Natural Lands Project
Balancing natural lands on working farms for wildlife and clean water.
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, fewer calls of Northern Bobwhite and other grassland birds, as well as 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, Fish and Wildlife Service, Ducks Unlimited, Lower Shore Land Trust 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. By doing this we 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. The grant funding covers cost of habitat implementation and an incentive payment to offset costs of removing marginal crop land. We also work with existing state and federal programs to maximize options for landowners.
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.
Northern Bobwhite Quail
An iconic, charismatic gamebird with a deep connection to outdoor enthusiasts across the rural landscape. Here, on Maryland’s Eastern Shore quail once thrived throughout the varied farm landscape, with increased development, maturation of wooded areas, and modern efficient farming techniques there is little habitat left. But that is not the case everywhere on the Shore. Decades of habitat implementation and management the college’s River and Field Campus (RAFC) has demonstrated that when areas of marginal cropland are converted to early successional habitat quail can thrive. The farm serves as a model for which other landowners, both state and federal, can use a blueprint to affect similar change.
Habitat loss and change 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.
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.
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 in 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.
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. Waterfowl will fill the wetlands throughout the winter months and Wood Ducks will find nesting habitat during the summer months.
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 restoring 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, providing setbacks from agriculture fields, and reducing downstream flooding.
- National Fish & Wildlife Foundation
- Unites States Environmental Protection Agency
- Chesapeake Bay Program
- Ducks Unlimited
- Maryland Department of Natural Resources
- Maryland Parks Service
- Partners for Fish and Wildlife
- Lower Shore Land Trust
- Queen Anne's County Parks and Recreation
- Caroline County Recreation and Parks
- 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.