Connecting people with nature in Ontario's Mississippi Valley

MVFN’s Our Natural World: Conservation Challenges series

MVFN’s Our Natural World: Conservation Challenges  series

-notes on the first three presentations by Pauline Donaldson

The goal with the lecture series is to spread awareness and information about the natural world, offering a sense of kinship and fun as we hear about issues along with like-minded local folk! Each lecture is preceded by a nature ‘show-and-tell’ for anyone with something interesting to report. The featured guest speaker is introduced by a host for the evening and refreshments are always provided. There are always good insights from these lectures and it is hoped that this year’s series will help us learn what we can do for conservation of several groups or species which make up our natural world. The three lectures held so far have certainly done that.

In September we were truly inspired by nature-lover and local resident Jamie Fortune, Director of Eastern Canada for Ducks Unlimited, as he presented an introduction to our series. Jamie Fortune has traveled a great deal in his work with Ducks Unlimited, but told us “Lanark County is the nicest place to live in the world.” He said that we have a bounty of natural treasures and quality of life to enjoy here because of the beauty and pristineness of our natural world which is always so apparent to him when he returns home here after travel. Last year during Paul Hamilton’s talk on Water, we learned that right now the Mississippi River’s water quality rivals pristine rivers in Northern Europe. However, things must be done to keep it this way. Using words directed at our naturalist club Mr. Fortune said he believes “. . . the great challenge of this century is for volunteers to step up to bat.” This, he explained, is because governments are finding it more and more difficult to drive forward the people’s agenda and therefore they seem to be getting more receptive to positive feedback in the form of suggestions of what can be done.

Two of the most important things we can do, Fortune suggested, are to get out and enjoy what nature has to offer. Use it or lose it. Teach your children and grandchildren to know their trees and animals. Take them out hiking and fishing and eat the healthy fish from our rivers. Also continue what we are doing as a club.

In October we were treated to a presentation by Diana Beresford-Kroeger, the lively woman who speaks for trees, author of Arboretum America: A Philosophy of the Forest. Through her, our native trees were revealed as complex beings with an ‘eco-function’ and biochemistry fine-tuned over millennia. Trees evolved over 320 million years ago on this continent and without them, she says we would not be here today. Trees are the lungs of the world and along with the largely unseen underwater ocean forests, use carbon dioxide and release oxygen and water and can also help remove particulate pollution. Not only that, as she illustrated during the lecture, “Trees bank carbon dioxide into some of the most exciting medicines of our times.” A key conservation issue which emerged was not simply the loss of individual trees but the loss of a diversity of native trees many of which have such great potential. The take home message is to get out and plant trees, but choose a native tree species which will do well in a particular site. “It is time to plant trees to rebuild the forests of the future, so that we can live again in the true cathedrals of our natural world” says Beresford-Kroeger.

November’s Focus on Snakes with Tobi Kiesewalter of Murphy’s Point Provincial Park was another wonderful presentation as we enjoyed a video featuring black ratsnakes and became experts at the identification of Eastern Ontario’s often misunderstood, and thus sometimes persecuted, nine snake species after viewing Tobi’s excellent slides. We learned that forest edge habitat is critical for conserving snakes since they need both cooling forest shade and open areas for basking in the sun. In winter black ratsnakes congregate in communal hibernacula, returning to the same ones year after year. Therefore they should not be relocated far from home or they will likely die. Finally, it is critical not to disturb rock piles, rotting stumps or standing dead trees as these are important sites for ‘incubating’ eggs. We also learned that many of our snakes are live-bearers. Road hazards are a serious threat to our snakes and are especially serious when a ‘gravid’ female is involved.


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Native Plants for Natural Places

Press Release

Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists

October 9, 2007

Submitted by Pauline Donaldson

Rebuilding the forests of the future with Diana Beresford-Kroeger

“Who speaks for the trees, speaks for all of nature . . .” are words in the foreword to Arboretum America: A Philosophy of the Forest, an inspiring book which won an American Arbour Day Foundation Award in 2005 for exemplary educational work on trees and forests. The Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists (MVFN) are pleased to announce that Arboretum America’s author Diana Beresford-Kroeger will present “Native Trees for Natural Places” on Thursday, October 18th as part of the lecture series “Our Natural World: Conservation Challenges.” The talk will explore conservation issues for trees, and much more, as our speaker’s knowledge embraces what trees mean and have meant for sustainability as well as their potential in design and medicine.

Diana Beresford-Kroeger is an author and researcher specializing in classical botany and medical biochemistry. A ‘renegade-scientist’ whose ideas have been featured on CBC Radio’s flagship program “Ideas”, and elsewhere, she now writes and conducts research from her extensive gardens near Merrickville, but is still strongly influenced by childhood experiences in the beautiful Irish countryside.

Through her eyes and keen research, our native trees are revealed as distinct personalities, each a complex balance of eco-function and biochemistry fine-tuned over millennia on this continent. Maples, for example, central to the ancient tradition of syrup production, are a source of uncontaminated water to many animals. They also produce powerful anti-feeding compounds, but how have deer found a way to avoid these?

In Arboretum America (2003) and A Garden for Life (2004), Beresford-Kroeger describes bioplanning as a way to rearrange a garden, making it a harmonious natural habitat which can benefit all, including the human occupants. In a broader sense, bioplanning can help put back together the complex web of the natural world which has been taken apart. In so doing, the great forests of North America can be recreated and their important reservoir of molecules preserved. “Trees … oxygenate the planet and bank carbon dioxide into some of the most exciting medicines of our times. It is time to plant trees to rebuild the forests of the future, so that we can live again in the true cathedrals of our natural world” says Beresford-Kroeger.

All are invited to “Native Plants for Natural Places” Thursday October 18th at 7:30 pm at the Almonte United Church Social Hall, 106 Elgin St., Almonte. There is a fee of $5 for non-members. For more information, please contact MVFN’s Program Chair Joyce Clinton at 613-257-4879 or see MVFN’s website at


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