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Solutions for Addressing Loss of Public Park Space

New Report Outlines Strategy for Increasing Access to Urban and Near-Urban Greenspaces Through Private Land Stewardship and Indigenous Collaboration

Toronto, June 4, 2024 - As Ontario grows, there is an increasing demand for greenspaces within and near urban areas. Large parks provide benefits for physical and mental health, allow access to recreational and cultural spaces close to home and can provide critical habitats and corridors for biodiversity.

In response, a recent report titled Integrating Private Lands in Large Park Networks, by the Greenbelt Foundation in partnership with Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA) and Cambium Indigenous Professional Services, examines the potential for incorporating private lands into large park and trail systems with the benefits of it being in near urban areas to increase greenspace access for all.

The greatest need for recreation and biodiversity conservation are within the nation’s most urban regions, which also have high levels of private land ownership. As Canada advances reconciliation through conservation actions, private lands donated, secured, or placed under conservation easements are an opportunity to engage Indigenous Communities and recognize Rights and Responsibilities on their Territorial treaties while preserving biodiversity and connecting ecological trail systems with other protected areas to enhance the support of human health and wellbeing.

The report highlights key recommendations to update existing government conservation and land securement programs for private lands such as the Ecological Gifts Program and Natural Heritage Conservation Program, to reflect these goals. Additional recommendations urge governments, First Nations and community partners, such as land trusts and conservation authorities, to unite strategies and programs to conserve biodiversity, increase access to greenspace and create opportunities for Indigenous Peoples to connect with and uphold their rights and responsibilities to their traditional and treaty lands by targeting private lands for inclusion in large parks networks.

“In Canada‘s largest urban area addressing the growing need for large park planning across the region is increasingly important if we are to meet the needs of our growing population – but we need innovative and contemporary solutions in these near-urban areas,” said Edward McDonnell, CEO of the Greenbelt Foundation, “Southern Ontario is also a biodiversity hotspot and home to many First Nations and Indigenous Peoples. Updating private land stewardship programs is critical to new park creation – along with ensuring protection of ecosystems and alignment with Indigenous Rights and Responsibilities.”

“While historical injustices towards Indigenous Peoples remain a standing issue, collaborations with Indigenous Peoples, Communities and Organizations is imperative in moving any environmental issue forward,” said Kerry-Ann Charles, Environment Partnership Coordinator at Cambium Indigenous Professional Services (CIPS). “A collaborative approach to increasing access to and expanding greenspace would fulfill a plethora of mutually beneficial needs, from the restoration of native ecosystems and species habitats to the supported assertion of Indigenous Rights and Responsibilities in the stewardship and management of the environment, including the spiritual connection to the natural world and the lessons they teach us.

This collaboration and the recommendations put forth is a great example of a step forward in creating opportunities for Western and Indigenous knowledge systems and practices to be bridged and implemented within Ethical Space achieving the ultimate goal of creating a system truly rooted in Two Eyed Seeing and in the spirit of Truth and Reconciliation.”

Building upon the challenges identified in the Foundation’s 2019 and 2022 reports; State of Large Parks in Ontario’s Golden Horseshoe and Improving Access to Large Parks in Ontario’s Golden Horseshoe, which identified a trending loss in park lands, this latest report also utilizes five case studies to showcase successful initiatives related to private lands that address landowner concerns related to public safety and liability, the integration of formal land conservation programs with traditional cultural ties and practices to the land, and balancing public use and ecosystem health.

In addition to new legislation and the importance of coordinated efforts to safeguard ecological connections, case studies showcase how public safety and liability concerns can be addressed to support public access to private land and the integration of formal land conservation programs with cultural ties to the land.

“Protecting greenspace in cities and nearby areas is crucial for connecting ecosystems and providing people with access to nature. In areas where public greenspace is limited, protected and accessible private lands can bridge the gap to parks and conservation areas. This not only benefits communities' physical and mental health but also aids in conserving and enhancing biodiversity.” said Sameer Dhalla, Director, Development & Engineering Services at TRCA.

“Furthermore, private land conservation presents a unique opportunity for meaningful engagement with Indigenous Communities, facilitating the recognition and implementation of Indigenous Rights and Responsibilities.”

For more detailed information on the study's methodology and specific results from each case study, please refer to the full report and the backgrounder:

Funding for this project has been generously provided by Parks Canada and the Government of Ontario.

About the Greenbelt and the Greenbelt Foundation

The Greenbelt Foundation is the only organization solely dedicated to ensuring the Greenbelt remains permanent, protected, and prosperous. The Foundation operates as an independent, charitable organization, and receives core funding from the Government of Ontario as well as other public and private support to make strategic investments that enhance and improve the systems and productivity of the Greenbelt. Since 2005, the Foundation has invested in the interconnected natural, agricultural, and economic systems, to ensure a working, thriving Greenbelt for all.

Now a world-class model, Ontario’s Greenbelt spans over two million acres of protected natural landscapes, farmlands, and urban river valleys. For more information, visit:

About Cambium Indigenous Professional Services (CIPS)

CIPS is headquartered at the Curve Lake First Nation in Ontario. A First Nation owned and operated engineering and consulting company, CIPS is dedicated to making a positive difference in the communities it serves. It offers a range of services from Environmental to Indigenous Awareness Training to Meeting Facilitation, Planning and Hosting.

About Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA)

Since 1957, Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA), as enabled through the provincial Conservation Authorities Act, has taken action to enhance our region’s natural environment and protect our land, water, and communities from the impacts of flooding and increasingly extreme weather events – Ontario’s leading cause of public emergencies.

As the region’s first line of defence against natural hazards, TRCA maintains vital infrastructure and provides programs and services that promote public health and safety, protecting people and property.

TRCA mobilizes a science-based approach to provide sound policy advice, leveraging its position as a not-for-profit operating in the broader public sector to achieve collective impacts within our communities and across all levels of government.

TRCA’s jurisdiction includes nine watersheds and their Lake Ontario shorelines, spanning six upper-tier and fifteen lower-tier municipalities and representing almost five million people, approximately 10% of Canada’s population.

To learn more about TRCA, visit

For media inquiries:

Serena Luk

Content and Media Relations Manager

The Greenbelt Foundation


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