Local conservationists keen to save Ottawa's last inland sand dune are digging up invasive species plants that pose a threat to a rare unique ecosystem and remnant from the last Ice Age.

High-school students armed with rakes and shovels removed plants at the sand dune off Slack Road in Nepean on Friday, in an effort to restore the shrinking habitat.

The Nepean sand dune — the largest in Ontario — was created when the glaciers retreated some 10,000 years ago.

Stephen Aitken, the project co-ordinator for the Ottawa Greenbelt Sand Dune Conservation project, said the Slack Sand Dune is in danger of being lost unless there's some intervention to remove invasive plant species.

"Ontario is down to one per cent of the sand dunes that they used to have, and they are a vital part of Ontario ecosystems and Ontario life."

NCC vows dune will be protected

Dr. Henri Goulet, a retired entomologist who worked with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada for 33 years, said there were some insects that still remain unique to the dune's ecosystem.

"We're losing a unique fauna that is not found in your backyard, that is not found in marshes," he said. "It's only found in this type of habitat."

The National Capital Commission owns the Nepean dune, and promises it will not be developed.

Restoring the ecosystem is important, said the NCC's senior land management officer, Eva Katic.

"The community of Merivale Gardens is very on board with this, and they're very excited to have a sand dune ecosystem in their backyard that is being restored," she said.

The conservationists hope a community group will eventually take over the project to maintain the sand dune for generations to come.

With files from the CBC's Steve Fischer