Areas in the Island Landscape
by Kate MacQuarrie,
Island Nature Trust
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going back in time to see what Prince Edward Island was like hundreds
of years ago. When Jacques Cartier first saw the Island in 1534,
he described it as "the most beautiful land that it is possible
to see, full of trees and meadows". Even as recently as 1820,
Scottish traveller Walter Johnstone described PEI as "...one
entire forest of wood...", and it truly was: the uplands
hosted species such as beech, yellow birch, sugar maple and red
spruce, with smatterings of pine, red oak, hemlock and white ash.
Lowlands were forested with species such as red maple, black spruce,
cedar, larch, elm and black ash, among others. Imagine this vast
forest of ancient trees - white pine as tall as 150 feet, or yellow
birch with six-foot diameters!
Johnstone's time, at least eight species of mammals, two species
of birds and countless plants have disappeared from PEI. By 1900,
only 30% of the Island was still forested. Our "entire forest
of wood" had been severely fragmented into smaller and smaller
blocks. Other natural areas - salt marshes, sand dunes, ponds,
bogs, streams and rivers - also show evidence of a century-and-a-half
of settlement. In the words of the late poet Milton Acorn, "Nowhere
is there a spot not measured by hands". Prince Edward Island
is very much an anthropogenic landscape.
can't turn the clock back 200 years, but we can get a glimpse
into the Island's early landscape though natural areas. Old growth
forest or undisturbed dune or marsh, for example, provide essential
wildlife habitat and often harbor rare plants and animals. It's
in part because this Island has lost so much of its natural habitat
that conservation of these pockets is critical. It was for this
reason that Island Nature Trust was created in 1979 as one of
the first non-government land trusts in Canada.
role of Island Nature Trust is straightforward: to permanently
protect areas of identified ecological importance though acquisition
(purchase or donation) or legal agreements with private landowners.
To date, we have acquired 2,340 acres of forest, sand dune, wetland
and offshore island. While some of this land has been purchased,
much has been received through donations from very generous landowners
(as a registered charity, we can issue tax receipts for such ecological
gifts). Other landowners have entered into permanent conservation
agreements. Through this process, owners sign legally-binding
agreements that state how their lands may and may not be used.
The owners retain title and can sell or bequeath the properties
as they wish, but the protection travels with the deed and is
binding upon subsequent owners. We also work with the Government
of PEI to protect natural areas on provincially-owned land. In
total, nearly 15,000 acres have been permanently protected under
the Natural Areas Protection Act across the Island.
habitat protection and land securement are our priorities, we
are involved in other conservation work as well. Our ecological
restoration program aims to repair evidence of human disturbance
in natural areas and restore sites to their pre-disturbance states.
Island Nature Trust coordinates protection of the endangered Piping
Plover in its nesting areas outside PEI National Park (for more
information on this work, see Jackie Waddell's article). Education
is an important component of conservation, and Island Nature Trust
has educational programs that involve people from kindergarten
to elderhostel, and reach hundreds of Islanders and visitors each
year. This work includes making presentations to school and university
classes, leading field trips, participating in Community Schools
and making free resource materials available to teachers.
are also involved in natural areas and conservation research,
from updating botanical inventories for PEI National Park to mapping
remnant old growth forests to assessing the extent to which natural
areas have been invaded by non-native species. This work not only
helps us better understand how best to protect areas, but is finding
species previously thought to be absent from PEI.
work is accomplished thanks to a dedicated team of staff, volunteers
and supporters. For more information about Island Nature Trust,
give us a call at 892-7513, or visit our web site: www.peisland.com/nature
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