Led by Liz Loucks of The Nature Conservancy and Brendan O’Neill of VCS, about fifty walkers learned about the flora and fauna of the 512-acre Frances Newhall Woods Preserve, as well as its preservation via conservation restriction due to the efforts of both organizations. The ecology of change – not only to the flora and fauna, but also to the physical environment – was impossible to overlook and a popular point of discussion. After several consecutive years of heavy caterpillar defoliation, what was once thick oak forest has become a transitional habitat. Shady and sometimes damp is becoming sunny, drier, and suddenly nutrified, as the stored energy in decades-old trees crashes down to the ground and returns to the soil. David Foster, director of Harvard Forest, made the case that not only is this not tragic, it’s not even particularly unusual – this is an ecological cycle that has been going on for centuries.
The Woods Preserve is private land protected through the gift of a Conservation Restriction to The Nature Conservancy (TNC). VCS has led annual supervised public walks on the property since its permanent protection in 1991. The CR protects miles of scenic roadside views and the imposing morainal ridge line visible from all over the Island, as well as about one-half mile of the Mill Brook watershed. The Brook is the major freshwater tributary to the Tisbury Great Pond and home to a population of the rare American Brook Lamprey (Lampetra appendix), recognized by conservation biologists as an indicator species of high water quality. By helping to secure water quality, the CR also protects drinking water supplies and the viability of the economically important shellfish resource in the Pond.
Located at the margin where the Island's glacial terminal moraine gives way to rich outwash plain soils, the Woods Preserve represents a large, intact ecosystem that has offered managers a rare opportunity to practice ecosystem-level analysis and biological study. At least eight distinct natural communities, ten different soil types, more than 200 plant and animal species, and more than 60 bird species have been documented to date. The size and diversity of the Preserve has allowed TNC to conduct research and monitor the consequences of natural events like the caterpillar devastation of recent years, as well as the impacts of various management techniques on this macro-level.
See the story of the preservation of the property and the history of the new Agricultural Hall. For slide shows of our other recent walks, see the Events page.