of May each year is set aside for the Carden Challenge. This is a fund raising event in which teams of four birders each compete for the most species spotted over 24 hours and the most money raised. Each team promotes pledges from sponsors in the form of outright gifts or $ per species. The species winner in 2014 listed 148 species and the pledge winner over $1500. Overall $22000 was raised half of which is directed toward the sponsorship program to protect Loggerhead Shrike habitat mentioned above.


The City of Kawartha Lakes Council protested to the Ministry of the Environment that the current and potential cluster of quarries in the area could threaten the source water supply to municipal wells and that before any more licenses were approved a “Cumulative Ground Water Impact Analysis” (CIA) was required. The Minister wrote back agreeing and pledging to conduct the CIA and make the results available. The CIA has begun by the Ontario Stone, Sand and Gravel Operators Association (OSSGA) under the supervision of MOE. The CIA was completed in May 2012 with the finding that, under reasonable operating assumptions, there was no threat to ground water supply In the meantime external events changed the conditions.


In September of 2005, the Carden Plain IBA together with Couchiching Conservancy, the Carden Field Naturalists and the Victoria Land and Water Stewardship Council, hosted the Carden Plain Natural Heritage Conference chaired by Ron Reid. Among the ninety attendees were naturalist, local landowners and quarry representatives. A wide range of expert speakers expressed why the Carden Plain was special to them. The objective was to kick off a dialogue between the quarry industry, conservation interests and local landowners based on mutual respect and factual inputs. At the end of the conference the audience was asked to recommend future action. The overwhelming consensus was to form a multi stakeholder task force to seek a more harmonious future.

In October of 2005 the first task force meeting occurred with representatives of two major quarries, Lafarge and Dufferin (Tomlinson joined latter), plus the Ontario Stone, Sand and Gravel Association (OSSGA), the Couchiching Conservancy, Carden Plain IBA, Nature Conservancy of Canada plus one cattle rancher (later two local landowners were added). On March 25, 2006 The Task force hosted Workshop #1 “A Dialogue on the Future of the Carden Plain”. Attendance was by invitation only in order to ensure a broad representation of views. Approximately 65 people attended. The purpose was to identify the key issues of concern to local landowners. Five key issues emerged; security of water supply, quarry operations especially blasting, the Official Planning process and zoning, land valuation resulting from zoning, quarry truck haul routes.

On July 9, 2006, the Taskforce hosted Workshop #2 “Quality and Quantity of Ground Water”. This time invitations were open to anyone interested. Approximately 50 attended. Expert speakers presented material on; Hydro geology on the Carden Plain, the Role of the Conservation Authority and the Role of Ministry of the Environment. An extensive panel discussion followed guided by questions from the floor.

On November 1, 2006, the Taskforce hosted a bus tour of three local quarries, Lafarge, Dufferin and Miller, to demonstrate the operations process including a blast. Invitations were open to all and about 50 attended. In each case the site manager led the tour and questions were encouraged.


Having fulfilled its education mission, the Taskforce transformed itself into an information sharing process called the Carden Forum. The Forum is open to anyone interested but a potential list of about 50 stakeholders are invited to two meetings a year. The propose of the meetings to provide up-to-date information about plans and concerns of the many stakeholders. Attendees include representatives from quarries, conservancys, landowners, Ontaruio Parks, MNR and CKL. One of the major reasons for tensions in the past was the spread of misinformation. The Forum seems to have gratly reduced this problem.


In March 2007, another Workshop was held directed at Official Plan process. The intent was to provide attendees with a factual understanding of what Official Plans are intended to accomplish and how they are created. The timing anticipated that the City of Kawartha Lakes would publish their revised new Official Plan in the spring of 2007. In fact the Official Plan was finally published and approved in 2012. In 2014 the City tabled a draft Secondary Plan for quarries. It provides protection from extraction for all the significant alvar habitat and protection from competing development for all other locations with significant aggregate resource. The Secondary Plan also designated haul routes for quarry truck accessing the GTA. Primary routes included county roads 48 and 8 while secondary routes included county roads 45 and 6.


The environmental theme is being challenged politically by a significant group of landowners, both local and away, who call themselves alternatively the Rural Revolution or the Ontario Landowners Association (OLA) They reject any government planned use of their private land (i.e. zoning) especially if it interferes with what they can do on it and who they can sell it to. They have posted signs throughout the City reading “THIS IS OUR LAND, GOVERNMENT BACK OFF!”. Seven local landowners, on the Carden Plain, went further in the summer of 2006 and posted signs prohibiting birders from looking for birds in their fields from the road. One local landowner even began stopping birders, walking on public roads, telling them to stop bird watching. He ceased this activity after being confronted by the police.

In the spring and early summer of 2007 tensions between OLA and birders appeared to have abated. Most of the anti-birder signs were not reposted and no confrontations with birders were reported. This calm was deceiving. In September the OLA hosted a rally on a member’s property on the east side of Wylie Road opposite box #10. They announced that they intended to clear all the hawthorn trees from 13,000 acres to prevent Loggerhead Shrikes from nesting. About 70 people attended the rally most of whom came from outside of Carden. There were numerous speeches and loud cheers before the rally broke for lunch. In all, about 100 hawthorn trees were cut down in a 100-acre site. While the threats proved empty, the rally did attract a good deal of local publicity and sparked the initiative to create an Integrated Carden Conservation Strategy and the Carden Forum mentioned above.


From Herb Furniss, IBA Steering Committee.

2014 was a especially cool summer however 82 bluebirds fledged about average .To date we have fledged over 3000 Eastern Bluebirds. As always we look forward to the next year.

LOGGERHEAD SHRIKE RESULTS For 2011 Prepared by Hazel Weeler, Species Recovery Biologist, Wildlife Preservation Canada

Wild Pairs

16 pairs, 9 in Carden, 6 in Napanee, I in Smith Falls
35 fledged

Captive pairs

26 pars in Ontario
21 fledged young
91 fledges released, 11 retained for breeding

The wild population is in continuous decline since about 40 pairs in 1991 and is now far outnumbered by the captive population. Environment Canada has cut off funding. Wildlife Preservation Canada has branched out to other species that are funded. The long term prospects for the Loggerhead Shrike appear discouraging.


This fold out map and guide was first produced in 2005 and proved to be very popular It was repeated with updated versions in 2007 and 2012. Copies are still available from the Couchiching Conservancy office (705)326-1620 or picked-up at the City Service Center in Kirkfield


June 2007 saw the launch of the inaugural Carden Nature Festival as a celebration of the natural wonders of the Carden Plain, a smörgåsbord of biodiversity in southern Ontario, close to the GTA, and formed by a distinctive geological history. In 2010, the fourth year, 325 people attended, compared to 280 in 2009, 280 in 2008, and 200 in 2007. Attendees came from from all across the province with about half from the GTA and another third from Simcoe County. Market research has revealed the Festival contributed $60,000 to the local economy 2009 Comments from participants were extremely positive. Beginning in 2011 attendance began to decline possibly due to a lack of novelty in the events, In 2014 the Festival was reduced from 2 ½ days to 1 ½ days to save money and reduce the organizing effort. Attendance was only 120.

to browse and register
(or call 705-326-1620 for a free brochure)



Bird Watching:

Grassland Birding

  Birding for Beginners
  Calling in Birds
  Birding by Ear
  Sparrows by Voice
  Lawn Chair Birding
  Birds of Prey

Alvar Plants
  Alvar Flowers

New Sites to Explore
  Cameron Ranch
  Windmill Ranch
  Little Blue Stem
  Prospect Marsh
  McGee Creek
  Wolf Run
  North Bear Alvar
  Blue Bird Ranch
  Reflections and Gratitude
  Spirituality of a Tree
  Watercolour Painting
Learning (continued)
  Aquatic Wildlife
  Nature Photography
  Loggerhead Shrike Captive Breeding
  lue Bird Box Care
  First Nations in Carden
  Pond Study


  15 vendor booths inside

  Dragonflies and Butterflies in the Field
  Butterflies and Dragonflies for Beginners
  Moths by UV Light
  Bike Tours
  Wilderness Hikes
  Boat Tours
  Cameron Ranch Tours
  Wilderness Hikes
  Cameron Ranch Tours
  Paddle Lakes and Wetlands
  Voices of the Night
  Fossil Hunt
  Carden Land Forms
  Kids Nature Safari

Photo Contest

Less than 2 hours from Toronto and 30 minutes from Orillia

1/10th the cost of an exotic eco-vacation weekend

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