natural-landsproject

Natural Lands Project

Balancing natural lands on working farms to increase wildlife habitat and improve water quality.

Maryland’s Eastern Shore is a mosaic of farms, small towns, woodlots and rivers that flow into the Chesapeake Bay. 

Those of us who live here, notice lower counts of butterflies, less calls of northern-bobwhite quail, and decreased flashes from fireflies during the summer months. 

Increasing human populations and the rise of intensive farming have shifted the balance away from wildlife and toward humankind, but you can take some easy steps to rectify the situation, and we are here to help.  

In partnership with ShoreRivers, and with funding from Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources Chesapeake and Atlantic Coastal Bays Trust Fund and from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, we are working to make the rural landscape of the Eastern Shore more wildlife friendly while trying to improve water quality within local watersheds by creating a healthy balance throughout the agricultural landscape of production farming and wildlife habitat. 

Our team is making farm visits, meeting with landowners and making recommendations for habitat improvements.  

To make strides on a landscape level, we need your help.  Although one farm can make a difference, multiple farms working toward the same goals will increase our impact dramatically.  Please contact us to learn more about restoring the balance on your property between the business of farming, the needs of wildlife and water quality of our Chesapeake Bay.

“The Natural Lands Project balances the interests of water quality, wildlife, and farming in a way that improves the quality of life for everyone in the area. At the Chester River Association (ShoreRivers), we are ecstatic to see the level of interest in agricultural practices that will help restore both the Chester and a popular game bird,” Isabel Junkin Hardesty, Deputy Director of our partner organization ShoreRivers.

Our Work

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Water Quality

We focus on improving water quality by strategically adding native warm season grasses between agricultural land and creeks, rivers, wetlands, or wet woods, and by implementing new wetlands to replace areas of marginal agricultural land. The benefits of these conservation practices include slowing water runoff, removing up to 85% or more of nutrients and pesticides, removing up to 75% or more of sediments, servings as a source of food, nesting cover and shelter for wildlife, stabilizing stream banks, prividing setbacks from agriculture fields, and reducing downstream flooding. 

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Northern Bobwhite Quail

In 1999, we implemented 228-acres of native warm season grassland, created buffers, and installed wetlands at the River and Field Campus (RAFC) to increase quail populations. Since then, this 5,630-acre property has become the only property on the upper shore where quail are thriving. 

Habitat loss continues to be a major factor in quail declines throughout their range, and this is true for Maryland as well. Successes on RAFC highlight the need for more large-scale habitat restoration projects geared towards grassland birds. We strive to create the same balance we see at RAFC on other farm lands throughout Maryland’s Eastern Shore.

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Grassland Birds

Grassland bird populations are declining throughout their range and this is particularly true for the east coast populations. Grassland and early successional habitat continues to decline at alarming rates due to intensified agriculture, human population growth resulting in increased urbanization, and continued maturation of eastern deciduous woodlands. Grasslands throughout the world are by far the rarest ecosystem with less than one percent remaining.

As part of the NLP protocol we will be conducting bird surveys pre- and post-habitat installation to document occupancy during the breeding season. We will be conducting these surveys on annual basis to record the change in bird abundance and occupancy as the grasslands change from one year to the next and the areas of shrubby cover mature.

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Pollinators

Many other species of wildlife will benefit from increased grassland habitat created by NLP projects. Native pollinators including hundreds of native bees and butterflies including Monarch Butterflies and other insects will find food and shelter these new habitats. Insect population declines can be attributed to many of the same reasons as grassland bird declines including: habitat loss and fragmentation, non-native species, increased use of herbicides and pesticides and climate change.

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Raising Monarchs

As the Natural Lands Project (NLP) works to create habitat for Northern Bobwhite and improve Chesapeake Bay water quality, participating landowners will soon be able to try out a new initiative -  raising Monarch Butterflies. 

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Wetlands

Wetlands are the earth's natural sponges. They absorb, store and prevent sediment and excess nutrients from entering local waterways. They also promote flood control, shoreline stabilization, groundwater replenishment and providing wildlife habitat.

The Natural Lands Project will be promoting the restoration and creation of wetlands throughout the agricultural landscape to help improve water quality. We will be specifically targeting marginal cropland that does not produce a crop every year due to flooding. These areas on farm fields are characterized by low lying depressions with specific hydric soil types that hold water or areas where the topography creates channels allowing runoff to flow unimpeded to our waterways.

 

- National Fish & Wildlife Foundation 

- Unites States Environmental Protection Agency

- Chesapeake Bay Program

- ShoreRivers

- Ducks Unlimited

- Maryland Department of Natural Resources

- Maryland Parks Service

- Partners for Fish and Wildlife 

 

ShoreRivers our project partner, working with area landowners to promote habitat restoration projects to improve water quality.

Ducks Unlimited our project partner, working with landowners to create wetlands.

Tall Timbers Research Station & Land Conservancy is the pre-eminent Northern Bobwhite resource in the Eastern United States.

Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources provided funds to kick start NLP and also is a partner in our quail research program.

National Fish and Wildlife Foundation a funding agency of NLP and a national leader in habitat restoration projects supporting wildlife.

- The U.S.D.A.’s Farm Service Agency has grants and resources for landowners.

- The U.S.D.A.’s Natural Resources Conservation Agency also provides cost sharing and advice for landowners.

- The Northern Bobwhite Conservation Initiative is comprised of 25 state fish and wildlife agencies and conservation organizations and is working toward a unified strategy for Northern Bobwhite restoration and management.