The Natural Heritage Information Centre (NHIC)

The Natural Heritage Information Centre:

  • maintains a list of over 17,000 plants, animals and lichens in Ontario
  • tracks the locations and conditions of over 2,000 species, plant communities and wildlife concentration areas
  • maintains natural heritage information on over 9,000 natural areas in the province

These data are used to assist with conservation, planning and research activities.

Access available information

There are a number of ways you can access information maintained by the Natural Heritage Information Centre.

Please note that an absence of information does not mean that a location has no natural heritage areas, species of conservation concern (including species at risk), plant communities or wildlife concentration areas. These data are not a substitute for site visits.

The Natural Heritage Information Centre has removed sensitive information from publicly available natural heritage datasets and generalized the locations of occurrences of species, plant communities and wildlife concentration areas to a 1 kilometre grid.

View map with natural heritage information

Some data are available through the Make-A-Map: Natural Heritage Areas application. This application allows users to view an online map with natural heritage information.

Data managed by the Natural Heritage Information Centre are in a single map layer called the NHIC 1-kilometre grid.

Zoom to the location in your area of interest and select one or more squares to identify:

  • species of conservation concern (including species at risk)
  • plant communities
  • wildlife concentration areas
  • natural heritage areas

Make-A-Map: Natural Heritage Areas application

Geographic Information System data

Natural heritage areas

The Natural Heritage Information Centre’s natural areas database contains information on over 9,000 areas in Ontario that have significant or unique natural heritage features.

Non-sensitive information on these natural heritage areas is available in our natural areas shapefile. This file includes centroid coordinates and basic information about significant natural heritage areas in Ontario. If you are unable to use this shapefile to access information, contact the Natural Heritage Information Centre for an alternative data format.

Use the datasets available through the Ontario Geohub, if you need area boundaries for provincially designated natural heritage areas such as:

  • Areas of Natural and Scientific Interest (ANSI)
  • Canadian Heritage River System
  • Conservation Reserve Regulated
  • Crown Land Use Policy Atlas (CLUPA)
  • provincial protected areas
  • federal protected areas
  • natural heritage values area
  • Provincial Park Regulated
  • wetlands
  • wilderness areas

Download: natural areas shapefile (ZIP)

Species of conservation concern (including species at risk), plant communities, wildlife concentration areas and natural heritage areas

To access these data:

  1. Download the complete file geodatabase or complete shapefile version of the Provincially Tracked Species 1-kilometre grid from the Ontario Geohub. These versions contain both a spatial layer and data table. The geodatabase is ready to use. If you choose the shapefile, you will need to link the spatial layer to the table; use the relate function in GIS to do this. Use the OGF_ID field in the spatial layer and the PROV_TRK_SPECIES_1KM_GRID_ID field in the table.

    Alternative file formats are available for download. Please note that both the Provincially Tracked Species 1-kilometre grid spatial layer and the related PROV_TRK_SPECIES_GRID_DETAIL table are required to interact with the data.

If you are unable to use the geodatabase or shapefile to access information, contact the Natural Heritage Information Centre for an alternative data format.

Access detailed data

Detailed data include:

  • precise locations
  • biological information
  • names of restricted species

Restricted species are commercially exploited or sensitive to disturbance; these species could be harmed if data aren’t stored and shared securely.

Detailed data are distributed to individuals and agencies that require them to:

  • inform resource management
  • inform land use plans
  • advance scientific studies
  • advance the understanding of natural heritage

To access sensitive or detailed data on biodiversity, you will need a Sensitive Data Use Licence. To get a licence, you must:

  • demonstrate a legitimate need to know
  • complete data sensitivity training

Email the Natural Heritage Information Centre or phone us at 705-755-2159 to inquire about a Sensitive Data Use Licence.

Data sensitivity training

Topics covered include:

  • introduction to the Natural Heritage Information Centre
  • introduction to species, plant community, wildlife concentration area and natural area data
  • how to access Natural Heritage Information Centre data

Email the Natural Heritage Information Centre to access this training.

Licensed users of sensitive or detailed data

As a licensed user of sensitive or detailed biodiversity data, you must follow the Ministry of Northern Development, Mines, Natural Resources and Forestry’s guidelines for displaying these data described in the Sensitive Data Location Standards (Word).

Species lists

The Natural Heritage Information Centre maintains species lists for Ontario and uses international standards for taxonomy and nomenclature. The all species lists (ZIP) spreadsheet contains lists of all species in the database, including species of conservation concern (tracked species). It contains lists for major taxonomic groups, such as:

  • birds
  • butterflies
  • fishes
  • mammals
  • moths
  • vascular plants

Each list is displayed on a separate tab. Download and open the spreadsheet, then view the list you’re interested in by clicking on its tab.

If you are unable to use these species list files to access information, contact the Natural Heritage Information Centre for an alternative data format.

Biodiversity atlases

Biodiversity atlases compile, map and display occurrence information for plant and animal species. The Natural Heritage Information Centre contributes data and expertise to these atlases, and they return observation data.

Reference centre

The Natural Heritage Information Centre has a reference centre in Peterborough. If you would like to access any information from the following collections, please contact us to make an appointment.

Herbarium

The Natural Heritage Information Centre herbarium houses a collection of over 11,000 dried and mounted plants, including bryophytes and vascular plants. Biologists use specimens for a variety of purposes, like helping to identify plants collected in the field.

Insect collection

The Natural Heritage Information Centre maintains a small insect collection, currently with an emphasis on Ontario Odonata (dragonflies and damselflies) and Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths).

It also contains specimens from many other insect orders (e.g., beetles, true bugs, flies, bees and wasps).

Reference library

The reference library houses information on species, plant communities, wildlife concentration areas and natural areas in Ontario.

The library also includes an extensive collection of life science inventory and assessment reports on Areas of Natural and Scientific Interest, provincial and national parks, wetlands and other natural areas in Ontario.

The collection includes ecodistrict reports and reports on Ontario’s natural heritage at various scales.

Information is available in hardcopy and digital files.