Community Tree Plantings for Biodiversity in York and Durham Regions

This fall, LEAF staff and volunteers have begun planting native trees and shrubs in York Region as part of a larger, three-year project to increase biodiversity on public lands in York and Durham Regions. Among project activities are planting 6,000 native trees and shrubs, monitoring sites before and after planting and engaging local community members. These activities are made possible in part, thanks to support from Ontario Power Generation’s Regional Biodiversity Program.


The goal of this work is to have meaningful and impactful naturalization activities in the two regions, for both native wildlife and the local community. By planting more native trees and shrubs, we are providing the food and shelter essential for wildlife to thrive in urban and suburban environments. And, we are also increasing the urban canopy which has known positive impacts to our health and well-being, from increasing air quality to improving mood and mental health. As a matter of fact, both The Regional Municipality of York and Durham Region have identified tree planting as priorities. York Region has a goal of increasing regional canopy cover to 40% by 2050 and Durham Region identifies protecting, enhancing and, where appropriate, restoring significant natural heritage and environmentally sensitive areas in their strategic plan.


To achieve our goal, we are focusing on four different objectives:

  1. Naturalization of public lands, through the use of plant species native to the area.
  2. Monitoring and stewardship of the planting sites to adaptively manage and improve our naturalization efforts.
  3. Planting of native shrubs on private property through free shrub giveaways to local community members.
  4. Annual educational events that engage local community members and foster a deeper understanding of and connection with our urban forest.

It’s important to note that we work alongside municipal partners to select sites that will achieve high impacts. For example, plantings around stormwater retention ponds will reduce erosion and improve water quality.  Plantings along the edges of existing woodlots will expand areas of natural biodiversity. Other criteria we consider include site accessibility and local watershed conservation efforts. For 2020, we selected three sites in Richmond Hill with limited biodiversity value (covered by turf or occupied by invasive species) to convert into 5,651 square metres of naturalized land.

Other 2020 activities already completed or underway include the monitoring of the planting sites and the first annual educational event. This year we hosted a virtual tree tour of Lake Wilcox Park and made the recording available free online for anyone to enjoy. Plantings in Durham Region and shrub giveaways will begin in 2021.


This blog is the first part of a four-part series on the work we’re doing in York and Durham Regions to naturalize public land.


Daniela Serodio is the Marketing and Communications Manager at LEAF.


Our community planting and stewardship events are supported by Ontario Power Generation, the Regional Municipality of York, the City of Richmond Hill and Grandtrees Climate Solutions.