For a century now, Toronto’s field naturalists have been protecting greenery and wildlife

Fears of climate change may be driving people to protect the environment in recent years, but one group in Toronto has been involved in the fight for a century.

Toronto Field Naturalists logoSince June 1923 the Toronto Field Naturalist have been advocates for urban green spaces and the wildlife that inhabit them.

The group is marking its 100th anniversary this year with a photo exhibit during the city’s Ravine Days in October.

The exhibit, called Then and Now, will feature slides from TFN’s archives of how green spaces looked from the mid-1950s to 1980s compared to photos showing how they look today.

The spaces have historical significance for TFN, President Zunaid Khan said in an interview.

Another photo exhibit will be held next year in conjunction with various city groups and the city itself, focusing on Toronto’s ravines system.

Toronto’s ravines were carved out of the landscape 12,000 years ago when a massive glacier that covered today’s Canada began to retreat.

One of TFN’s aims is to make sure the city follows through on its biodiversity strategy to protect environmentally sensitive ecosystems, especially wetlands.

No one particular item sparked the creation of the Toronto Field Naturalists, Khan said. It was simply people who loved the outdoors and nature and wanted to be with like-minded people.

Toronto Field Naturalists in 1930
EARLY DAYS: The Toronto Field Naturalists in Sunnybrook Park in 1930. (TFN archives)

Since its inception, TFN has nursed a protective aspect toward nature.

“Our mandate is to educate people about nature and hopefully they’ll want to conserve, protect and restore it,” Khan said.

He attributes a renewed general interest in the natural environment to two things: climate change is driving younger people to want to protect their world, and after the pandemic lockdowns were lifted people want to get out and renew themselves.

“People are realizing the positive physical and mental health benefits from spending time in nature,” Khan said.

TFN was one of the first nature groups to restart its nature walks. It drew many new members from different communities, Khan said.

He said TFN has a strong relationship with city staff who listen when TFN speaks and offers suggestions about nature preservation. The group is trying to “better engage” with councillors, he said. But TFN speaks with an independent voice.

“We’re not funded by any government organizations,” Khan said. “We’re funded by donations or memberships. We don’t take any corporate money.”

TFN helped draft training policy for Toronto Nature Stewards who will spread across the city in small groups to almost 50 sites to protect and preserve nature. Many of the lead stewards are TFN members.

Famous wildlife artist Robert Bateman, 92, developed his love for nature as a TFN Junior Naturalist. In the group’s anniversary newsletter Bateman talks about the impact TFN had on him.

“As he became more well-known he’s done a lot to speak out for nature and making people aware of TFN,” Khan said. “He’s definitely had a positive impact.”

Metrolinx blamed for damage

Development can be a threat to the natural environment, Khan said. But he added that doesn’t mean developers and nature groups can’t work together.

“If developers are willing to work with groups like ours in full transparency we will help them to understand the impact, ways to mitigate it, and things they should choose to put into green spaces on their properties.”

The problem is, he said, many developers aren’t making the effort to understand the impact their developments have on ecosystems.

He blames the province, in particular Metrolinx, for the biggest damage being done to the ravine system.

Khan said TFN plans to keep its eye on Toronto’s natural environment and to stand up for it.

“We’ve been speaking up for nature since 1923 and we’re never going to stop,” Khan said. “We play the long game. We’re not going anywhere.”.