Ont. ag land trust secures easement in Greenbelt

A 97-acre farm northwest of Brampton, Ont., within the Toronto-area Greenbelt, is the first to be protected by a conservation easement brokered by the Ontario Farmland Trust.

The OFT, the province’s only ag land trust, announced Wednesday it had completed its first land securement project by securing the donation of the easement from Deirdre Wright, owner of Belain Farm near Belfountain.

Such easements are used in other jurisdictions to keep farm property available for agricultural land and greenspace in perpetuity and/or to guarantee conservation and maintenance of the property’s natural features and wildlife.

The OTF’s easement was completed using part of a $75,000 grant from the Friends of the Greenbelt Foundation, allocated to the creation of four farmland conservation easements in or near the Greenbelt.

Belain Farm includes 40 acres of leased ag land used to grow corn, soybeans and wheat, plus 11 acres near the house and farm buildings that are fenced for grazing horses, and 22 acres of mature hardwood forest and “provincially significant” wetlands.

“The natural areas provide diverse habitats for wildlife, including some threatened and endangered species such as Henslow’s sparrow and monarch butterfly,” OFT said in a release.

Wright has owned the property since 1965 and has lived on it since 1970, OFT said.

Credit Valley Conservation, which drew up the farm’s original conservation plan, has partnered with the OFT on this project and plans to assist with future stewardship and monitoring of the property, the farmland trust noted.

“Sensitive”

The Greenbelt is the province’s designated zone of permanent protection for 1.8 million acres of farmland and other “environmentally sensitive” land around southern Ontario’s Greater Golden Horseshoe, taking in the Niagara Escarpment, the Oak Ridges Moraine, Rouge Park, several hundred rural towns and villages, and about 7,100 farms.

Belain Farm’s status within the Greenbelt is two-thirds “natural heritage” and one third “protected countryside.”

Unlike land that’s donated to, or purchased by, a land trust such as OFT, land that’s covered by a conservation easement remains the property of the landowner, but it won’t be developed, even when it’s willed or sold to new owners.

“Although the concept of preserving woodlands or wetlands is not new, the idea of private landowners taking an active role to conserve their agricultural land from development is,” the OFT said Wednesday.

Farmland trusts have been touted as a way to maintain prime farmland against approaching urban sprawl. Ontario, for one, contains 52 per cent of all “Class 1” farmland in the country, but since the 1950s, fertile regions such as southern and central Ontario lost 13 and 49 per cent of their farmland respectively, OFT said.

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