Lakeland College’s Vermilion campus was founded in 1913 as an agricultural school and is surrounded by land used for studying and researching farming. In addition to space for farming and grazing, the fields contain wetlands which, with growing recognition of their importance in the overall health of the environment, are increasingly the subject of research themselves.
That’s because riparian (literally, river bank) areas provide habitat for wildlife, have an important role in protecting water quality and limit the damage caused by floods. But the banks of wetlands and rivers are often badly degraded — by animals seeking water and by how the adjacent land is used.
An assessment done before research started recommended fencing several wetlands to keep cattle off and let the riparian areas return to their natural state. However, only one wetland, a dugout, was fenced (water was provided for the cattle elsewhere). Instead, the college is aiming to develop a collaborative, sustainable and realistic approach to improving the overall health of college wetlands, in the belief many small improvements will lead to positive changes.
Research on college property began with making inventories of wetland plant species and a project measuring water quality.
In a related project, researchers are also reassessing a fenced off riparian area in Vermilion Provincial Park, to assess whether the fences have improved the health of the riparian area (which had been degraded by livestock). They have developed a set of protocols to use in the reassessment and in future monitoring. Students involved in the project focused on studying the amount of biomass produced in the area through assessments of grazing cages that had been set up for three years before the fences were built.
In the future, students may be involved in yearly assessments of the riparian areas within the fences.