Meadow habitats have become increasingly scarce due to the expansion of urban areas, intensification of agricultural practices, and the decline of land management practices such as fire and forest clearing, which were historically used to aid hunting and agricultural activities.

This has had an impact on birds and pollinators due to loss of food sources, migratory staging areas, and overwintering/nesting habitat. Specifically, populations of butterfly and bird species have declined.

In Ontario, the loss of meadow habitat has resulted in several meadow-dependent species being listed under the Endangered Species Act, 2007.  For example, the Monarch butterfly has been listed as “special concern”, and Bobolink and Eastern Meadowlark have been listed as “threatened”.

Additionally, many native bee species populations that provide pollination services for plants and crops are in severe decline. The Rusty-patched Bumble Bee is an example of a pollinator species that is listed as “endangered”. Loss of these habitats also means that certain plant species have been listed under the Endangered Species Act as well, such as the Eastern prairie fringed-orchid and Purple twayblade.

Meadow restoration creates benefits such as:

  • Support of pollinator services and pest control
  • Reduced soil erosion
  • Improved wildlife habitat for foraging, breeding, nesting, and overwintering
  • Enhanced natural corridors
  • Carbon absorption, climate change mitigation
  • Improved water infiltration

To restore meadow habitat and the ecological services they provide, TRCA strategically selects locations where meadows are complementary to existing land-use or where historic meadows existed.

Proper site preparation is important to the success of any meadow project and will vary depending on site conditions. Following site preparation, TRCA will plant/seed the area with native wildflowers and grasses. Habitat features such as downed woody debris, raptor poles, snake hibernacula, and nest boxes can be installed. In some cases nodal plantings of berry or nut-producing shrubs/trees may be planted.

Monitoring and maintenance are critical to meadow restoration in the absence of natural disturbance such as fire or grazing.  Without a maintenance regime, meadows in Ontario will typically succeed into forest communities.

Maintenance will need to occur throughout the life of the meadow project to ensure native seed establishment, minimize the expansion of invasive species, and promote meadow biodiversity. Maintenance regimes will vary depending on site characteristics and restoration goals.

cross section of typical meadow
Click to view full-sized

Scarborough Centre Butterfly Trail

The Scarborough Centre Butterfly Trail is an example of meadow restoration within a hydro corridor in the Highland Creek watershed of Toronto. East to west multi-use trails connect communities across the hydro corridor and provide recreational opportunities for the local residents.

Hydro corridors are typically mowed to maintain access to hydro lines and limit tree growth. Meadows are an excellent alternative to mowed grass, as they help to create a vibrant biodiverse ecosystem and are compatible with the management requirements of the hydro corridor.

Meadows complement other amenities in the corridor such as community gardens, trails, and sports fields.

aerial view of hydro corridor
The Scarborough Centre Butterfly Trail: Aerial of meadow establishment
mowed turf grass
Before: Mowed turf grass
TRCA workers seed meadow
During: Seeding the meadow
Bergamot and Sweet Ox Eye in hydro corridor ceadow
After meadow establishment: Bergamot and Sweet Ox Eye in hydro corridor meadow
 Tall Sunflower and Black Eyed Susan in hydro corridor meadow
After meadow establishment: Tall Sunflower and Black Eyed Susan in hydro corridor meadow

Wildlife in the Meadow

monarch butterfly eggMonarch Butterfly egg on Milkweed monarch caterpillarMonarch Caterpillar (5th Instar) on Milkweed Monarch Butterfly on CoreopsisMonarch Butterfly on Coreopsis
Monarch butterfly on Sweet Ox EyeMonarch Butterfly on Sweet Ox Eye black swallowtail butterflyBlack Swallowtail Savannah SparrowSavannah Sparrow
American GoldfinchAmerican Goldfinch bee on Black Eyed SusanBee Species on Black Eyed Susan bee on Bull ThistleBee Species on Bull Thistle
bee on bergamotBee Species on Bergamot milkweed beetleMilkweed Beetle on Milkweed