Fifty Years of Vineyard Conservation

Since 1965, the Vineyard Conservation Society has been dedicated to preserving the environment of Martha’s Vineyard through advocacy, education and the protection of the Island’s land and water. As a local non-profit membership organization, VCS is the Island's most respected voice for environmental advocacy. Click the buttons at left to learn more about us, and please join today!

Winter Walks 2014-2015: Conservation Through the Decades

In recognition of our 50th anniversary, VCS’s 2014-2015 Winter Walks program will take a decade-by-decade approach to highlighting the history of conservation on our Island. We will visit five important and iconic spots conserved with VCS help.

The season kicked off with a visit to the Gay Head Cliffs on Saturday, Nov. 22, where VCS and the Town of Aquinnah won a National Natural Landmark designation in 1965. In January we will visit Katama Farm (today the home of the Farm Institute), which was preserved in the 1970s as a town treasure. The 1980s brought protection at Morning Glory Farm, and in succeeding decades, Allen Sheep Farm and Mermaid Farm – locations that have come to define the Vineyard’s commitment to sustainability for the future.

December through March, learn about how conservation restrictions have helped preserve many family farms across the Island.

View the complete schedule!


Youth Quest: An Island Nature Challenge

This winter, VCS is reaching out to Island youth with a new questing adventure. Kids accumulate points by choosing activities and questions from our Quest Guide, and in the process connect with new places to love and explore on the Island, reflect on something new or interesting about the outside world, and become inspired to help protect and nurture that world. Best of all, it’s completely free ­ And, while learning and exploration are their own reward, prizes will be awarded to all who finish the quest!

The VCS Quest Guide is currently in production, but please, register today and we will mail one to you as soon as it is ready! Or, come by our office off Lambert’s Cove Rd., or just pick up your guide at any of our Winter Walks. In fact, attending a Winter Walk is an excellent way to start the adventure!


The Art of Conservation:

        Contest Winners Announced!

What are the elements of the Vineyard—whether natural, cultural or constructed—that you most cherish?

What beloved animal, plant or place—or treasured activity, occupation or institution—is so integral to the character of the Vineyard that it must be safeguarded?

What if that piece of the Vineyard wasn’t there anymore or was drastically changed?

The response to the call for Island high school students to answer these questions though their art was impressive – the creativity and skill displayed by their work even more so. In total, prizes were awarded to 13 of the 88 entries by students from Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School and the Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School.

Read more about the contest, the winners and . . . View the Art!


Island Towns United in Effort to Control Nitrogen Pollution

During the Spring 2014 Town Meetings, voters of all six Island towns approved a set of regulations on the sale and use of lawn fertilizer. The new bylaw was created by the MV Boards of Health in consultation with the MV Commission, using input from elected officials, local landscapers, golf course managers, UMass Extension scientists, and many members of the community, including VCS.

The bylaw was in part a response to an effort to reduce nutrient pollution across all of Massachusetts' waterways. A recently-passed law would enact restrictions on the sale and use of fertilizers statewide, but due to our unique coastal ecology Martha's Vineyard was given an opportunity to create our own rules, locally tailored to more closely match our environmental concerns. For example, the emphasis of the state law is on controlling phosphorus (the critical pollutant of freshwater ponds and streams), but the primary problem in our waters is nitrogen.

Having one set of standards Island-wide is essential to effectively address the impact of nitrogen pollution on our coastal ponds, for the simple reason that many of these bodies of water receive inputs from more than one town. But it also greatly simplifies implementation -- consider the alternative, where landscaping companies are switching out chemicals and changing application rates as they cross town lines.

With so many threats to our coastal waters, why bother with lawn fertilizer? Five to fifteen percent of the nitrogen that is impairing our ponds comes from lawns, so regulating fertilizer is an inexpensive way to address one piece of the challenge. It is an accomplishment of environmental protection, advocacy, and community action worth celebrating – and one whose success could not have been confidently predicted, since anything can happen when success rests on passage at six separate town meetings. It will also raise public awareness, informing homeowners about best practices for managing their own lawns, and build momentum for tackling the bigger challenge of dealing with nitrogen from conventional septic systems.

Nitrogen: How to Live with it, Since We Can’t Live Without it

Through our Vineyard Lawns program and general advocacy, VCS has long been working to spread the word about nitrogen pollution in our ponds. Nitrogen is a perfectly natural, essential element of life (it is 75% of the mass of the atmosphere, after all) that can nevertheless be quite harmful in excess. It is typically the limiting nutrient for algal growth in coastal marine ecosystems, meaning that pond algae generally have more than enough of the other resources they need to thrive (sunlight and other nutrients such as phosphorus), but are held in check by a relative lack of nitrogen. But in recent years, runoff from lawn fertilizers and groundwater flows from septic systems have fixed this “problem,” allowing algal growth to explode, degrading water quality for everything else in the estuaries.

While we will continue to focus on education and advocacy regarding water quality, VCS believes the time has come to embrace active regulation of fertilizer use.


Scenes from the Lost Bass Creek

Bass Creek Winter Walk, February 2014


On Feb. 9, 2014 an intrepid group of more than 40 walkers participated in the VCS "Lost Bass Creek" Winter Walk, setting out from the post office parking lot near Five Corners for an exploration of the filled tidal lands of Vineyard Haven
. Read the full story here.

Bass Creek in the early 20th century (at right) and today (below)
A common trait of Living at Sea Level  is for humans to find creative ways to expand our available habitat. One reality of living in a time of rising seas, however, is that these engineered human habitats may be some of the first to be given back to the sea.




















Slideshows of some of our other walks can be found at the Events page.

VCS Climate Change Report Featured in Vineyard Gazette

In support of their ongoing coverage of coastal erosion and shoreline change on the Vineyard, the VIneyard Gazette recently ran a story focusing specifically on the impacts of sea level rise due to climate change. Borrowing extensively from the sea level rise portion of our new report on climate change impacts on our island, as well as quotes from author and VCS staffer Jeremy Houser, the story is a nice introduction to the science behind sea level rise and what more we can expect in coming decades.  See our climate change page for more on the report, or view the sea level rise section here.

Note: if printing, be sure to download the .pdf files from our Climate Change page. Print quality from the online viewer can be very poor.


Conservation and Restoration
Renovated Farmhouse Serves as Setting for Conservator Appreciation Event

This year's annual thank-you event for our Conservators was graciously hosted by Jeff Scheuer and Heidi Rotterdam at their home on Tisbury Great Pond. A writer by trade, Jeff contributed the following piece describing the methods and motivations of their home's recent renovation for a past issue of our print newsletter, Vineyard Conservation. All VCS members receive the newsletter (past issues can be read here) twice yearly. For information on becoming a Conservator, please contact our office at (508) 693 9588.


Shades of Green
By Jeff Scheuer

A friend of mine who was passionate about preserving the Vineyard used to say that an environmentalist was “someone who built a house last year.” It’s a weak definition, though; one that speaks only to interests, not to larger arguments or values. Surely it can’t mean we all have a right to do and to build as we please, or that law is the only guide. We’re still responsible for our footprints.

Environmentalism is a prism of many facets, however. It’s partly about conserving what is ancient and good – old things, old ways, nature itself – an idea that isn’t new or unique to this island. But change isn’t always bad, and sometimes it’s necessary. The problem is heedless, tasteless, selfish, and disrespectful change. We’ve all seen it.

We conserve in order to retain our civility in the broadest sense: our connections to the past and the future. Environmentalism is about connections and relationships, not absolutes. And since land and old houses, especially on islands, are inherently limited quantities, and getting more limited all the time, we must balance the imperatives of land, history, community needs, and sustainability.

At least, that sounds reasonable. And I’m generally in favor of balances – which doesn’t mean granting equal weight to all claims. But I’m also an environmental radical, with a lifelong penchant for older and quieter things and places. I just prefer them – period. But I’m also radical in the belief that, whatever balances must be struck, certain things are constant: Nature doesn’t return where it isn’t wanted. Old houses aren’t built anymore, and new ones are often unsightly. Everyone needs both dignified shelter and open space. Continued here, second column

Edible Wild Plants of Martha's Vineyard
Now back in stock!

Back in stock after a long absence, new VCS members can choose to receive a free copy of Edible Wild Plants of Martha's Vineyard by Linsey Lee when they join. This beautifully illustrated guide to our wild bounty of edible plants includes descriptions of plants and their habitats, with fascinating information about traditional medicinal and folklore uses.

There's never been a better time to join than today!

Edible Wild Plants is also available for purchase at Alley's General Store, Bunch of Grapes, Felix Neck, Morning Glory Farm, the M.V. Museum, and the VCS office.


Walking Martha's Vineyard

Head outdoors and enjoy Island tranquility with the 4th edition of Walking Trails of Martha's Vineyard featuring several new trails!

Available for $15 at many Island locations, including The Bunch of Grapes Book Store, Edgartown Books, Alley's General Store, Cronig's, Brahmhall and Dunn, The Secret Garden, Felix Neck, Allen Farm, and the Vineyard Conservation Society office. Or, order through our donation page (by choosing the $20 option) and have it shipped to your door.




Fresh from the Vineyard


VCS Board member Virginia Jones has recently released Fresh from the Vineyard, a cook book to showcase and support Island agriculture and fishing. A portion of the proceeds from sales of the book will benefit VCS and the Island Grown Initiative.

You can find the book at many Island stores and farms, including
Bunch of Grapes, Cronig's, Larsen's Fish Market (Menemsha), Allen Farm, Morning Glory Farm, Mermaid Farm, Nip N' Tuck Farm, and Fiddlehead Farm Stand



Curious About Climate Change?
Two locally produced videos help make sense of this complex issue ---

Climate Change:
Building and Island Understanding

For the last several years, VCS has made climate change awareness and education an organizational priority.
This summer, VCS was honored to host environmental experts Bill and Margot Moomaw. The Moomaws delivered an engaging and informative presentation, discussing everything from climate change impacts to energy efficiency improvements for homeowners, all centered around a vision of how to "live deliberately."

Video of the entire presentation was recorded and professionally produced by Martha's Vineyard Productions for VCS and MVTV. Click the link below to watch!



An Island in Conflict:
What to do about Climate Change
Longtime VCS friend Marnie Stanton has produced a new video, funded by the Edey Foundation, that looks at some of the most important local climate change issues. Marnie's 15-minute video features an extensive interview with Islanders Chris Murphy and Liz Durkee, along with shorter excerpts from other local opinion leaders. She touches on a variety of issues, but really focuses on the difficult decisions the Island faces as sea level rise and increased erosion complicate the business of coastal planning and managing development. Where should hard armoring of the coast be allowed, and where should we allow beaches to grow and recede naturally? How do we manage the competing interests of private business and property with the public good?

Watch the Video Online



A Victory for Moshup

The most important, longest running, and most costly campaign in the Vineyard Conservation Society’s 45-year history involves environmental legal defense at Moshup Trail. The lawsuit isn’t over, but we have registered a significant win.

On August 12, 2010, Judge Charles Trombley, Jr. of the Land Court Department of the Trial Court ruled in favor of VCS and co-defendants in a long-running case involving developers’ efforts to force access through conservation holdings at Moshup Trail, Aquinnah.

VCS has always taken the long view of land protection in this area.
For more, click HERE