On a brisk Saturday morning, full of sunshine and singing birds, a handful of dedicated and delightful community members are out on King Road in Hamilton taking out the trash. Literally. Or should I say, litter-ally.
I had the incredible pleasure of working with these committed folks, ranging from young to spry, to collectively clean up a portion of King Road in Burlington that’s been closed off to protect local species-at-risk, the Jefferson salamander. The salamanders, who’ve been overwintering beneath the ground and the frost line, emerge in the spring to breed in temporary pools of water (vernal pools), protected by the shade of deciduous forests. Sometimes this involves crossing a road or two in the dark of night, when the salamanders are most active. Dangerous!
To make that trek all the easier, a group of volunteers came together to do a simple litter pick-up on Saturday, dubbed a Team Up to Clean Up and facilitated by the City of Hamilton and Conservation Halton. We picked up trash along either side of the road and found all sorts of curious artifacts, long deserted by their human companions.
The following day, April 7th, the World Health Organization celebrated World Health Day. The day marks the founding of the organization in 1948 with a themed day; this year’s theme was high blood pressure.
High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, affects one in three people worldwide. It’s a chronic condition in which the blood pressure in the arteries is elevated, causing the heart to work harder than normal to circulate blood throughout the body. High blood pressure can be tied to a number of other health conditions, increasing an individual’s risk of heart attack, stroke, and kidney failure.
No, I’m not mercilessly relaying details of my weekend to you here. There is a connection and it’s that our health is tied to the health of our ecosystems in a multitude of ways. One of the remedies to high blood pressure lies within our forests, our fields, and our… salamanders. Okay, that’s a bit of a stretch. But if you’ve done some reading on hypertension you may have read that exercise will help reduce high blood pressure. Taking that a step further, a casual walk in the forest is not only reported to decrease your blood pressure through physical activity but also can reduce any negative feelings you might be carrying with you. The calm that comes with nature walks, like the one I had in Kerncliff Park recently, has been scientifically documented to reduce hypertension and stress. Overall, it's clear that green spaces contribute to aperson's wellbeing!
As indicators of an overall ecosystem’s health, salamanders now come into the picture. These animals are particularly sensitive to ecosystem changes and often provide a snapshot of how healthy a given ecosystem is. Maintaining sustainable, viable habitats (read: homes) for animals such as the Jefferson Salamander also ensures that we keep our environments and ourselves in good health.
As a 1.8 million acre protected green space on the doorstep of the country's largest urban area, Ontario's Greenbelt is a tremendous resource for anyone looking to stay active and stay healthy. Being stewards of the Greenbelt is one of the most holistic actions we can take toward caring for our heath and the health of future generations. So add that to your to-do list beside your morning jaunt and breakfast. You’ll be glad you did.
-- Jenny Chan, Communications Assistant
Hartig, T., Evans, G. W., Jamner, L. D., Davis, D. S., and Gärling, T. (2003). Tracking restoration in natural and urban field settings. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 23(2), 109-123.
“World Health Day.” World Health Organization. World Health Organization, 2013. 8 March 2013.
Ministry of Natural Resources. “Jefferson salamander (Ambystoma jeffersonianum).” Ontario: Queen’s Printer for Ontario, 2008.