3 years ago, Crieff Hills initiated an environmental project to restore the property to a more pollinator and bird friendly nature. Even though applied for grants were never forthcoming, the environmental project moved forward. Finally this year, a grant has come through from the TD Friends of the Environment Fund. The scope of the grant was to offer financial assistance for purchasing native stock, especially for the endangered and Carolinian choices.
The scope of the project is 2 fold. First, to gently change the existing nature of the front field. Presently, this area is an open field/savannah ecosystem dominated by red cedar and the invasive species of Tartarian Honeysuckle and European Buckthorn. It is a very successful nesting area for tree swallows and eastern bluebirds.
The first rehabilitation steps were already initiated last fall when some of the invasive Buckthorn and honeysuckle were removed and sprayed so they would not regrow. Northern Catalpa and Kentucky Coffee trees were then planted spaciously.
This summer, Girl Guides volunteered to plant stock in the front field. They planted Ohio Buckeye along the path encircling the amphitheater. This tree is a native Carolinian tree that produces abundant blooms and is very pollinator friendly. Along the old, wire farm fence, they planted native pipe vine. This is the larval plant for the endangered Pipe vine swallowtail butterfly. Lastly, the Guides planted Mulberry which is extremely bird friendly – especially for our beloved bluebirds. The Mulberry is almost gone from the Ontario landscape due to hybridization and planting of exotic stocks.
Also, 2 summer students have been steadily digging and planting this summer as a continuation of this environmental project. Kentucky coffee ring the other side of the trail encircling the amphitheater. These trees are unique, rare Carolinian trees where the females are heavy bloomers. The added bonus is that the Ohio Buckeye and Kentucky Coffee trees bloom at different times, therefore, extending the feeding season for all pollinators.
We have maintained a light planting density so as not to change the overall open nature of the field. If the planting density is too thick our nesting birds will relocate. Needless to say, the biodiversity of the area is gradually increasing from the monoculture of red cedar and invasives.
The placement of trees is also of importance. Fruit bearing vs nut or pod producing trees will be relegated to different areas. Trees not bearing fleshy fruit, will be grouped into the endangered pollinator area. In this way, we will not encourage hungry birds to eat our endangered caterpillars. Fruit bearing trees and shrubs can inhabit the remainder of the field and act as a food source for song birds and animals. Some species of trees have a strong appeal to song birds. For example, cardinals adore the cherry species while the bluebirds love the mulberry. Adding these types of strong appeal trees should increase the potential of more and different nesting song birds to the front field.
The second fold of this environmental project is to create and/or enhance edge habitat. Most of this areas songbirds prefer edge habitat encircling agricultural fields, pastures and fallow fields. Unfortunately, most of our existing edge habitat is of poor quality. They sites have been so tidied up that all the bushes have been removed and just a couple of lonely trees are left alongside a field or road. We will maximize nesting appeal to songbirds by having a backbone of tall trees descending down to shrubs adorning the fence rows. We will also have the added benefit of a natural windbreak when cold, winter winds howl.