Branchton Village Land Trust

Branchton Village Land Trust owns and maintains a rich upland deciduous forest in North Dumfries Township, in the Region of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada

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Application to the Ontario Heritage Foundation for a grant, January 1995

Posted by Paul Eagles on January 7, 1995 at 1:00 PM

A. Background to Application

 

The village of Branchton is in the Township of North Dumfries in the Regional Municipality of Waterloo. The village is located in the southern portion of the county, very close the northern boundary of Brant County (Figure 1). West of the village is the large Branchton Swamp Forest, an area of upland and lowland forest extending from the village westward to the Grand River, a distance of 5 kilometres (Figure 2). This large, natural area is highly valued by the majority of people who live in Branchton.

 

In 1994 the Township of North Dumfries approved an 18-lot subdivision (Figure 3 and 4) proposed by Mr. Hans Hessler of Branchton Meadows Ltd. The 9.149 hectare developable area is immediately south of the village and south of an upland portion of the Branchton Swamp Forest. The area for development is shown by a black dot, and labelled Subject Lands, on Figure 2. Existing housing is now found to the east and to the north of the portion of the Branchton Swamp Forest that is the subject of this proposal. During the approval process, the developer offered to give a 3.64 hectare portion of forest, an upland woods, to the Township to fulfill the parkland dedication of the Planning Act. His donation was considerably larger than required by Section 41(1) of the Planning Act, which requires a 5% dedication (5% of 9.149 hectares is .457 hectare). As is their right under Section 41(6), the Township opted to take money instead of taking the land.

 

Many members of the village were concerned about the action by the Township to take money instead of land. However, a political resolution of the problem could not be obtained. The villagers therefore decided that best option would be to create a land trust and to buy the land. They approached Mr. Hessler who agreed to sell the Trust the same lands he had offered to the Township. This resulted in the formation of the Branchton Village Land Trust (Appendix 1). The Branchton Village Land Trust By Laws are attached to this application (Appendix 2). A formal offer to purchase the land was presented to the present owner. A copy of this Option to Purchase is attached to this application (Appendix 3).The Trust does not currently hold any land or have any options on other land.

 

B. Overview of the Property

 

The Branchton Swamp Forest is a large, forested complex. It contains upland Carolinian forest, pine plantation and wetland. It is the headwaters of a small creek that flows westward from the swamp to the Grand River. This area was first recognized to be significant by Fred H. Montgomery, who collected Sassafras (Sassafras albidum) in an area he called a woods “near Branchton” on July 12, 1942. Interestingly, the exact location of these Sassafras trees were not known by naturalists in the area until August 1985, when a stand of about 40 trees were found along the sunny southern edge of the Branchton Forest by Paul Eagles. The 1942 finding was the second record for this species in Waterloo County, after Thomas Herriott’s previous finding in the Grand River Valley south of Galt on May 20, 1893. Subsequent to1942 two more stations were found in the Region of Waterloo, and all four stations are all still extant.

 

Appendix 4 contains background information on Sassafras from Fox and Soper’s famous 1952 paper on Carolinian trees and shrubs. Appendix 5 contains a photocopy of page 62 of Montgomery’s Master’s thesis, presenting the current information on Sassafras in Waterloo County in 1945. Fox and Soper’s paper shows that the Waterloo stations are at the very northern edge of the distribution of this species in Canada. The Branchton grove of Sassafras trees, known locally as the Herriott grove, is one of only 4 stands of this species in the Waterloo Region and is probably the best quality northern stand in Canada.

 

In 1974 and 1975 an extensive inventory of Environmentally Sensitive Areas was undertaken across all of the recently established Region of Waterloo. These inventories identified the boundaries of a large wetland and upland forest complex in the Branchton area and called it the Branchton Swamp and Woods. In 1975 the first Official Plan of the Region of Waterloo designated the swamp forest as Regional Environmentally Sensitive Policy Area number 67. The Township of North Dumfries subsequently followed suit with a similar designation in its Official Plan. A copy of the technical report from two Regional ESA Studies is in Appendix 6.

 

In 1986 the Ministry of Natural Resources declared the wetland part of the ESA to be a Class 1 wetland (Appendix 7), giving a portion of the ESA protection under the Ontario wetlands policy.

 

Therefore, the local environment has been studied by earlier botanists, for official plan inventories, for wetland inventories, and in environmental impact statements associated with proposed developments. In addition Paul Eagles, a Biologist, lives in Branchton and has kept personal records of the site for 8 years. Therefore a relatively complete environmental inventory of the Branchton Swamp and Woods ESA is available. A partial inventory of plants found in the entire ESA as reported in the environmental impact statement for the subdivision is found in Appendix 8. All of the data are in the files of the Branchton Village Land Trust and are available to the Ontario Heritage Foundation, if needed.

 

The 1985 Regional ESA Study describes the Branchton Swamp and Woods ESA as follows:

 

This area is a large expanse of mixed wetland forest communities in various combinations of cedar, tamarack, aspen and white pine. There are open marshy sections as well as drier upland habitat (prairies and excellent oak-hickory forest). Pine plantation also occurs. Most significant are cleared embankments along the railroad right-of-way and clearings within the upland forest sections. Prairie plant species have colonized these areas.

 

The area proposed for purchase is one of the excellent oak-hickory forest elements referred to in the ESA report. The woods are on a rounded hill. The forest canopy is dominated by Red, Black, Bur and White Oak, Sassafras, Shagbark and Bitternut Hickory, Black Cherry, Red Maple, White Pine, Butternut, Black Walnut, White Elm, White Birch and Hornbeam. On the warm southern slopes it contains the largest Sassafras grove and the largest individual Sassafras tree in the Region of Waterloo. The largest Shadbush (Amelanchier canadensis) in the Waterloo Region grows along the north edge of the woods. The species composition is variable with the southern slopes of the hill having Carolinian species, and the north-facing slopes having cooler-adapted maples and elms. The tree DBH varies from 25 to 60 cm. Logging last occurred approximately 40 years ago. There has been sufficient time since logging for the forest to grow back to a semi-mature structure. The ground cover in the spring is dominated by a spectacular stand of thousands of White Trillium (Trillium grandiflorum). A species-rich assemblage of spring ephemeral wildflowers attests to the fact that the woods has never been cleared and has not been affected by grazing. The shrub layer is compete and dominated by Round-leaved Dogwood, Poison Ivy and Maple-leaved Viburnum. The forest has a complete vertical stratification, again indicative of the lack of grazing.

 

The forest to be purchased has a rich assortment of breeding birds. The most significant include: Scarlet Tanager, Wood Thrush, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Red-headed Woodpecker, Pileated Woodpecker and Yellow-throated Vireo. Scarlet Tanager bred in 1994. This record is particularly significant because this species is forest size sensitive, and is found only in the largest woods. Therefore the upland woods, which is too small alone to fulfill the ecological needs of the tanager, must be ecologically connected to the much larger forest complex to the west. In 1994 an extensive survey of woodland breeding birds was undertaken as part of a Ph.D. thesis project by Lyle Friesen of the University of Waterloo. This survey found this Tanager species in only three locales in the Region of Waterloo. Wood Thrush is a forest interior bird, showing that the forest interior habitat is sufficiently mature. The Red-bellied and Red-headed Woodpecker habitat is one of only two or three long-standing breeding sites in the Region of Waterloo.

 

The site is rich in amphibians, due to the extensive wetlands. Many species of reptiles occur, including ribbon snake, an indicator of good water and forest quality.

 

Therefore in summary, the forest to be purchased is part of a Regional ESA, is adjacent to a Class 1 wetland and is a good-quality upland forest.

 

The property is part of lot 8 of concession 7 in the Township of North Dumfries. To the west of the property is upland and swamp forest land owned by Mr. Jack Hessler. To the north are rear lot lines of four houses. To the east are the rear lot lines of three houses. To the south is a Township-owned park with a baseball diamond and parts of two lots of the new subdivision.

 

The site is now used for nature study, for cross-country skiing, for wildflower photography and for children’s play. The heaviest users, by far, are the neigbourhood children. The recreational use has some minor environmental impact, however the positive attitudes created by the appreciative use far out way the negative environmental impact.

 

C. Maps and Photographs of the Site

 

Two aerial photographs of the site at the scale of 1:5000 are attached to this report. These show the village of Branchton, the eastern half of the ESA and the woods to be purchased. Photographs from the ground level are included through the report.

 

D. Rationale for Purchase

 

The rationale for the purchase is to protect and manage this woodland in its natural character in perpetuity. The property presently has an environmentally appreciative land owner. However, the woods has an unopened road allowance abutting the eastern edge. The fear is that any future owner could cut all the trees, reduce the environmental quality and then propose estate houses on the top of the hill in the woods. The Township refuses to consider this forest for parkland so that option of long-term protection is not open

 

The existing owner has agreed to the sell to the trust at a very attractive price of $27,000, the agricultural value of the land. However, given that the property will soon be surrounded on three sides by houses, its future housing value could be as much as ten times this amount. Therefore, the prudent long-term protective strategy is to quickly lock up the land in a sympathetic, locally-operated land trust.

 

E. Description of Future Property Use

 

The woods would be managed in its natural state. The largest infringement anticipated could be the removal of individual dangerous trees, and possibly the development of a nature trail. The land-owners adjacent to this woods place high value on the forest’s natural character and do not want to see any other land use. This is their reason for putting up their own money, accepting the responsibility and undertaking the effort necessary to purchase the woods.

 

F. Contribution to Ontario’s Natural Heritage

 

This acquisition will ensure that one sample of northern Carolinian woods is preserved indefinitely. The conservation of regional biodiversity, the provision of opportunities for local environmental education, and the enhancement of local people’s environmental quality will also occur. The presence of a land trust ownership adjacent to the remainder of the important ESA and wetland may help to monitor and preserve these lands as well. The much larger natural area might be the subject for further land trust activities if the need arises.

 

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