Protecting Toronto's pollinators: Vision, priorities and proposed actions
The vision is for Toronto to be home to healthy pollinator populations that support resilient ecosystems and contribute to a rich urban biodiversity. To achieve this vision, six priorities have been identified for pollinator protection in Toronto:
For each priority, a series of proposed actions have been developed that will help the City of Toronto achieve its vision. These proposed actions will not only support native bees and butterflies, but will also be beneficial to all pollinators, including non-native honey bees. Habitat creation in particular will have a positive impact on all pollinators, and is the foundation of the City's 44 proposed actions.
Pollinators require high quality habitat to thrive in an urban environment. High quality pollinator habitat is any area that provides foraging resources (pollen and nectar from flowers), nesting and overwintering sites, and larval host plants (such as milkweed for Monarchs) that support populations of pollinators.
There are many ways the City can help to create, restore and enhance habitat for pollinators. Many of the places to create pollinator habitat already exist - on the ground and on our rooftops. Our urban environment with patches of parkland, ravine, urban gardens and green roofs, can provide an abundance of floral resources and nesting sites for a wide range of pollinators. The simple act of planting wildflowers rich in pollen and nectar will have positive benefits for all pollinators that call Toronto home.
1. Conduct an assessment of how much existing and potential pollinator habitat there is in Toronto and set targets for pollinator habitat creation and enhancement.
2. Include in the City's existing guidelines regarding plantings in City parks, facilities and restoration projects, a commitment to plan more native trees, shrubs, and wildflowers that support pollinators.
3. Work with members of City Council to identify at least one city-managed site in each of the 44 wards that can be enhanced for pollinators and serve as a model garden.
4. Develop guidelines for creating habitat specifically for pollinator species at risk, including the Rusty-patched Bumble Bee, Gypsy Cuckoo Bumble Bee, Yellow-banded Bumble Bee and Monarch butterfly.
5. Develop and share lists of recommended native plants and flowering trees and shrubs that attract pollinators for various uses (private lands, roadsides, green streets, etc.) and environmental conditions (e.g. pollution, salt conditions, heat stress), and investigate the potential to create wildflower seed mixtures suited to the Toronto area.
6. Review the City's mowing practices with a view to preserving pollinator habitat, and work with Transportation Services and other relevant City divisions and agencies to identify areas that could benefit from less frequent mowing and/or strategically timed mowing, with the goal of developing guidelines and training for City staff and contractors.
7. Work with Solid Waste Management Services to identify City-owned closed landfill sites that may have the potential to become high quality pollinator habitat.
8. Review the City’s practices for managing coarse woody debris (e.g. fallen branches after storm events) and the type, distribution and application of mulch in landscaping.
The Humber Bay Butterfly Habitat (HBBH) - This City of Toronto led ecological restoration project provides critical habitat for a variety of native butterflies and other pollinators. Located along the shores of Lake Ontario in Toronto’s west end, HBBH incorporates a diversity of native wildflowers, shrubs, trees, grasses, sedges and a variety of physical features known to support butterflies throughout their life cycles. The goal of HBBH is to establish a self-sustaining native plant community which will support a variety of butterfly species, while engaging and educating park users about the value of urban wildlife habitat. The first project of its kind, the HBBH incorporates large scale plantings through the coordination of volunteers and community stewards with the City of Toronto's Community Stewardship Program. HBBH is approximately four acres and features a demonstration home garden, wildflower meadow, short grass prairie, trails, and interpretive signage.
As cities grow, habitat can be lost or fragmented into small patches not large enough to support complex ecological communities. Habitat fragmentation can inhibit the ability of some species to move between areas to utilize all of the resources they need to survive. By re-connecting green spaces, it's possible to create a continuous corridor of potential habitat that allows species such as pollinators are able to move freely from area to area taking advantage of the different resources each patch has to offer. Research suggests the ideal distance between patches of pollinator habitat is about 50 metres, based on the forage radius of the smallest pollinators in an area.
On a city-wide scale, parks, ravines, green roofs, along with infrastructure corridors such rail, road and hydro present the greatest opportunity for the conservation of pollinators. On a smaller scale, linking a series of individual pollinator plantings such as backyard gardens, parkettes, laneways, school gardens, sidewalk planter boxes, community and allotment gardens, into a neighbourhood scale pollinator corridor, can help to connect public, private and community level activities under a single umbrella.
There is considerable public engagement potential in connecting habitat and creating neighbourhood scale green corridors. Opportunities exist to encourage residents, businesses and institutions to participate by planting and adopting pollinator friendly practices on their properties.
1. Identify potential linkages to connect areas of existing pollinator habitat on publicly managed lands through geospatial mapping, and identify “micro” corridor connections where small scale plantings could connect two large green areas in close proximity.
2. Support the efforts of the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA) to create and connect pollinator habitat in utility corridors, and identify specific ways the City can work with TRCA to meet their goals.
3. Share information/resources with groups (such as TRCA, David Suzuki Foundation, school boards, horticultural societies, BIAs, and others) to foster corridor creation on public and private land.
4. Work with developers and property owners to include more pollinator friendly plantings and design in green roof projects on low- and mid-rise buildings, by including information in the Green Roof Construction Standards Supplementary Guidelines, such as: seasonally and biologically diverse and abundant flowering species; greater substrate depths (minimum 15 cm); appropriate substrate composition with high nutrient availability and water retention capacity; large stones and/or logs that provide nesting habitat; and adjusting maintenance practices to leave plant biomass over the winter to protect nesting species.
5. Enhance areas of the City Hall podium green roof with pollinator-friendly habitat, accompanied by educational signage, to demonstrate the role green roofs play in pollinator habitat and corridor creation.
6. Work with relevant City divisions to ensure that the needs of pollinators are considered in all green infrastructure and stormwater management initiatives undertaken by the City of Toronto (such as green streets, green parking lots, street tree plantings, utility corridors, green roofs, hedge rows, rain gardens, bioswales, etc.).
The Scarborough Centre Butterfly Trail, TRCA with funding contribution from The W. Garfield Weston Foundation - This purpose of this initiative was to revitalize approximately 40 hectares of space under the hydro corridor between McCowan Road and Scarborough Golf Club Road. By converting the area from barren mown grass into a meadow that provides high functioning pollinator habitat to compliment the multi-use trail for pedestrians; the initiative transformed an underutilized space into an important part of the natural system in Toronto. Through education and stewardship programs, community members are able to connect with nature and take active ownership of the space to maintain it for future generations to enjoy. This corridor represents an important pathway of connected greenspace, which allows pollinators to forage in a greater amount of area.
Many groups in Toronto are already working on pollinator protection initiatives and the City of Toronto can support and encourage their actions. Several of these organizations are being engaged by the City of Toronto as part of the Expert Pollinator Advisory Group. The University of Toronto and York University are leading the way in research on bees and other pollinators in our urban environment and play a key role in data collection and providing the evidence-based research we need to guide our actions.
It is vital to pollinator protection that the City continues to build relationships, consult, and engage with all stakeholders. Many of the actions proposed in this document cannot be achieved without support and guidance from partners. While City staff play an essential role in taking action on public lands, it is important to continue to engage key audiences (residents, businesses, institutions, and community groups) in order to see widespread implementation of pollinator actions on private land.
1. Support University and College-led research projects that support pollinator conservation management and that guide the development of best practices for pollinators in Toronto.
2. Work with the Toronto Association of Business Improvement Areas (TABIA) to create pollinator habitat on private lands, with the goal of creating at least one pollinator garden in each BIA and investigate support for ongoing garden maintenance.
3. Partner and build relationships with community based organizations working on pollinator protection initiatives, and identify ways the City can help to advance their efforts.
4. Engage with the Toronto School Boards to encourage schools to create pollinator habitat, with the goal of creating a pollinator garden at every school, and investigate support for ongoing garden maintenance.
5. Connect with local growers/nurseries to encourage them to cultivate native, pesticide-free pollinator-friendly plant seedlings, and develop pollinator-friendly wildflower seed mixes, with emphasis on the City's list of recommended native plants and flowering trees and shrub species that attract pollinators.
6. Improve collaboration and coordination among City divisions, agencies, boards and commissions, and external partners through the Inter-Divisional Pollinator Working Group and continue to engage the Expert Pollinator Advisory Group by soliciting feedback and expert advice as needed, to facilitate progress on pollinator protection efforts.
7. Provide guidance and opportunities to volunteer groups looking to engage in pollinator protection initiatives, utilizing the expertise of the Live Green Toronto Volunteer program.
8. Continue to engage with the Province of Ontario on the Pollinator Health Action Plan and related Acts.
9. Engage with developers, property and rental associations that have the capacity to encourage pollinator habitat on their land, such as the Toronto Parking Authority, the Greater Toronto Apartment Association (GTAA), Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA), condominium boards, and Toronto Community Housing, to promote the creation of pollinator habitat.
Parkland Naturalization Program - This City program works with community and environmental groups, funding partners and capital projects to restore degraded natural landscapes and establish new natural areas to create forest, wetland, and meadow habitats. More than 60,000 native trees and shrubs have been planted, as well as more than 50,000 wildflowers, herbaceous and aquatic plants.
Investing in pollinator protection initiatives and incentivizing actions that create pollinator habitat will inspire and motivate others to act. Incentives play a key role in changing behaviour, encouraging new approaches, and supporting the current community interest in action.
City purchasing practices can be designed to support healthy pollinator populations. For example, the City purchases a great deal of plant material annually for use in our parks. This purchasing power can be utilized to shift the market toward growing and distributing native and pesticide-free plants that are beneficial to pollinators.
The Province of Ontario, in its recently released Pollinator Health Action Plan, has made providing grants and incentives a key component of their plan, including commitments to fund programs across ministries to support pollinator habitat creation projects.
The City will seek sponsorship, grant and external funding opportunities to support the actions presented in this report.
1. Develop the criteria and seek funding sources for an incentive program that provides modest financial support or resources (e.g. soil, seeds, and plants) to encourage neighbourhood-scale, pollinator habitat creation or enhancement, and pollinator education initiatives.
2. Encourage biodiverse, pollinator-friendly green roofs through the City's Eco-Roof Incentive Program, by identifying an appropriate criteria to encourage the use of materials and design elements that increase the capacity of the roof to serve as pollinator habitat.
3. Leverage City planned investments in green infrastructure, such as right-of-ways, to incorporate pollinator plantings and habitat creation, and coordinate these activities through the Inter-Divisional Pollinator Working Group.
4. Explore the creation of a City procurement policy to purchase more native pollinator friendly plants, and to select plants and seeds that have not been treated with systemic pesticides (e.g. neonicotinoids) for use in City-managed spaces, and incorporate these guidelines into tender documents for all City divisions.
5. Revise the City's existing pesticide use policy, as well as guidelines regarding plants grown in City greenhouses, to include a commitment to grow plants and seeds that have not been treated with systemic pesticides (e.g. neonicotinoids).
6. Investigate the feasibility of creating a full-time staff position dedicated to the implementation of pollinator related initiatives.
7. Work with relevant City divisions to determine the costs and savings associated with transforming and maintaining existing City-managed spaces to pollinator habitat.
8. Seek sponsorship, grant and external funding opportunities to support the actions presented in this report.
Live Green Toronto Grants - An initiative of the City's Environment and Energy Division, this successful grant program ran from 2008-2015 and funded 168 community-led greening projects. The grant recipients included 40 garden projects that provide important habitat for Toronto's pollinators. One recipient, the Dallington Pollinators Community Garden, also won the 2015 RBC Blue Water Award and City of Toronto Garden Award. Another grant recipient, the Toronto Island Franklin's Children's Garden - Pollination Station, welcomed close to 40,000 visitors in the summer of 2016.
Strengthening education initiatives will leverage the interest in protecting pollinators that already exists in the community. The City has the opportunity to guide resident, business and institutional action, with the potential for significant positive change.
For example, well-meaning individuals who want to help pollinators may pursue hobby beekeeping, when planting pollinator friendly plants is an easier and more effective way to create much needed habitat. It is essential to promote practices which are beneficial to pollinators. Therefore, the development of a series of practical how-to guides is being proposed as a way to reach these audiences and inspire them to take action.
It's also important to recognize the ongoing interest and actions of City staff, and continue to support this through training. Parks, Forestry and Recreation has been a leader in their creation of the "Horticulture Program of Excellence", a staff training program aimed at providing inspiration and education to City staff on issues relating to horticulture within the urban environment.
1. Develop and promote a series of practical how-to guides for specific audiences (businesses, schools, local communities, gardeners, etc.) that offer advice on actions to take to help pollinators, including creating pollinator habitat, and identifying practices which threaten pollinators.
2. Enhance existing educational programming offered by the City of Toronto, such as Day Camps, Children's Gardening programs and Live Green Toronto, to include information, activities and educational signage in City spaces on the importance of pollinators.
3. Work with Toronto School Boards and the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education to provide pollinator information packages for teachers, investigate the opportunity to offer native pollinator education sessions in Toronto schools, and make links with indigenous culture and stewardship information.
4. Update the City's Free Tree Planting brochure to identify which trees are pollinator-friendly, and provide information about why pollinators are important.
5. Create an online resource on the City's Live Green Toronto website that includes: information about pollinators and species at risk, and shares best practices, including plant lists, and information about harmful practices, such as pesticide use.
6. Work with Live Green Toronto programming to deliver workshops for gardeners on how to create a pollinator garden, and investigate delivering the workshops at libraries and community centres.
7. Continue and expand training for City staff through the Horticulture Program of Excellence on topics such as creating pollinator habitat in City parks; best practices for pesticide application, roadside management and mowing, and look for opportunities to expand the training to more staff and other divisions.
8. Investigate the development of a point-of-sale campaign to help residents identify pollinator-friendly plants and seeds at local nurseries, and create lists of retailers that offer pesticide free plants.
"Tickle Bees" and City Staff - An example of how City staff training has had a direct impact on their actions is the case of the "Tickle Bees". In the spring of 2015, thousands of gentle, ground-nesting bees emerged with the warm weather in a City park. Being in close proximity to a playground, members of the public voiced their concern to the Park supervisor. City staff, having recently completed training on pollinators as part of the Horticulture Program of Excellence, identified the bees as Andrena sp., or Mining bees, nicknamed the "Tickle Bee" by school children as they don’t sting and are very gentle.
Staff installed educational signage about the "Tickle Bees" and the vital role they play in pollination. The community was thrilled to host these important pollinators and often stopped to observe their activity. City staff's education and awareness about this important pollinator, led to this learning opportunity with the members of this community.
There are many ways to celebrate and recognize achievements in pollinator protection. National Pollinator Week is a well-established annual celebration intended to raise awareness through recognition of action taken on behalf of pollinators and provide encouragement for further action.
The proposed actions below, in partnership with existing programs, will allow the City to recognize the efforts of residents, businesses, community organizations, and institutions, celebrate milestones and honour the contributions of members of our community. Public signage, awards and certification programs will also raise the profile of the importance of pollinators, assist in education and encouraging further action.
1. Celebrate and promote National Pollinator Week (third week in June) and Toronto's status as the first Bee City affiliate in Canada by undertaking at least one public education and/or habitat creation or restoration activity each year.
2. Work with the Canadian Wildlife Federation and their existing Backyard Habitat Certification Program to tailor a program specific to Toronto that will guide and recognize property owners in creating pollinator habitat.
3. Provide recognition through signage (e.g. Pollinators are Welcome Here!) to acknowledge the efforts of property owners who have created or enhanced pollinator habitat and/or contributed to corridor building in their neighbourhoods.
4. Add a pollinator-friendly garden category to the City's existing Garden Awards program, and inspire others by offering in person and virtual tours of award-winning gardens.
5. Create a recognition award (e.g., Native Pollinator Supporter of the Year) for residents and organizations (e.g. schools, businesses, institutions) that have contributed to the protection of pollinators.
Celebrating National Pollinator Week - As part of Toronto's commitment to raising awareness of the importance of pollinators and celebrating our status as the first Bee City in Canada, an event was organized as part of National Pollinator Week (the third week of June). On June 23, 2016 a mural of a green metallic sweat bee was unveiled at Bloor Street and Howland Avenue and a proclamation declaring "Pollinator Week" in Toronto was announced. The mural was the result of a partnership between Burt's Bees and the City's Street Art Toronto and Live Green Toronto programs. Painted by Toronto artist Nick Sweetman, the mural is roughly 65' long by 35' high and serves as a stunning reminder of the importance of pollinators in our urban environment.