Natural Heritage System Strategy


Downy woodpecker-photo: Kris Vande Sompel

Natural heritage systems help provide habitat for many common species such as the downy woodpecker.
Photo: Kris Vande Sompel

Credit Valley Conservation (CVC) has developed a Natural Heritage System Strategy for the Credit River watershed. Central to this strategy is the identification of a Credit River Watershed Natural Heritage System (CRWNHS, abbreviated to NHS).

A natural heritage system is defined by the Province of Ontario as: “A system made up of natural heritage features and areas, and linkages intended to provide connectivity (at the regional or site level) and support natural processes which are necessary to maintain biological and geological diversity, natural functions, viable populations of indigenous species and ecosystems. These systems can include natural heritage features and areas, federal and provincial parks and conservation reserves, other natural heritage features, lands that have been restored or have the potential to be restored to a natural state, areas that support hydrologic functions and working landscapes that enable ecological functions to continue. The Province has a recommended approach for identifying natural heritage systems, but municipal approaches that achieve or exceed the same objectives may also be used” (Provincial Policy Statement 2014).

Natural heritage systems can include natural areas, areas with the potential to be restored, areas that support hydrologic functions, and working landscapes that enable ecological functions to continue (from Provincial Policy Statement 2014).

The NHS is being used to strategically direct CVC programs. It is also used to develop tools to assist provincial and municipal partners, private landowners, non-profit organizations and other stakeholders to protect, manage and enhance natural heritage protection of the Credit River watershed.

The NHS specifically provides a watershed and science-based approach that:

  • Provides an integrated system of terrestrial and aquatic features and functions to enable better management of the watershed’s natural resources;
  • Enables CVC to provide consistent and efficient plan input and plan review on provincial, regional, or area municipal initiatives as part of its technical advisory role, using a common NHS across the watershed;
  • Supports CVC’s Strategic Plan 2015-2019 and existing watershed management programs such as the Greenlands Securement Strategy, the Credit River Fisheries Management Plan, the Credit River Water Management Strategy, the Lake Ontario Integrated Shoreline Strategy, and current and future programs, including subwatershed studies and a watershed plan; and
  • Provides partners, including municipalities and the Province, with a science-based natural heritage system based on ecological and hydrological principles within a watershed ecosystem context, and with extensive data. The NHS can be used to help defend and refine existing municipal natural heritage systems, or can be adapted for development of municipal level natural heritage systems in municipalities that currently lack such systems.

The strategy has been developed in four phases. Phases 1 and 2 were completed in 2011, and involved researching background information and characterizing existing conditions in the Credit River watershed. Phases 3 and 4 were completed in 2015. Phase 3 involved the development of scientific criteria, a methodology and mapping for the system. Phase 4 developed recommendations for implementation, including actions for protection, restoration, stewardship and land securement.

 The Credit River Watershed Natural Heritage System is made up of three interrelated components:

  1. Natural heritage features including valleylands, wetlands, woodlands, aquatic habitat, Lake Ontario shoreline, significant wildlife habitat as well as habitat of endangered and threatened species that provide important ecological functions in the watershed.
  2. Minimum Buffers have been applied to specific valleylands, wetlands, woodlands and aquatic habitat based on current science. Buffers protect the features and their functions, and help to reduce impacts of adjoining land uses on the ecological function of natural heritage features.
  3. Natural heritage areas are made up of Centres for Biodiversity within the Credit River watershed. A total of 11 Centres for Biodiversity have been identified. These areas contain concentrations of high quality natural heritage features as well as areas with non-natural land uses that provide some ecological function due to their location in the system. Collectively, these areas are important for supporting native biodiversity in the watershed over the long term.

Together, natural heritage features, their buffers and natural heritage areas make up the Credit River Watershed Natural Heritage System. They are essential to be managed jointly and collaboratively for the long-term function and resilience of the watershed’s health.

Credit river aerial photo


Resources available include:

Natural Heritage System Strategy – Phases 1 & 2 – 2011

Natural Heritage System Strategy – Phases 3 & 4 – 2015

Supporting Resources:

Municipal Partnership Projects

For more information, please contact Yvette Roy at

COVID-19 related service changes
Data and information released from Credit Valley Conservation (CVC) are provided on an 'AS IS' basis, without warranty of any kind, including without limitation the warranties of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose and non-infringement.

Availability of this data and information does not constitute scientific publication. Data and/or information may contain errors or be incomplete. CVC and its employees make no representation or warranty, express or implied, including without limitation any warranties of merchantability or fitness for a particular purpose or warranties as to the identity or ownership of data or information, the quality, accuracy or completeness of data or information, or that the use of such data or information will not infringe any patent, intellectual property or proprietary rights of any party. CVC shall not be liable for any claim for any loss, harm, illness or other damage or injury arising from access to or use of data or information, including without limitation any direct, indirect, incidental, exemplary, special or consequential damages, even if advised of the possibility of such damages.

In accordance with scientific standards, appropriate acknowledgment of CVC should be made in any publications or other disclosures concerning data or information made available by CVC.