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CARP tackling wetland habitat restoration on landscapes in Annapolis River watershed

Clean Annapolis River Project (CARP) project leader Aaron Mackinnon teaches local youth about the vegetation and soils found in wetland ecosystems.
Clean Annapolis River Project (CARP) project leader Aaron Mackinnon teaches local youth about the vegetation and soils found in wetland ecosystems. - Contributed

ANNAPOLIS COUNTY, N.S. - Agriculture is the predominant land use in the Annapolis watershed, with more than 50 per cent of land directly adjacent to the Annapolis River being used for agriculture.

This makes agricultural landowners and farmers key stakeholders in efforts to conserve and enhance the ecological integrity of wetland ecosystems.

The Annapolis River was historically characterized by a rich diversity of salt marshes and freshwater wetland types. Since the 17th century, many of these wetlands have been filled, drained or otherwise altered to create land suitable for agriculture. Wetland loss is suspected to be highest in the more fertile regions of Nova Scotia, such as the Annapolis Valley.

The loss of freshwater wetlands and salt marshes has resulted in reduced habitat availability and provision of ecological services, and has increased vulnerability of working landscapes to high-intensity storm events, of which increased frequency and intensity are a projected impact of climate change in Atlantic Canada.

Beginning in 2017, with the financial support of Environment and Climate Change Canada’s National Wetland Conservation Fund, CARP initiated a two-year project aimed at restoring and enhancing wetlands on agricultural properties in the Annapolis River watershed. Over the past year and a half, project leader Aaron Mackinnon has partnered with seven landowners to undertake actions on their properties.

One of the most exciting components of the project was the excavation of a quarter hectare shallow pond at a site in Granville Beach that had been converted for agricultural use decades ago. The landowners noted that, “almost immediately after the wetland project was completed we saw up-close the recharging of a dynamic ecosystem in action. For the first time in this area, we’ve observed numerous wildlife sightings, including mammals, birds and invertebrates. Expanding this compromised ecosystem has brought it back to life and eventual good health.”

Allowing livestock to have direct access to wetlands or watercourses is a common practice encountered across the watershed. Livestock can contribute to the degradation of wetland habitat by compacting soil, grazing wetland vegetation, and increasing the amount of nutrients and sediment that enters water. There is no required buffer zone between agricultural activities and wetlands or watercourses in Nova Scotia, although best management practices encourage the creation of a buffer zone that is a minimum of five metres (15 feet) in width.

CARP worked with the Brown Farm in Wilmot, the Newington Farm Mount Hanley and the Longley farm in Bridgetown to install fencing to keep cattle out of wetlands. At the Bridgetown site two nose pumps were installed to provide cattle with an alternate source of water.

Revegetation efforts have been a core activity at most of the project sites and have included the planting of tree seedlings, shrubs and willow stakes. Tree planting provided an opportunity to engage local students in the project, with students from Bridgetown Regional Community School, Lawrencetown Education Centre and Annapolis West Education Centre lending a hand.

Although the project is winding down, there is a great deal of continued work that is much needed across the watershed and throughout Nova Scotia. Whether it is by providing guidance and resources to support the implementation of best management practices, or through similar future projects, CARP hopes to continue working with landowners who are interested in restoring and protecting wetlands on their properties. 

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