Big Win For Biodiversity on the St. Mary’s — Welcome News Amidst Growing Global Crisis

24 May 2019
View of the St. Mary's River from above. Photo: Scott Leslie

There is more good news for nature in Nova Scotia today.  We are celebrating four new protected areas on the St. Mary’s River in honour of both the International Day for Biological Diversity and World Turtle Day. The new protected areas extend the ecologically rich corridor of protected lands to over 1300 acres and 21 kilometres of river shoreline, encompassing unique old growth forests, intact floodplains, and endangered wildlife.

The biodiversity crisis

The good news is timely in light of devastating global scientific reports in recent weeks highlighting massive global biodiversity loss, increasing threats and impending species extinctions. The crisis is worse than previously forecast and accelerating at an unprecedented pace. Not surprisingly, the reports confirm that humans are entirely to blame.  They also confirm that habitat loss is one of the worst culprits. Such loss is not just happening in faraway places and impacting exotic species like tigers and pandas. Habitat loss is an issue right here in our own backyard in Nova Scotia.

We (the Nature Trust, our volunteers, partners and supporters), are actively working to stem the tide, to reverse habitat loss and to keep Nova Scotia’s wild species from extinction. We recently seized an historic land conservation opportunity presented by the Government of Canada’s Nature Fund Quick Start program, launching and successfully achieving an ambitious and inspiring conservation campaign. Through our “Lasting Landscapes” campaign, thanks to the generosity of so many wonderful friends and supporters, we protected 17 new conservation sites, encompassing 3,200 acres of biologically rich conservation lands across the province in just a few months!

New conservation land on the St. Mary’s

The four new conservation sites are located on the St. Mary’s River, north of Sherbrooke, Guysborough County. Together the new conservation lands add 540 acres to almost 800 acres already protected as part of our long-term land assemblage initiative on the river.

View of the Sobey property. Photo: Scott Leslie

The first is a 230 acre property generously donated by Paul and Marsha Sobey, adding to an inspiring, long-standing legacy of conservation support by the Sobey family on the river. We celebrated the anticipated donation at our fall fundraising dinner, and the donation has now been finalized. Huge thanks to Paul and Marsha!

When asked about their land gift, Paul noted, “The Nature Trust has done a remarkable job protecting the St. Mary’s River and so many other special places across Nova Scotia.  Like my parents before us, Marsha and I are proud to add our lands to the Nature Trust’s growing network of protected wild spaces.”

The other three new conservation sites were acquired through purchase, including 145 acres at Hardwood Hill and 75 acres by Harrisons Pool, both on the West branch, and 85 acres at Crows Nest, at the confluence of the West and Main branch of the river, near Glenelg.

In all, the Nature Trust has secured 12 conservation lands, totaling just over 1,300 acres, and encompassing over 21 kilometers of pristine river shoreline to date. This land assemblage effort is complemented by 7,600 acres of adjacent and nearby Crown-owned lands, which have been identified for protection as part of the Province’s Parks and Protected Areas Plan, although formal designation is still pending for these “Corridor Lands.” Together the Nature Trust and provincially protected lands encompass almost 9,000 acres and 50 kilometers of shoreline.

Wood Turtle. Photo: Brittany Crossman

Amid so much bad news about biodiversity loss and species extinctions, it is truly inspiring to be part of a major biodiversity win for Nova Scotia. This achievement exemplifies what can and must be done to reverse the biodiversity crisis: permanent, legal securement of important habitat; focus on biodiversity hotspots and species at greatest risk of extinction; and preserving landscape connectivity and corridors. Such connectivity ensures that wildlife can move safely among and between habitats and that the ecosystems structure, services and functions can be sustained long-term.

These efforts and the broader Lasting Landscapes Campaign engaged many new supporters and friends to our habitat conservation efforts in recent months—an encouraging trend and one we hope will continue. Ultimately, success in keeping biodiversity from the brink depends on all of us, the citizens of Nova Scotia, Canada and beyond, to step up and do our part.

Biodiversity on the St. Mary’s

We began our conservation efforts on the river in 2006 with a goal of protecting the rare ecological gems of the river and connecting them to preserve a corridor of intact riparian habitat that will restore and sustain the long-term ecological health of this unique river and the species that depend on it for their survival.

Acadian floodplain forest and vernal pools provide rich habitat for biodiversity.

The river is home to some of the largest and least disturbed examples of mature, intact, Acadian floodplain forest left in Nova Scotia.  Several are now protected. These forests, which once lined most of our rivers before large-scale clearing for forestry and agriculture, are a critical element of river health. They help to keep rivers cool, clear and fast-flowing for the river’s wildlife including Atlantic Salmon. They harbour vernal pools, streams and stillwaters that create a rich home for diversity of birds, amphibians and other wildlife.

With less than 0.1% of Nova Scotia’s forest being old growth forests, protection of the St. Mary’s towering stands of hemlock and spruce, and also hardwood, is significant. Many species depend on these forests and their unique habitats, from woodpeckers and owls to fishers and flying squirrels.

The new sites protect habitat for rare plants and some of Canada’s

Canada Warbler, an endangered species whose habitat is protected on the St. Mary’s River. Photo: Simon d’Entremont

most endangered wildlife including Wood Turtles, which are listed as Threatened under Canada’s Species at Risk Act and are on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature Red List.  The sites are also home to a rich diversity of birds, including endangered species such as Canada Warbler, Olive-sided Flycatcher, Rusty Blackbird, Common Nighthawk, Barn Swallow, and Bobolink.

Protected, forever. The journey begins…

While an important accomplishment to celebrate, saving land isn’t the end of the conservation story. It’s just the beginning for the Nature Trust. We commit to ensuring the nature values found on our conservation lands thrive, through an active, ongoing land stewardship program. In addition to our staff team, we have an enthusiastic crew of volunteer ‘property guardians’ helping with on-the-ground monitoring and stewardship of our conservation lands. We’re hosting a volunteer training session for St. Mary’s River Property Guardians this weekend (May 26th) and all are welcome.

Don’t despair. Take action for biodiversity!

So many people are devastated by news of the global biodiversity crisis and by what they see happening to our landscapes. But there is plenty you can do to help.

  • Learn and Explore. All are invited to explore the St. Mary’s river with us this weekend (May 25).  Join us for a guided nature hike and learn all about the river and its fascinating biodiversity
  • Volunteer. Join us for property guardian training on the river this weekend!

    Nature Trust volunteers on the lookout for Wood Turtles.

    Or contact our volunteer coordinator to adopt a property anywhere in the province you’d like to help steward as a property guardian volunteer.

  • Donate for biodiversity. You can donate anytime to help protect and conservation the natural legacy of Nova Scotia.  Join our monthly giving program and help save biodiversity all year long.

To volunteer, join our hike or donate, please visit or call our friendly staff at (902) 425-5263.

Our Thanks

Our conservation achievements on the river were funded generously by the Government of Canada, as part of Canada’s commitment to protect 17% of land and inland waters for biodiversity by 2020. Matching funds were provided by the Nova Scotia Crown Share Land Legacy Trust, David and Fay Sobey, and other generous contributions from our other faithful supporters, and donors to the Lasting Landscapes Campaign. Thanks too, to our fantastic volunteers and conservation partners who also play an essential role in conservation success on the river. We gratefully acknowledge and appreciate the very special contribution by Paul and Marsha Sobey, through their generous gift of land.

The majestic St. Mary's River. Photo: Scott Leslie

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