This piece was written by Carolyn Zanchetta, for thespec.com Feb 2019
In the depth of winter, Hamilton is cold and grey, and getting outside feels like an insurmountable task. Winter might not evoke scenes of living nature or vibrant wildlife, but there is still so much alive and active when we look around and appreciate the subtle beauty.
Bright red cardinals flit from tree to tree, competing with blue jays and juncos for space at the feeder. Nuthatches and chickadees call back and forth from the forest. Without leaves obscuring tree branches, this is one of the best times to spot owls, with the particular delight of visiting snowy owls around Windermere Basin and the Beach. Hear coyotes yipping near the escarpment, see squirrels sprinting along power lines, watch fish swim under the ice in Cootes Paradise. Deer freeze, watching you cautiously from the trail. Lichen colourfully coats the trees along the street as the snow piles up. The large variety of evergreens provides ample habitat for the sparrows that fluff their feathers to stay warm; these majestic trees are a glimmer of hope for the coming spring. A plethora of diversity that we never see contributes even more than we could know to our ecosystems, and even our health.
Biodiversity is the variety of life, within a region, or throughout the types of habitat in the area, and also within the genetics of a species. A healthy ecosystem, a healthy city or a healthy species is diverse and resilient, able to adapt to change and overcome. Aside from the inherent value of nature, we humans rely on biodiversity for ecosystem services such as capturing carbon from the air, filtering stormwater as well as economic services like building materials and crop pollination, and health services including air filtration, medicinal resources, food production and recreation.
But this essential variety of life is at risk, in our city and throughout the world. Everywhere, species populations are declining. Habitat loss, pollution, climate change and invasive species all threaten the flora and fauna that live alongside us.
As the Hamilton Naturalists' Club celebrates a century of protecting nature, there is a renewed focus on conserving and enhancing our city's biodiversity. Once we all know the threats, we need to work together to improve the state of nature. Biodiversity needs to be a mainstream word. When we are preparing our gardens in the spring, let us keep biodiversity in mind. All of us, from the single potted flower on an apartment balcony to the city's vast parks and gardens, can do our part to help. Remember biodiversity as you plant native species and get a handle on the invasives that threaten.
Let's remember biodiversity during every construction project, incorporating it into urban design. Let's be aware of how we fragment habitat, and what we can do to connect the pieces. Now is the time to tell your ward councillor that, like many other cities across Canada, Hamilton needs to develop a Biodiversity Action Plan that guides our biodiversity conservation, planning and management activities today and for the well-being of future generations.
Carolyn Zanchetta is stewardship and education co-ordinator for The Hamilton Naturalists’ Club. Go to hamiltonnature.org for a full list of upcoming events, where you can also join or get involved.