Mudford Farm: An Example of the Benefits of Habitat Restoration
In the summer of 2005, Biophilia Foundation purchased a 283-acre farm near Sudlersville, Maryland. This was our third whole farm habitat restoration demonstration project. The farm consisted of about 160 acres of farmland and 115 acres of woodland. The remainder of the property included a small horse pasture and one house with a yard.
The Delmarva Peninsula has countless farms just like Mudford Farm. Often an absentee landowner rents the farmland to a local farmer. The land is managed with profit in mind with little if any consideration given to effects on water quality or wildlife.
The Biophilia Foundation’s purpose in taking on projects like Mudford Farm is to show that proper land management can be both financially and ecologically sound.
We demonstrate that people could manage these farms to be green twice – both financially and ecologically.
Our partner in the project was Chesapeake Wildlife Heritage (CWH.) CWH has decades of experience with habitat restoration. Indeed, we had partnered with CWH to buy farms for restoration twice before, at Spencer Farm and Riverbend Farm.
At Mudford, CWH developed a plan to restore 40 acres of wetlands and plant 40 acres of warm season grass meadows. The benefits of this rewilding work are numerous: habitat for wildlife, improved water quality, carbon sequestration and more.
Biophilia Foundation enrolled the restored habitat in the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP). CREP is a joint program run by the US Department of Agriculture and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. The program restores wetlands, creates meadows, and plants trees on environmentally sensitive land. Landowners received an annual payment for each acre enrolled into CREP. These payments are typically more than a farmer would compensate a landowner on ground that is inappropriate for conventional farming. Either the land is too wet ( a former wetland that was ditched) or too close to a stream or other body of water which would be polluted by conventional agriculture.
The wetland and habitat restoration included 30 acres
The wetland and habitat restoration work included 30 acres of shallow-water wetlands and 10 acres of wooded wet meadows. CWH identified locations on the farm with hydric* soils. These hydric soils indicated areas that were formerly wetlands but had been ditched and drained to make them low quality agricultural fields. About 70 percent of Maryland’s former wetlands have been destroyed by this activity. Excavators established shallow berms in these areas to help plug those ditches and retain the water in the former farm field.
The warm season grass meadows were planted with grasses including Little Bluestem, Big Bluestem, and Indian Grass. Warm season grasses have several benefits for wildlife that make them preferable to cool season grasses. Warm season grasses grow in clumps (in contrast to cool season grass lawns that are carpet like.) These clumps provide easier access to insects and create cover for birds to hide and travel in. Additionally, the roots system of warm season grasses can grow up to six feet down into the ground in contrast to cool season grasses that only grow roots a few inches beneath the ground. These deep growing roots help to filter more ground water of nutrients, nitrogen and phosphorus from excess crop fertilization, that end up polluting the Chesapeake Bay and cause so called dead zones: large areas of water toxic to aquatic species due to lack of oxygen.
Ground nesting birds benefit from habitat restoration
The need for this work is stark. Maryland has lost 70% of its wetlands since European colonization. Ground-nesting birds are among the most embattled guild of birds in North America. When we lose habitat, we lose wildlife and water quality suffers.
The Mudford Farm restoration work helped address several goals of the Chesapeake 2000 Agreement. This agreement was an interstate agreement developed by Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, Delaware, New York, and the federal government to guide the restoration of the Chesapeake Bay.
The following goals of the agreement were addressed at Mudford Farm:
- Restore 25,000 acres of tidal and non-tidal wetlands.
- Plant 2,010 miles of riparian forest buffer.
- Promote the expansion and connection of contiguous forests through conservation easements.
- Continue efforts to achieve and maintain the 40 percent nutrient reduction goal.
- Permanently preserve from development 20 percent of the land area in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
Biophilia Foundation engaged Water Stewardship Inc. (WSI) to study the water quality benefits provided by the wetland restoration and warm season grass meadows. WSI was a non-profit organization dedicated among other things to certifying practices to reduce pollution in water ways. They looked specifically at nitrogen and phosphorus pollutants before and after the restoration work completed by CWH.
Habitat restoration had tremendous impact
The results of WSI’s work were profound. They demonstrated the tremendous impact this work can have for water quality. The study found an annual reduction of 1,800 pounds of nitrogen and 100 pounds of phosphorus. Again, that is an annual reduction – each and every year!
Conservation easements protected the restored habitat
A pair of conservation easements were placed on the property. Both easements protected the existed and restored habitat on the farm. Maryland Department of Natural Resources purchased the first easement through the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program. Biophilia Foundation donated the second easement to the Maryland Environmental Trust and CWH.
By the end of the project, Biophilia Foundation improved the cash flow of the property by utilizing CREP, sold permanent nutrient reduction to the State of Maryland, restored 80 acres of habitat for wildlife, retained 80 acres of prime agricultural land, and permanently protected 283 acres of land from future potential subdivision for development.
Biophilia Foundation sold Mudford Farm after seven years. We had completed the restoration and preservation objectives. Profits from the project were reinvested into other conservation projects.
Habitat restoration is a critical component of rewilding
Habitat restoration can address so many issues we face, from wildlife population declines to water quality issues to climate change. We need to commit to this work if we are to restore balance in our relationship with our planet. Mudford Farm is a valuable example of habitat restoration and how it increases the value of farmland — financially and ecologically.
*hydric – adjective: (of an environment or habitat) containing plenty of moisture; very wet. (Dictionary.com)