Delaware’s Milford Neck landscape might be described as a patchwork of open spaces—beaches and dunes, tidal marshlands, freshwater wetlands, swamp and upland forests and farmland. These lands are owned and managed by the State of Delaware, The Nature Conservancy, Delaware Wild Lands, private individuals and others. Together, these landowners conserve some of the First State’s most spectacular natural habitat.
Milford Neck is a premier destination for more than a million migratory shorebirds that visit each spring to feed on eggs laid by horseshoe crabs converging on Delaware Bay. However, the area also stands out for its forests. While interrupted by scattered farms, this is the only remaining forested area greater than 1,000 acres on the entire coast of Delaware. It providies crucial habitat for species that require large, open tracts of land for part or all of their life cycles.
To protect and build on what remains of these forests, the Conservancy has engaged in intensive restoration at the Milford Neck Nature Preserve since 1998. This includes planting more than 147,000 hardwood tree seedlings interspersed with small clusters of diverse native vegetation and trees called habitat islands—including five varieties of oak, southern arrow wood, winterberry, persimmon and tulip tree.
The habitat islands shelter wildlife from weather and predators and attract the birds that transport and deposit seeds needed to rapidly regenerate the forest. In recent years, the habitat islands have begun welcoming migrant songbird species including Pine Warbler, Indigo Bunting, Blue Grosbeak, Common Yellowthroat and Yellow-breasted Chat, a Species of Special Concern.
At Milford Neck, reforestation also provides another benefit: resiliency to flooding from coastal storms.
“Big blocks of habitat can withstand hurricanes, straight-line winds and the small tornadoes that sometimes happen in Delaware,” says John Graham, land steward for the Conservancy in Delaware. At Milford Neck, on the Delaware Bay, healthy forests also help control salinity in the water to promote development of healthy marshes that can stand up to floods.
Eastern Kent County, along the Delaware Bay
What’s At Stake
The diverse landscape at Milford Neck includes one of Delaware Bay’s beaches and dunes; tidal salt marshes; and upland forests interspersed with freshwater wooded wetlands. These habitats harbor an impressive array of reptiles, waterfowl, birds, small mammals, fish and amphibians, including green tree frogs, which are rare in Delaware.
During late spring and early summer, red knots and other shorebirds arrive to feed on eggs deposited by the world's largest population of spawning horseshoe crabs and take shelter among sand dunes. Black ducks, a Species of Special Concern, represent one of many varieties of waterfowl inhabiting tidal marshes and freshwater wetlands. Milford Neck woodlands support over 90 different species of resident and migratory species of birds, many of which are dependent upon large blocks of unbroken forested lands to survive.
Development, Habitat Fragmentation, Non-native Invasive Vegetation
- 1990 – Acquired the land comprising its Milford Neck Nature Preserve and began developing plans to restore former agricultural fields into native coastal deciduous forest.
- 1998 – Included the preserve as part of the 10,000-acre Milford Neck Conservation Area with assistance from the Delaware Department of Fish & Wildlife and Delaware Wild Lands.
- 1999 – Began enrolling carefully selected farm fields into the USDA’s Conservation Reserve Program.
- 2004 – Began our first wetland restoration project with funding and technical support from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).
- 2010 – Using lessons learned from 2004, we expanded our wetland restoration project work, again using funding and technical support from USFWS.
- 2012 – With funding from Delaware’s Greenhouse Gas Reduction Projects Grant Program took on another 60 acres of reforestation work bringing our total restoration project to 291 acres.
After more than two decades working at Milford Neck, the Conservancy’s reach has expanded to include 291 acres of reforestation and wetland restoration sites designed to reconnect habitat types across the nature preserve. Thanks to partners, these sites have been planted with more than 159,000 native trees and shrubs. Currently our focus involves continuing to improve habitat across all reforestation and wetland restoration sites while working to insure that non-native invasive plant species like Phragmites do not take over this unique and valuable natural landscape.
United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Conservation Reserve Program; USDA, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program; USFWS Coastal Program, Delaware Bay Estuary Project; USFWS, Partners for Wildlife; National Fish and Wildlife Foundation; DE Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC), Division of Soil and Water Conservation; DNREC, Natural Heritage Program; DNREC, Kent County Conservation District; AstraZeneca; GreenWatch Institute; ERTHNXT; Gatewood, Inc.; Bailey’s Lawnmower; and many, many volunteers
See a slideshow illustrating damage to the Milford Neck Preserve.