Volunteers clean up preserve in Charlotte

Volunteers and employees from The Nature Conservancy worked to remove invasive plant species from Williams Woods on Monday. Photo by Lauren Milideo
Volunteers and employees from The Nature Conservancy worked to remove invasive plant species from Williams Woods on Monday.
Photo by Lauren Milideo

On a foggy, damp Monday morning, a group of volunteers tucked their pants into their socks and fanned out along the edge of a field at a nature preserve in Charlotte. The 63-acre Williams Woods property, located on Greenbush Road, is owned by The Nature Conservancy, and this Monday’s task was the removal of invasive plant species, said The Nature Conservancy’s Northern Vermont Critical Land Manager Lynn McNamara.

The Nature Conservancy acquired the property in the 1980s, and with a Natural Resources Conservation Service grant, spent 15 years doing a comprehensive cleanup of the property to remove all of the invasive plant species. The goal of volunteer workdays like this one is to keep after invasive plants that continue to pop up along the edges of fields and roadways.

“We want to make sure it doesn’t become as infested as before,” said McNamara, “because we made such a big effort to clear it out that we want to make sure it stays clear.”

Invasive plants such as common buckthorn, honeysuckle, and bittersweet have berries that birds eat. The seeds then spread, bringing these plants back to the preserve again and again.

“No matter how much we work there’s always going to be new plants coming in because the birds are going to spread them,” said McNamara.

The preserve’s forest is important to maintain in part because it’s unusual. The site is a valley clay plain forest. This type of forest community used to extend across the Champlain Valley, but McNamara estimates that less than 20% of its original cover remains. The soils of these forests are rich clays, explained McNamara, so most of these forests were cleared for agriculture. But the Williams family, which sold the lot to The Nature Conservancy, had retained the area as a woodlot, so unlike many similar forests, this one had never been clear-cut.

Continuing to monitor for and remove invasive plants species is an ongoing battle, but it is worthwhile, noted McNamara. Invasive plant species can otherwise outcompete native species quickly, and in time, the entire forest community can change.

“We’ll never completely eradicate the invasives there, but we’re just trying to keep them in balance so that native species can also thrive,” said McNamara. And this is part of a larger goal, she added.

“The Nature Conservancy’s mission is to protect the lands and waters on which all life depends,” McNamara explained. “So we’re trying to protect all the species that make up life on earth. And on our preserves we do that by trying to allow natural processes to take place, so that species and communities that are there will continue to be there.”

Those wishing to get involved in a volunteer workday can go to www.nature.org/vermont and check out the volunteer site, or email Lynn McNamara at lmcnamara@tnc.org.

Upcoming volunteer workdays will take place at LaPlatte River Marsh in Shelburne (Nov. 1), Raven Ridge in Monkton (Nov. 8), and another at Williams Woods in Charlotte (Nov. 10).