From the towering old-growth forests of Happy Valley, to the globally threatened ecosystems of savannah and tall-grass prairie, the Oak Ridges Moraine boasts many amazing habitats.
The Moraine is 30 per cent forested, has 130 wetlands, many kettle lakes and centuries-old wood lots. All of these green spaces create spectacular hiking and rejuvenating natural encounters for thousands of people, all year round.
However, what makes the Moraine even more unique is the green oasis that it provides to wildlife in the most densely populated region in Canada. The continuous green corridor of the Moraine allows wildlife species and ecosystems to remain connected in a way that is vital to the health of each, and that makes the whole of the Moraine a very special space.
Explore the Moraine
Read below on this page to explore in detail the habitats and wildlife that the Oak Ridges Moraine accommodates.
The Oak Ridges Moraine forms the most continuous region of forest cover surrounding the GTA.
The forests lining the river valleys that flow north and south are critical migration routes for birds and mammals. Protecting and expanding this forest cover is an important conservation priority.
Flatlands: Meadows, Prairies, Savannahs and Old Fields
Open meadow habitats exist on the Oak Ridges Moraine for two reasons - either they have become established on old fields no longer used for farming or they are part of an original 'prairie' or 'savannah' habitat.
Many are surprised that high quality examples are now rare, covering under 1% of the Moraine.
Wetlands are seasonally or permanently covered by shallow water, as well as lands where the water table is close to or at the surface.
The four major types of wetlands are swamps, marshes, bogs and fens. Most wetlands in the Oak Ridges Moraine region are swamps, a wetland type with trees and shrubs in standing water. Swamp areas are wooded wetlands consisting of deciduous and coniferous trees such as White Elm, Red and Silver Maple, Black Ash, Hemlock, Tamarack, White Cedar and a variety of shrubs.
Marshes are the most productive type of wetland and can be recognized by the presence of cattails, grasses and sedges and by the absence of trees. Wetlands provide enormous diversity to the natural landscape. They conserve water flow to maintain streams and the groundwater table. Their ability to store water can reduce the frequency and severity of flooding as well as drought. They are used as important habitat by hundred of species of wildlife and provide critical nesting habitat for many of these. Protecting wetlands can do a great deal to improve the natural environment.
As the environmental 'circulatory system', streams are one of the most vulnerable natural features of the rural landscape.
Too often, stream banks, springs and small tributaries that provide summer-long flow of water, are cleared of vegetation. This severely degrades aquatic habitat by removing shade and thereby increasing water temperature. For example, the removal of plants and trees from stream banks has destroyed many trout habitats, since the salmonid family of fish species require cool water and overhanging vegetation for shelter. In addition, plant roots hold stream banks in place and their removal often causes erosion which can seriously impact the aquatic habitats downstream.
Restoring a natural stream is a complex but invaluable contribution to good stewardship. Maintaining natural streams is critical for water supply as well as wildlife.
Kettle Lakes and Shorelines
The landscape of the Oak Ridges Moraine is peppered with various bodies of water including many ponds, lakes and wetlands.
Kettle lakes, peculiar to the glacially-impacted landscape, form when huge blocks of ice remain, half buried in sand and gravel, after a glacier's retreat. When the ice block melts, a hollow is left that eventually fills with ground water, becoming a kettle lake or wetland.
Sometimes lakes develop into bogs - unique vegetation communities dominated by sphagnum moss. The moss grows into the lake from the edge and forms a floating mat of vegetation. Trees such as Tamarack and shrubs like Labrador tea colonize these mats over time. A mature bog ecosystem can cover an entire lake, often sheltering rare and ecologically unique species that are adapted to the acidic conditions of the bog.