Transmissions: It’s a Natural?

Trent University plans to move a wetland to build a sports complex… but is that even possible?


It’s fitting that the City of Peterborough reverted, after two attempts at re-branding, to ‘It’s a Natural’ days after approving the development of a sports complex in Trent University’s Nature Areas that would require “moving a wetland.”

Is such a thing possible? Not exactly. It’s possible to destroy a wetland, obviously, and it’s possible to create another one somewhere else, but that’s not what most people think of when they hear ‘moving.’

That’s not all. “We can only replace one type of wetland: marshes,” says Dylan Radcliffe. “Most of this wetland is a wooded swamp. The function and form is entirely different.”

The insistence that the wetland will be moved, not simply filled in and replaced, is partly an Orwellian branding exercise for a city that feigns to honour its plant friends, and partly a nod to provincial legislation, though a very perfunctory nod.

Provincial regulation demands that there be no net reduction in the amount of wetland. So if you destroy one, you have to create a new one. That’s a policy that’s intended to protect wetlands in general, not particular wetlands with particular roles in particular places.

“Open-water wetlands are what a lot of people think of when they think of a wetland: cattails, fish, and ducks,” Radcliffe says. “The swamp they’re filling in is full of cedars and maples and has a huge capacity to absorb water in summer,” much higher than an open water wetland—a question of “one dimension versus two dimensions.”

Those with good memories will recall that Peterborough has a history of unpleasant flooding. You would think protecting permeable surfaces like fields, forests, and especially wetlands, which can absorb water, rather than constantly expanding the impermeable surfaces—roads, buildings, and parking lots—would be a city priority.

Is it worth it for yet another sports complex? The area being affected is a popular spot for hiking, cycling, and dog walking. It’s also extensively used for research by Trent students, and by Camp Kawartha as a kids’ educational centre. None of these groups were considered in the plans.

The fact that this is happening in a city that sells itself as a forest paradise, a city where, with Trent, Fleming, and the Ministry of Natural Resources, we have probably the highest per capita concentration of expertise in environmental science and policy in the country, is very sad.


Photo by Vincent Van Zalinge.

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David Tough

David Tough


David Tough is a musician, scholar, and journalist from Peterborough, Ontario. He is Senior Editor of Electric City Magazine.