Virginia’s Eastern Shore, a narrow finger of land that separates the Chesapeake Bay from the Atlantic Ocean, is home to the longest expanse of coastal wilderness remaining on the eastern seaboard of the United States. The Conservancy’s Virginia Coast Reserve (VCR) protects 14 undeveloped barrier islands that help buffer Eastern Shore communities from storms, as well as thousands of acres of pristine salt marshes, vast tidal mudflats, shallow bays, and productive forest uplands. Will you help us continue this vital conservation work?
Historically, the Eastern Shore served as Native American hunting and fishing grounds, a hideout for pirates, and a destination for well-heeled travelers. Today this peninsula is dotted with small villages, family farms, and vast natural areas that shift in concert with the elemental forces of wind and water. But encroaching development from Hampton Roads and Ocean City threatens to engulf the cultural and natural heritage of Virginia’s Eastern Shore — one of the most important migratory bird stopover sites on Earth.
Begin your visit at Brownsville Preserve, VCR's headquarters. The William B. Cummings Birding and Wildlife Trail offers a round-trip hike of three miles through memorable coastal Virginia scenery. Explore wooded uplands, take in expansive marsh views and enjoy the variety of life all around you.
VCR Barrier Island Visitation Policies
Please download and observe all visitation policies for the VCR barrier islands (Smith, Myrtle, Ship Shoal, Little Cobb, Cobb, Hog, Parramore and portions of Metompkin and Cedar Islands).
Pets, vehicles, camping and campfires are prohibited. Several islands are closed to visitors and seasonal restrictions are in place to protect nesting birds.
Learn how you can help protect beach-nesting birds when visiting the Virginia coast
- incompatible development and agricultural practices
- incompatible forestry practices
- invasive species
- incompatible recreational activities
- salt marsh grasses and eelgrass
- upland scrub/shrub communities
- mixed hardwood and pine forests
The islands shelter more than 250 species of raptors, songbirds, and shorebirds, which find food in the adjacent bays and salt marshes.
- Delmarva fox squirrel
- piping, Wilson’s, and black bellied plovers
- five species of nesting terns
- black skimmer
- red knot
- American black duck
- northern beach tiger beetle
- native oyster
Our Conservation Strategies
Guided by sound conservation science, the Conservancy works with a variety of public and private partners to protect, enhance, and restore the unique and productive habitats and wildlife of the Virginia Coast Reserve. Below are some of the ways we work:
- Land and water protection:
We purchase land or interests in land and accept donations of land or easements from willing sellers and donors. A conservation easement is a voluntary legal agreement, recorded with the deed, that restricts the type and amount of development that can take place on the land. By acquiring properties with high conservation values and reselling them to conservation minded buyers after negotiating permanent restrictions on development, the Conservancy is working to enhance water quality, native vegetation, and important habitats that support the abundance of life here. Protecting farmland averts inappropriate development, preserves natural systems, and maintains the community’s tradition of land stewardship.
- Science-based conservation:
The Conservancy is using state-of-the-art NPOL Doppler radar for migratory bird studies thanks to an innovative partnership with NASA. This partnership will offer new insights into prime migration pathways and stopover hotspots. The Conservancy is also implementing new techniques to restore oyster and eelgrass beds and has monitored the productivity of beach nesting birds for more than 30 years.
- Habitat enhancement:
Our invasive species program is an example of how effective land management helps us accomplish our goals. Considered the second greatest threat to biodiversity, non-native, invasive plants spread quickly, disrupt natural cycles, and crowd out native species. We partner with federal and state agencies, private landowners, and other organizations to minimize and reverse the negative impacts of invasive phragmites, which rapidly supplants native wetland plants and the animals they nourish.
- Habitat Restoration:
Working with multiple partners on large scales, VCR is focused on restoring native oysters and productive eelgrass beds in the Chesapeake Bay and barrier island lagoon system. These are “keystone” species upon which clean water, myriad plants and animals, and a healthy natural system depend. On the mainland, the Conservancy is restoring hundreds of acres of uplands with native vegetation, providing a variety of resting and feeding habitats necessary for the survival of migratory birds.
- Education and outreach:
We foster a conservation ethic and appreciation for nature through education and outreach. The Conservancy works with partners to influence land-use planning and is helping local communities learn about development approaches that preserve local character, history, traditions, productive habitats, and, ultimately, the natural values upon which all life depends.
- Help to shape public policies:
The Conservancy has committed itself to a new state initiative, the Virginia Invasive Species Council, to combat invasive species. The Conservancy joined a coalition of public and private groups to launch "VirginiaForever," a campaign to garner increased public understanding, support, and funding for conservation.
Program Milestones and Achievements
- United Nations International Man and the Biosphere Reserve.
- U.S. Department of the Interior National Natural Landmark.
- National Science Foundation Long Term Ecological Research Site.
- Western Hemisphere International Shorebird Reserve Network Site.
- Protection of some 40,000 acres of barrier islands, marshes, and uplands.
- Promote private lands stewardship such as compatible forestry and working forest easements, best management practices, and habitat restoration.
- Partnership with Virginia Marine Resources Commission and Virginia Institute of Marine Science to restore underwater beds of eelgrass, a critical aquatic plant, in Cobb Island Bay.
- Restore oyster beds in Cobb Island Bay.
- Work with public and private agencies to combat invasive species.
Contact InformationVirginia Coast Reserve
11332 Brownsville Road - Box 158
Nassawadox, VA 23413
Phone: (757) 442-3049
Learn more about oystercatchers and see a slideshow of these colorful birds.
Track the migratory routes of tagged whimbrels from Virginia’s Eastern Shore.
Learn how you can help protect the fragile nests and chicks of migratory shore birds while visiting VCR.
See how the Conservancy and partners are restoring seagrass at Virginia Coast Reserve.