Nature Reserves – Why they are important?

By Clarke Birchard

The Saugeen Field Naturalists are fortunate to be the stewards of the Kinghurst Forest Nature Reserve. Kinghurst is one of twenty-one nature reserves owned and managed by Ontario Nature (previously the Federation of Ontario Naturalists). The ON nature reserves protect 2045 ha (5054 acres) of ecologically valuable, imperilled or vulnerable habitats across southern Ontario. Nature reserves provide a number of important services.

They preserve and protect typical as well as rare and threatened species, habitats and processes – like libraries or archives on land. Nature reserves should be regarded as essential public amenities. Allowing their exploitation or removal makes as much sense as allowing the most valuable books in a library to be borrowed and damaged or never returned.

Nature reserves provided opportunities for research. They act as scientific benchmarks or reference collections against which changes in other areas can be measured. Those who live through changes and are not aware of original states accept new and altered conditions as normal.

Nature reserves may be repositories of ancestral genetic diversity. They provide for spill-over or replenishment effects. Species of plants or animals that are less abundant or absent in surrounding areas due to habitat loss, exploitation (e.g. hunting, logging) or other causes are able to migrate outward from the reserves and repopulate suitable nearby habitats.

Nature reserves provide valuable ecological services such as oxygen production; carbon sequestration; groundwater cleansing, storage and slow release.

Nature reserves can be valuable settings for environmental education – destinations for school, college, university and adult field trips.

Nature reserves provide for recreation and eco-tourism. Some long-time New Zealand crayfishermen and Newfoundland cod fishermen now earn steady incomes as eco-cruise operators. Costa Rica disbanded its armed forces in the 1950’s and directed military spending into national parks and eco-tourism. Eco and Adventure Tourism now lead coffee and bananas as national economic activities in that country. Forms of recreation such as nature viewing, botanizing, artistic expression and photography are non-consumptive and low-impact but contribute to human health and well-being.

Nature reserves can be settings for re-creation – personal enjoyment and renewal, aesthetics and spiritual values.

The next time you are walking through Kinghurst or working to help improve it for wildlife and for other people you might reflect on some of the above thoughts and how fortunate we are to have such a wonderful reserve in our area. There are five other ON nature reserves in Grey and Bruce Counties.

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