Sydenham River corridor

By Larry Cornelis – President, Sydenham Field Naturalists

A river runs through my life.

It runs through my town too.

And through Kent, Lambton and Middlesex Counties.

It’s called the Sydenham River and it is an ecological gem with an astonishing biodiversity, much of which is provincially, nationally or globally rare.

It’s the only river with its entire watershed lying within the Carolinian Life Zone of Southwestern Ontario.

Larry Cornelis Photo

The Sydenham and its many tributaries support the greatest diversity of freshwater mussels in all of Canada, (35 historically, which may be a high for North America).

There are also 83 species of fish including threatened and endangered species such as the Eastern Sand Darter and Northern Madtom.

There are endangered reptiles too like the Eastern Spiney Softshell Turtle and Spotted Turtle.

The river itself, as well as what’s in it, is a biological treasure. When you consider the habitats along the river and in the watershed, wetlands, riparian and Carolinian Forests, the list of rare and endangered species grows exponentially.

There are (to name a few) Tulip Trees, Kentucky Coffee Trees and American Sycamores.

There’s Lizard Tail, Green Dragon and Goldenseal. Rare snakes include Butlers Garter Snake, Eastern Milksnake and Eastern Fox snake.

Larry Cornelis Photo

Rare and endangered birds include Red-headed Woodpeckers, Bald Eagles and Barn Owls and rare mammals include American Badgers and Southern Flying Squirrels.

And of course, then there are all the benthic and insect species which are the ‘little things that support everything else’.

Freshwater mussels are among the planets most imperiled taxa with declines reported on a global scale.

The rich unionid fauna (mussels) of North America have been hit particularly hard with over 70% of the species in decline and many considered rare ‘species at risk’.

Mussels of the Sydenham are special creatures with interesting names such as the Fawnsfoot, Lilliput, Pigtoe and Snuffbox.

Cool names!

We may not ‘ooh and aw’ at the sight of a mussel, but they do deserve our appreciation and are very important ecosystem players.

This river and its watershed are deserving of environmental protection.

I volunteered immediately when I was asked to be on a committee to develop a ‘Sydenham River Conservation Action Plan’.

The plan aims to protect natural treasures, improve biodiversity through restoration of habitat to create healthy and sustainable ecosystems, enhance ecosystem services such as water quality for local communities, and engage citizens to work together toward a common, mutually beneficial cause (a healthier environment for all living things).

Conservation targets include:

– Upland Forests

– Wetlands (Swamps and Marshes)

– Thickets, Hedgerows, Fencerows, Shelterbelts and Abandoned Fields

– Streams, Drains and Riparian Habitat

– Prairies and Savannahs

– Reptiles

– Fish and Mussels

– Sustainable Agricultural Practices

Larry Cornelis Photo

I hope this information about the very special Sydenham River impresses you.

It really should in my opinion.

This watershed/habitat supports over 60 species at risk.

That’s remarkable!

For more information about the Sydenham River and the Conservation Action Plan, contact the Carolinian Canada Coalition and or the St. Clair Region Conservation Authority.

The SCRCA has created excellent colourful annual newsletters about the Sydenham River Watershed.

And, of course, check out the Sydenham Field Naturalists website too.

I started this article by stating how this river has run through my life.

My family has a farm along the North Branch of the Sydenham.

I’ve swam, fished, canoed, kayaked and boated in/on the river.

Time spent in or on the river has influenced my life, my love of nature and contributed significantly to who I am today.

For more details, visit:

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