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Natural parks and wetlands

Natural parks and wetlands

What is a natural area?

Natural areas are a type of park space that are managed to maintain natural characteristics. They are natural environment spaces where plants, insects, birds, and other wildlife (broadly known as biodiversity) can live, while balancing public access and enjoyment.

By contrast, manicured parks provide mowed fields for play and sport activities and carefully planned planting beds. About half of the park space in Calgary is natural area; the remaining half is manicured.

Natural area parks range in size and connectedness across Calgary. You may be familiar with large, “core habitat” parks like Weaselhead Flats or Nose Hill. These are also known as special protection or major natural environment parks. Other parks, which are typically smaller, are known as “stepping stones” or supporting natural areas. Together, core and stepping stone parks and the corridors that connect them make up the network of open space within the City.

Why are natural areas important?


  • Biodiversity Conservation
    • Natural areas provide a land base where a diverse number of vegetation species can live, which creates different habitat types in which different species of wildlife can thrive within our city.
  • Climate Change Resiliency
    • Natural areas provide a safe place for vegetation and wildlife communities to adapt to environmental changes making them more resilient in the face of climate change.
  • Ecosystem Services
    • Natural areas keep local ecosystems and their associated free services intact. These services are generally called “ecosystem services”. Examples include air and water filtration, carbon storage, and flood and drought mitigation.
  • Health and Wellness
    • Natural areas can have a key role in both mental and physical wellbeing as well as providing us with a context for a larger understanding and appreciation of life.
  • Educational Opportunities
    • Natural areas connect people to a host of readily accessible ecological, cultural, and recreational education opportunities.

How Do We Manage Natural Areas?

Relative to manicured parks, natural areas require less routine and less intensive management. Land managers with expertise in the subjects of ecology, botany, wildlife biology, restoration, planning, forestry, invasive species, and trail management are just a few of the many disciplines required to effectively manage the habitat within these important natural assets for citizens (both human and wildlife alike). Management of this habitat across the city is informed by policies, plans and guidelines that outline general management approaches, priority areas, and park-specific actions.

Although there is less intensive management of natural areas, they are still actively cared for in a number of ways including occasional mowing, watering—when establishing new native plants—and removal of invasive plant species that can outcompete native plants. Sometimes native plants take over too requiring some intervention to increase biodiversity within an area. For example, foxtail barley is a native plant that is part of a healthy prairie ecosystem but can cause issues for dogs. Foxtail barley thrives in areas with low nutrients and high salinity (salt). The City is trialing using micro clover or urban grass seed mixes to establish turf stands that are more suitable for their location. Micro clover and urban grasses also feeds bees and other pollinators.    

Habitat conditions in urban natural areas degrade over time due to heavy use and impacts from ongoing development. If conditions deteriorate beyond certain ecological thresholds, parks may require a larger investment to restore. On the ground management of natural areas may employ some of these common operational tools:

Natural Area Etiquette

Natural areas balance public access with ecological priorities. The most important thing to remember is that natural areas should be enjoyed with our eyes and ears, not through activities that change or damage the natural environment.

Best behaviour in natural areas:

  • Stay on established pathways and trails; respect pathway closures when and where they occur; follow the rules of the parks and pathways bylaws
  • Do not pick or dig up wildflowers or other plants
  • Take out what you take in: Do not litter in natural areas
  • Leave wildlife to themselves and maintain a respectful distance
  • Refrain from creating “encroachments”. Encroachments are adding anything that changes natural areas, like bike jumps, tree forts, mowing, etc.

Add natural habitat to your yard

If you like the look of natural areas and would like to bring this aesthetic home with you, the City has many resources for making your yard a more biodiversity friendly place:

  • Check out YardSmart, a City resource for making your yard more ecologically friendly
  • If pollinators and the flowers they depend on are of interest to you, check out Bee a polli-neighbor

If you’d like to participate in natural areas:

Additional resources