Walk in any direction in the region and in 1km you will see water. These shores and the thin soils here, make water resources here very vulnerable to pollution and alterations.
Through the Natural Edge Project and with our Blue Lakes project, we are assessing lake health to provide support for conservation. TLB is also providing support to landowners. of site visits and in some cases plants to restore your shores. Contact us for more details.
Need Help to Steward Your Lake? Naturalizing Shorelands 101
Shorelands, like TLB itself, are smaller ecotones: They are transition areas between two ecosystems; between water and upland. Ecotones are diverse and provide important ecosystem functions. Natural shorelands provide: habitat for species including fishes and zooplankton; biodiversity- a rich and healthy food chain; water filtration and regulation; and natural erosion control from wave washing and runoff. Also natural shorelands do not require maintenance because Native plants that are found locally within your lake basin are acclimatized to the area and do not require special fertilizers, weeding or treatments.
Shorelands have often been referred to as shorelines- however this latter term may cause some to assume the “thickness” or “width” of the “line” is minor. Others have referred to these areas as the “ribbon of life”. These words also create a preconceived idea that the areas in question are constricted and do not encompass upland areas or areas further into the lake. However, both terms refer to the much the same areas as shorelands; they correspond to lands that are at least 30 metres into the upland from the highwater mark, and areas into the lake, where light penetrates into the water (roughly at the 1 metre mark). This shoreline/shoreland/ribbon area has been defined through peer reviewed and tested research that is embodied in guiding documents such as “How Much Habitat is Enough” by Environment Canada (link)
Water is extremely powerful. Even a 1 foot swell or rock wall can change flows and cause immense damage to immediate or downstream habitats. Because of this liability and the potential to impact fish habitat as well, permits may be required:
OMNRF Work Permit: http://www.ontario.ca/rural-and-north/crown-land-work-permits
DFO Permits: http://www.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/pnw-ppe/index-eng.html
Shorelands have 3 key areas: the littoral area (from the high water mark up to 1m into the water); the riparian zone (the ecotone or meeting place between wet and dry systems); and the upland shore (the edge of the shoreland). Each area has different moisture levels and therefore different plants grow in each area.
The Littoral area is important for zooplankton and fish.
- Permits: Any work in this area may require work permits from the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forests and/or Department of Fisheries and Oceans to ensure no destruction to fish habitat occurs.
- Erosion and hardening: Wave washing and changing water levels may result in erosion or degradation of this area. Water is very powerful! Even 1 foot of water can move incredible amounts of soil. When waves crash at shorelines from boating or weather, only a gradual slope will allow the wave to break without a force or backwash that increases erosion. Hardened and wall-like shorelines/riparian edges (even small walls) will not reduce the force of a wave but instead will increase the backwashing of the water and therefore can create problems in new areas, for fish habitats, or on neighbouring and downstream properties. Different types of soils have different angles at which they are at rest- angles of repose- and water reduces these angles further. Steep soft riparian edges are areas highly sensitive to disturbance. A restoration expert can design unique and soft sustainable solutions to limit erosion and maintain ecosystem integrity. Contact erosion control experts or experts in shoreland restoration before tampering with shorelands that have erosion issues.
- Special plants such as willows, sweetgale, emergent of lillies and pickerelweed grow in these wet areas at the shore, and can be planted here. Their roots systems are extensive and help keep soil in place while providing safe harbour for small fishes. Their leaves and stems are great for dispersing the strength of waves. Some of these are also native sources of spice and are pretty too!
- Rocks, stumps, and deadwood in these areas are considered important fish habitat elements. Keep these in place. A simple buoy, flag, or fun hand made floating deco-art piece can help you navigate these features.
The Riparian Area is important for water filtration, to deter geese, and for birds, butterflies, dragonflies and more
- Create a beautiful shoreland: Native local plants and shrubs that are found around your lake or within the area are available from local growers can be chosen for their structure and design elements of height and colour and in each season- much like a landscaped garden.
- Biodiversity: Native plants can also be chosen to attract different birds and pollinators of butterflies and hummingbirds. Some of these species will consume mosquitoes and some will actually compete for territory against geese.
- Limiting geese: Keeping at least a 2-foot height of Native plants near the shore will limit nuisance geese.
- Access considerations: access areas do not need to exceed 25 feet, and even wider areas can be accommodated simply by staggering plant beds on a diagonal, so that geese (and runoff water too) cannot see and therefore will not move directly between the property and the water.
- Shoreland buffers/planted areas should have a variety of woody and soft stemmed species, and a variety of flowering and berry generating plants to interrupt runoff and take up nutrients and pollutants from septics, fertilizers and runoff.
- It is also recommended that a shoreland natural area should be a minimum width of 30ft, but better at 100ft wide, to adequately filter water and provide habitat. Generally, the more steep your shoreland slope, and the smaller the soil particles, the wider the shoreland/riparian edge buffer area should be.
The Upland Area is where you play and often a travel corridor for species
- You can maintain aesthetics and views of the lake while keeping a natural shoreland: Prune lower branches of trees instead of removing them (Trees are important habitats for birds such as the Belted Kingfisher and tree roots are important habitats for fish while keeping soil in place)
- Always, limit fertilizers and pesticides in this area
- Buffer your septic with flowering native shrubs and plants- even food gardens- where plants will use the nutrients for growth and limit these from reaching lake. Make sure that roots will not interfere with the septic bed.
- Rain barrels and downspouts, as well as soft surfaces are best for limiting runoff from rain and directed from roads and other hard surfaces. These waters collect pollutants and travel quickly downstream. Limiting both hard surfaces and fast running water from hard man-made surfaces is recommended.
Invasive plant species:
Invasive species can outcompete local Native plants and destroy habitats and biodiversity. They propagate easily and move easily from one site to the next, and so they are difficult to remove or destroy.
- Invasive species can be prolific such as garlic mustard, purple loosestrife, and phragmites. These are listed on the invasive species list for Ontario as they pose significant threats. Invasive species such as these can be brought to a site as seeds in soils that are bought from stores or suppliers, or as seeds on heavy equipment and even work boots. Some travel through the water reaching your shore.
- Locally invasive species are not prolific – they only invade where they are planted and are not on provincial lists.- as such they are often sold at greenhouses and nurseries. These will take over a property or neighbouring forest. Examples are exotic grasses, shrubs such as false spirea, groundcovers such as periwinkle and lambs ears, and flowers like rock lupine.
Fish Habitat Concerns: Boating can reduce and alter fish habitat in a lake. Boats with submerged motors and recreational water-vehicles churn waters, mixing warm waters at the surface deeper into the lake, much like stirring a bath. Trout especially, but even walleye cannot survive in waters above certain temperatures. This is because at higher temperatures, water contains less oxygen, and fish can become stressed or will die. Therefore boats that mix waters are reducing the available habitat for fish populations in a lake. Reduced habitat also means that these fish are competing for food sources – they have a smaller area to forage. Increasing warm water areas also provides more habitat for invasive and competing species such as rock bass.
Erosion, fish and nutrients: Boating at high speeds in areas where wakes will reach shores or shallows can result in more erosion at the shore from wave washing, can move soils in the shallows into the water column and therefore more available phosphorous (a precursor to algal blooms), and finally particles in the water columns may settle on spawning areas covering eggs and hatchlings.
Traditional septic systems have holding tanks that rely on digestion for the removal of bacteria, and digestion relies on healthy larger bacteria which consume the smaller pathogens growing in the presence oxygen. Therefore refraining from flushing anything that would removed oxygen or kill those friendly large bacteria is important: this includes bleach, cleaning agents, acids etc. A healthy measure of water is required for this process however too much water can dilute the amount of healthy bacteria in the system making it a larger swimming pools and a greater effort and distance to reach the pathogens. In the spring if the system has not been used, you can kick-start the process by adding bacteria to your system. Products are readily available at grocery stores and other markets.
The septic bed relies on dilution and filtration of the gray water as it moves through sands and soils. Keep the bed free from roots and weights that can impede water movement throughout the channels. However, you can buffer the system with native flowering plants and shrubs, and even with vegetables that will use any nutrients for growth and limit their flow to the lake and natural water systems.
TLB’s Design Your Own Shoreland Garden & Site Visits
TLB conducts workshops each summer to help you Design Your Own Shoreland Garden. Here, our CEO, Leora Berman, teaches you the practical ins and outs of designing an aesthetic shoreland buffer that attracts pollinators, filters water, supports biodiversity and fish habitat and is beautiful too! To book a workshop in your area contact us. Workshops fees are $20/person. Attendees also receive a toolkit of information to get you started and discounts to shoreland plants.
TLB also offers site visits for shoreland landowners. We can assist in providing you with a basic shoreland naturalization plan. For a limited time, in priority areas we can even give you some assistance in the form of materials/Native plants towards your naturalization. Fees for site visits in non-priority areas will apply, to assist us with covering time and mileage costs. For complex designs and/or erosion control, a shoreland restoration expert should be hired. Contact us to book a visit or for more information.
Stay tuned for our downloadable Design Your Own Shoreland Garden Guide! Coming spring 2021
Other Good Water Stewardship Resources
Along the shore- A landowner’s guide to healthy shoreline management for lake Simcoe_South Simcoe Land Stewardship Network
Comprehensive Water Conservation_ Thanks to The Water Page.com
Caring for your septic in Muskoka _ Thanks to Muskoka Watershed Council
Make Your Home the solution to stormwater pollution_MWC_ Thanks to Muskoka Watershed Council