What are greenlands?

In the study currently being undertaken by Gartner Lee Limited on behalf of the Neptis Foundation, greenlands are very broadly defined to include any non-urbanized areas, including agricultural land, and open space parkland such as municipal parks and Conservation Areas. In previous studies, specifically the Kanter Report, greenlands were defined as elements of the natural environment or specific areas that had been recognized by a planning authority (such as a provincial ministry, conservation authority, or municipality) on the basis of some intrinsic ecological significance or sensitivity. This recognition is often translated into some degree of protected status being assigned to the feature, either through provincial or municipal land use policy.

For the purposes of this issues paper, a hybrid definition of greenlands has been adopted that includes all non-urban land with the exception of active agricultural land. Agricultural land is the subject of a separate Issue Paper in this series and should be considered as a distinct land use type with unique issues for smart growth. However, abandoned agricultural land, if left to undergo natural succession, will quickly revert to an old field or cultural thicket community with considerable ecological value and these areas can also be considered greenlands. In this case the definition is based on land cover rather than on an Official Plan designation or ownership, in recognition of the fact that many lands zoned Agricultural or Rural contain woodlands, wetlands and old field habitats. It should also be noted that the broad definition of greenlands used here includes not only the terrestrial or land-based elements of the ecosystem, but also encompasses water-based features such as streams, creeks, rivers, ponds, and lakes.

Greenlands, therefore, include the following features:

  • Provincially Significant Wetlands*
  • Locally Significant Wetlands
  • Unevaluated Wetlands
  • Provincially Significant Areas of Natural and Scientific Interest (ANSIs)*
  • Regionally Significant ANSIs
  • Significant Woodlands*
  • Unevaluated Woodlands
  • Significant Valleylands*
  • Significant Wildlife Habitat*
  • Threatened and Endangered Species Habitat*
  • Fish Habitat*
  • Watercourses and Waterbodies
  • Environmentally Significant (or Sensitive) Areas (ESAs)
  • Other miscellaneous municipal designations (see below)

Features marked with an asterisk are considered significant elements of a Natural Heritage System under Section 2.3 of the Provincial Policy Statement (PPS). These are features deemed to be significant at a provincial level, the loss of which would have an adverse impact on the Natural Heritage System of Ontario.

ESAs are often identified at a broad-scale watershed level by a Conservation Authority or, in some cases by an upper-level municipality (e.g., Halton Region). Waterloo Region has identified Environmentally Sensitive Policy Areas in its Official Plan. Simcoe County includes "Greenlands" as an Official Plan designation, while both Peel Region and Wellington County identify "Core Greenlands." Durham Region has mapped "Major Open Space Systems" and the Niagara Escarpment Plan identifies "Natural Areas." It is important to note that many of these greenland areas represent more than one feature of ecological significance. For example, it is not unusual for a Significant Wetland to also be classified as an ANSI or ESA, while fish habitat is often associated with a watercourse contained within a Significant Valleyland.

See Appendix A for more detailed definitions of the greenlands features discussed here and Appendix B for a glossary of some technical terms. The location and distribution of greenlands across the Central Ontario Zone is depicted in a very general fashion in Figure 1.