Winter was fast approaching when Shesan and I arrived on the Glendon campus with cameras (well, smartphones) in hand. It was that strange transitional period between seasons, where the golden beauty of the forest in the valley was in full force, yet the small shrubs and flowers had already withered away, creating a bare forest floor. Walking across the field and much further than I got to explore on my first visit to Glendon, we soon found our stretch of the riverbank to note and photograph. Along a path slanted away from the clear-cut field and view of the school buildings themselves, we were almost encased by tall trees that made our little slice feel very secluded from the rest of the river – a personal part of nature to dig in to.
The distance from the path to the river varied along our path, and the further we got in the direction away from main campus – the bigger the distance to the river. Immediately, it was easy to divide our stretch of the river into two parts: The quiet, precipiced part and the rapid flowing yet flat part. Life close to the water was very sparse in both parts but it was clear that there was a decent amount of damage the stretch had collected over time. With a very bare area, it was easy to see that the state of the expanse between river and dry land was due to erosion and the way the water interacted with the sides of the bank. The stretch of nearly still water presented an interesting issue: the bank did not slope towards the path but became an almost vertical 2.5 metre drop. This meant that there was almost no existence of what Donat (1995) describes as a “riparian zone” – a transitional area between water and land that is important for sustainability with a key element of vegetation. There was no interaction between the many trees that lined the sides of the path and the river/riverbank itself (and trees/roots make great stabilizers of banks) since there was no riparian zone slope, but just a drop between the two parts that did not allow for any interaction. At one of the largest drop-offs a few trees had been completely overturned by the receding banks, roots completely out and horizontal as the ground had given away beneath the trees – a major example of the consequences this erosion can have.
The rapid, flowing part of the river followed a small bend and seemed to have had some restoration work done on it before! Specifically, many large rocks lined the water’s edge – creating a buffer between the water and the bank walls as well as shaping the path of the river. These fast currents took in water flow not just from the main river pathway but also from a smaller stream that seemed to funnel out here into the main river, creating even more flow. Here, since the water did not touch the walls there was a much shallower, more sloped transition from water to land – clearly showing the effects the rocks had on containing the river and aiding against erosion.
Seeing the river and the two very different states it is in, as well as some measures against and consequences of erosion and riverbank slumping, I think we were able to learn a lot about the effects and the state of Glendon. Most importantly, I think the adage “seeing is believing” is incredible relevant to the studies and tasks I’ve taken over my time in my Applied Plant Ecology course – I never thought that I would be able to identify an issue and try to make a difference in any part of the world by just following through and really applying things that I learned at school to their fullest. Yet, here I am analyzing a riverbank after just a few months of study and making suggestions on how I think York University can improve the state of its natural environment!
Speaking of suggestions, following the advice of Palmer et al. (2005), I believe best thing we can do for the riverbanks is not just offer solutions that fix the problem, but those that show resilience. Being able to think in the long-term and have solutions that are able to recover and continue working in the face of adversity means the restoration will both fix and maintain over time. With resilience in mind, I do believe that large rocks and obstructions that help the flow of the river will create a space that allows for a great riparian zone. Additionally, the planting and maintaining of trees and other vegetation within this zone will create a strong foundation for the soil to resist erosion and ultimately have a network to rely on. A great chart developed by Beechie et al. (2008) shows the plan processing that can create the smartest, most resilient fixes and hopefully is the final piece of a puzzle in restoring the riverbanks of Glendon.
With all this in mind, I hope Glendon can take some advice and thoughts from a student who learned a lot and hopes to have been able to use it in some way to make a mark on the world and restore some of Toronto’s natural beauty!
Palmer, M. A. et al. 2005. “Standards for Ecologically Successful River Restoration.” Journal of Applied Ecology 42(2): 208–17.
Beechie, T., G. Pess, P. Roni, and G. Giannico. 2008. “Setting River Restoration Priorities: A Review of Approaches and a General Protocol for Identifying and Prioritizing Actions.” North American Journal of Fisheries Management 28(3): 891–905. http://dx.doi.org/10.1577/M06-174.1%5Cnhttp://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1577/M06-174.1.
Donat, Martin. 1995. “Bioengineering Techniques for Streambank Restoration A Review of Central European Practices by Bioengineering Techniques for Streambank Restoration A Review of Central European Practices.” (2): 1–92.