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Diversifying Habitat for Wildlife

Here at Distant Hill Gardens and Nature Trail, I have been working with the Walpole office of the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) for almost ten years to make our 58-acre property more habitat diverse. NRCS has helped me with numerous habitat improvement projects, including invasive species control, pollinator meadow installation, native shrub planting, and early successional habitat (aka young forest) creation for wildlife. These habitat improvements have already made a notable difference, both in the number of bird species that use the property, and in the increased diversity and health of the understory shrubs and herbaceous plants.

Increasing the Biodiversity of Distant Hill

To further increase biodiversity on the land we steward here on Distant Hill, we are purchasing an additional 70-acres of land that abuts our existing Walpole property. This mostly wooded parcel includes a number of habitat types either missing or in short supply on our original 58-acres. These habitats include a beaver pond, a black ash forest seep, a rich mesic forest habitat with blue cohosh, trout lily, and maidenhair fern, riparian habitat beside more than a half-mile of Great Brook, an upland steam that empties into the Connecticut River, and eight-acres of shrubland habitat under an electric transmission line that traverses the property.

The Importance of Shrubland Habitat to Wildlife

There has been a steady decline in shrubland habitat in New England over the past hundred years, and with that a steady decline in the populations of many shrubland dependent birds and wildlife. A wide variety of birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and insects use shrublands to meet their daily or seasonal needs for food, nesting sites, and cover. In New Hampshire alone, there are over 35 species of birds that require scrublands as their primary habitat. In nature, shrublands are a transitional community that occur temporarily as the result of a disturbance, such as fire. Due to our suppression of wildfires in New England, one of the most important locations of shrubland habitat in the Northeast are the miles of transmission line rights-of-way (ROW) criss-crossing the landscape.

A Scientific Study with Some Unexpected Results

Numerous scientific studies have looked at the value of this increasingly uncommon habitat for birds and other wildlife. One local study was recently completed by Matt Tarr, a UNH Extension Associate Professor and wildlife biologist. He and his colleagues studied the shrublands beneath hi-voltage transmission lines in New Hampshire and Maine to better understand the use of this unique habitat by songbirds.

Over a two-year period, they captured and banded almost 3,500 birds at 18 different transmission line sites. One interesting finding of the study: although bird species diversity was lowest where invasive shrubs grew in near monoculture, the number of species was actually greater on those sites that contained a mix of invasive and native plants. Fewer bird species were recorded on sites that contained only native vegetation.

Promoting Shrubland Habitat

In an attempt to establish and promote shrublands, with their low-growing vegetative plant communities, the utility company that manages our transmission line acreage utilizes a program called Integrated Vegetation Management (IVM). This management protocol enables National Grid to reduce maintenance and herbicide use while also producing numerous environment benefits. The IVM program focuses on complete removal of tall-growing vegetation, as opposed to mowing, pruning, or topping the undesirable vegetation. Topped vegetation does nothing to foster a stable, desirable plant community as the topped trees vigorously sprout back and shade out the desirable plants. I hope to work in conjunction with National Grid to improve the existing shrub habitat on the ROW.

Our Partnership with NRCS

I look forward to working with NRCS, and National Grid, to improve the biodiversity of this newly acquired property. With the help of NRCS I hope to develop a wildlife management plan for the new 70-acre parcel that gives us a roadmap to future conservation projects. With time, our hope is to increase the diversity of wildlife habitat on the property.

Written by:

Michael Nerrie

CCCD Associate Board Member

Owner/Director of Distant Hill Gardens & Nature Trail

Learn more about Shrubland Dependent Birds:

On Wednesday, June 5, from 4 - 6 pm, Matt Tarr will be leading a 'Bird Netting Demonstration and Wildlife Walk' on a transmission line right-of-way on the newly acquired 70-acre property at Distant Hill Gardens.

CLICK HERE for more information about the event.



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