The Regional Municipality Of York


Natural Heritage and Agricultural Systems

Let us know where you want to preserve natural features and grow agricultural areas!

York Region is currently reviewing and updating land use policies in its Official Plan. The Official Plan describes how the Region plans to accommodate future growth and development while meeting the needs of existing residents and businesses in the Region. An important part of this process is to protect land for specific uses – for this we need YOUR input!

Did you know that 69% of the land in York Region is within the Oak Ridges Moraine and Greenbelt? The majority of these lands are protected from urban development by Provincial policy. These lands include parts of the provincial Natural Heritage System and Agricultural System.

  • The Natural Heritage System: a continuous land base that protects natural features including wetlands, woodlands, lakes and streams that function collectively to provide essential ecosystem services including water storage and filtration, habitat and resilience to climate change.
  • The Agricultural System: includes the land base for growing of crops, grazing of animals and rural lands. It also includes the agri-food network consisting of farm buildings, services, farm markets and food/beverage processors to support agricultural communities.

Together these two systems protect and enhance the natural environment and support agricultural production. As the Region’s population grows from approximately 1.2 million residents to an estimated 1.8 million by 2041, it is important that we ensure these lands are protected for future generations.

Watch a presentation below to provide more information on Agriculture and Natural Heritage System Planning.

Get Involved Now

To learn more about proposed changes to York Region’s natural heritage and agricultural land base mapping, please visit the link below. We want your feedback on these proposed mapping changes.

We want your opinion on:

  • Areas proposed to be included in the Agricultural Land Base
  • Proposed Provincial Natural Heritage System for the Growth Plan mapping

Please use the map below to have your say on how and where we should protect natural heritage system features and agricultural lands in your community!

Thank you for your interest in shaping the natural heritage system and the agricultural land base.

Why Protect a Natural Heritage System?

What is the Regional Greenlands System?

The Regional Greenlands is a continuous land base that protects a system of natural features including wetlands, woodlands, lakes and streams that function collectively to provide essential ecosystem services including water storage and filtration, habitat and resilience to climate change.

The 2010 Regional Official Plan took a comprehensive approach to updating its Regional Greenlands system to implement provincial mapping from the Greenbelt Plan and the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan. In 2017, the Province of Ontario released Natural Heritage System mapping for the Greater Golden Horseshoe and updated policy direction to support a comprehensive, integrated and long-term approach to the planning and protection of natural systems.

York Region is required to incorporate updated provincial mapping into the Official Plan and include appropriate policies to maintain, restore, or enhance the diversity and connectivity of the system. In addition, the Regional Official Plan update will refine existing Regional Greenlands system and feature mapping (including wetlands and woodlands) where more recent information is available. Check out our FAQ on the Natural Heritage System and Agricultural System.

Why are Greenland systems important?

The Regional Greenlands System protects, restores and enhances natural areas in York Region to support biodiversity and ecological integrity. It provides ecosystem services that are life sustaining, improving quality of life in several ways. These include; supporting a clean and reliable supply of ground and surface water, mitigating impacts of climate change, moderating air quality and providing opportunities for residents to enjoy and benefit from nature.

What is the extent of proposed changes of the Regional Greenlands System?

York Region has a long history of natural systems planning; current policies in the 2010 Regional Official Plan provide a strong foundation for protection of these systems, considered by many as leading examples of natural systems planning within the Greater Golden Horseshoe. Since 2010, updated provincial direction has come into effect in the form of Provincial Policy Statement (2020), Growth Plan (2019), Greenbelt Plan (2017) and Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan (2017). As part of the Official Plan update, the Region is reviewing Regional Greenlands System and water resource system policies to be consistent with the updated Provincial plans.

Key policy and mapping changes under consideration include:

  • Implement the Provincial Natural Heritage System mapping
  • Update current mapping with new and updated data and information (i.e. individual features such as provincially significant wetlands, and areas of natural and scientific interest)
  • Review of current policy framework for the provincial Natural Heritage System (as per the Growth Plan, 2019)
  • Update current definitions and policy language with respect to the water resource systems
  • Ensure watershed policies reflect new provincial requirements

The Regional Municipality of York en-US

Why Protect Agricultural Lands?

Why Protect Agricultural Lands?

What is an Agricultural System?

The Province of Ontario introduced an agricultural system to support the protection of farmland and to promote economic development of the agriculture and agri-food sector. Part of this system includes the land base consisting of specialty crop areas such as the Holland Marsh in York Region, prime agriculture lands, and rural lands where active agriculture and related uses are ongoing. It aims to link these with agricultural areas to support the agri-food network.

The agri-food network consists of a broad range of elements including; farm buildings, agricultural services, farm markets, primary processing and distributors, as well as the infrastructure that connects them.

Agricultural lands are primarily used for the growing of crops, raising of livestock, aquaculture, maple syrup production, and the associated on-farm buildings and structures.

Rural lands include agricultural uses in addition to recreational, tourism, institutional and resource based commercial or industrial uses that primarily serve the agricultural/rural community.

Currently, York Region protects for agricultural uses within the agricultural system through its Official Plan. Its three land use categories are:

  • Specialty crop area (where there are no proposed changes – Holland Marsh)
  • Agricultural lands
  • Rural lands

Check out for FAQ on the Natural Heritage System and Agricultural System.

Why are Changes being Considered to the Rural and Agricultural Lands?

Currently, rural and agricultural lands are both protected and will continue to be protected. Agricultural uses, agriculture-related uses, and on-farm diversified uses, are all permitted in both the rural and agricultural land use designations (areas) in York Region’s Official Plan. There are, however, additional land use permissions on the Region’s Rural lands. In 2017, the Province carried out a technical mapping exercise of Agricultural lands in Ontario and released a provincial map illustrating agricultural lands proposed to be protected. The provincial mapping builds on the existing 2010 York Region mapping and would result in potential additions to agricultural lands and a reduction in rural lands, in York Region.

York Region had a consultant assess the proposed Provincial mapping additions to the Region’s current agricultural mapping. The Province allows municipalities to make minor changes to the provincial map based upon refinement criteria. The consultant used these criteria to refine the Province’s proposed mapping.

As a result, York Region is engaging stakeholders on their consideration of converting approximately 2% of lands currently designated rural to an Agricultural land use designation. Currently around 16% of the lands in York Region are designated Rural and 36% designated agricultural.

We are seeking your input on these potential changes.

For more information on Planning for Agriculture in York Region, view our June 2019 report.

Where are these Proposed Changes Being Considered?

Only the municipalities of East Gwillimbury, Georgina, King, Richmond Hill, Vaughan and Whitchurch-Stouffville would be impacted by proposed changes to the agricultural system.

It was recommended by the consultant that portions of the study areas be re-designated from the Rural to the Agriculture land use designation.

In the consultant’s report, there were additional areas examined as per requests by the municipality or by the consultant’s advice. These geographic areas are not reflected on the story map and can be commented on by reaching us at

York Region is seeking your input to determine whether you support or would like to share additional considerations in regard to the proposed changes.

How does the Region use your input?

Input provided through your comments on the story map will be used to inform the development of a draft agricultural system and Regional Greenlands system map that will be considered by York Region Council as part of the Official Plan update in 2021. Staff are currently assessing Provincial policies outlined in the Greenbelt Plan, Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan, Growth Plan and Provincial Policy Statement to determine how the changes will impact York Region’s Official plan. Further, staff are seeking input from local municipal councils and staff as well as Provincial staff to inform the update to the Region’s agricultural and natural systems mapping.

The Regional Municipality of York en-US

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Coming soon!

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Find out more 

To learn more about the Regional Official Plan and to receive our monthly updates please visit  

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