Field Notes by Andy Wood

Andy Wood, NENHC Habitat Manager 

As mentioned in the introduction, the Northeast New Hanover Conservancy’s area of interest  is a roughly 20-square mile area of, as our name implies, northeast New Hanover County,  NC. The properties we manage include some of the last best examples of this region’s  natural heritage. For quick orientation, southeast North Carolina, specifically Bladen,  Brunswick, New Hanover and Pender Counties, comprise a small region of the larger Atlantic  Coastal Plain Ecoregion; an area of coastal lands extending from the Gulf of Maine to the  Gulf of Mexico. The pocket we call Southeast NC is the most biodiverse portion of the Atlantic  Coastal Plain, north of Florida. By that I mean, this small region hosts more different kinds of  plants and animals than anywhere on the Atlantic coast between Florida and Maine. Bragging  rights to be sure, but without the works of NENHC, some of those bragging rights will be lost. 

The Atlantic Coastal Plain Ecoregion is internationally recognized as a Biodiversity Hotspot; a  title bestowed on fewer than 40 other locations around the globe. To be a biodiversity  hotspot, an ecoregion must support at least 1,500 species of plants; the primary producers in an ecosystem that, in turn, support populations of wildlife that eat and are eaten in a layered  pyramid of life that ultimately supports our own species. Yes, we are part of the same  ecosystem that shares its air and water with fishes, frogs, and birds. In addition to the 1,500  species of plants requirement, the biodiversity hotspot designation is only given to regions  that have also lost more than 70% of its natural habitats. 

Looking around New Hanover County, once the epicenter of Atlantic coastal plain  biodiversity, it’s obvious this boast is in jeopardy; a sad thought that underscores the  significance of those parcels of natural habitats that NENHC stewards for public benefit.  NENHC’s collection of more than 35 individual properties range in size from less than one 

acre, to more than 800-acres. Regardless of size, each parcel is protected for public benefit  and each property, regardless of size, requires year-round monitoring and management. 

A tidal creek and saltmarsh in NENHC’s North Marsh conservation area provides critical habitat for diamondback terrapins, a, imperiled State-listed species of special concern. 

The habitats we protect include tidal saltmarsh and tidal creeks, coastal fringe forest, wet  pine flats, evergreen pocosin, hardwood swamp forest, isolated pocket ponds, and longleaf  pine savanna. Many of our properties are located inside and adjacent to Landfall, a  residential community located on the mainland across from Wrightsville Beach. Two of our  largest tracts include North Marsh, an 800-acre expanse of saltmarsh located behind Figure  Eight Island, between the swing-bridge and Rich Inlet; a natural opening separating Figure  Eight from Lea-Hutaff Island. The other tract is an 88-acre saltmarsh located behind the north  end of Wrightsville Beach and under the gaze of Shell Island Resort. 

These are protected areas, and we monitor them to prevent intrusions that might otherwise  diminish the plants and the wildlife they support. Our works also ensure these places provide  economic benefit to adjacent properties whose values are improved by close association with  compelling natural space; the most important economic asset this region has to offer. 

This said, NENHC needs support to fulfill our mission, which is a legal requirement incumbent  on all nonprofit land trust organizations. 

In the role of habitat manager, I am asking for your financial help to help us ensure continued  protection of the habitats we safeguard. Given the fact that most of NENHC’s holdings are in and around the residential communities of Landfall, Wrightsville Beach, and Figure Eight  Island, it’s a logical choice to focus our request for support in the communities that benefit  most from our work.

To that end, and to be forward, if each property owner in Landfall and Figure Eight Island  donated $100.00 to support NENHC’s work, we would be enabled to conduct much-needed  habitat restoration in our wooded parcels, and ramp-up our monitoring and management  efforts in the aforementioned marshes; work needed to ensure protection of diamondback  terrapin, a small saltmarsh turtle imperiled by lost crab pots and other entangling debris  accumulated in their home territories, which these charming marine turtles inhabit year-round. 

Saltmarshes under our stewardship are also critical habitat for feeding and migrating  songbirds, shorebirds and waterbirds, and our knowledge of their habitat use is essential for  conservation efforts throughout these bird’s respective ranges and their full life cycle. 

Protecting this region’s natural heritage is NENHC’s mission. This is work conducted in the  interest of everyone, as though we are protecting common property, which we are, especially  to the direct benefit of our neighbors. The fact is, NENHC is protecting resources that provide  benefit to all; people, birds, turtles, and myriad other organisms that share this ecoregion with  us. 

Thank you for your support of this important work. 

In one of NENHC’s conservation areas, a young Yellow-crowned Night Heron surveys the land-water interface  where fringing evergreen forest meets tidal saltmarsh habitat.