Virginia Coast Reserve: Land Protection
Protecting land on the Eastern Shore through acquisition and conservation easements.
The Nature Conservancy’s land protection program at the Virginia Coast Reserve includes purchasing land directly, assisting local, state, and federal conservation partners with land acquisition, and helping private owners protect their land with conservation easements.
Each year Virginia Coast Reserve staff members monitor the 33,000 acres of land owned by the Conservancy, as well as 70 private conservation easement properties that protect more than 13,000 acres.
A conservation easement is a legally binding agreement that protects land for future generations. An easement may limit certain types of uses or prevent development from taking place on the land in perpetuity while the land remains in private hands.
An easement selectively targets only those rights necessary to protect specific conservation values, such as water quality or migration routes, and is individually tailored to meet a landowner's needs.
Because the land remains in private ownership, with the remainder of the rights intact, an easement property continues to provide economic benefits for the area in the form of jobs, economic activity and property taxes.
A study released in 2017 from George Mason University’s Center for Regional Analysis and Urban Analytics, Inc. highlighted the positive impact conserved land has on the economies of both Northampton and Accomack Counties in Virginia. The study was commissioned by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality’s Coastal Zone Management Program to inform decision-making at the county and state levels. Read the full report here.
The study shows conserved lands on Virginia's Eastern Shore were associated with more than $230 million in economic activity in the region in 2016. The study looked at three sources of economic activity — organizations involved in land conservation; the aquaculture industry; and tourism focused on outdoor recreation.
The Nature Conservancy and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, along with the Commonwealth of Virginia and other partners have invested more than $100 million since 1969 to protect and restore 133,000 acres of coastal and mainland habitats.
Recent Land Conservation Success
A recent land protection project at VCR was the donation of the remaining private ownership of Snead’s Beach by Drummond Ayres, Jr. of Accomac, Virginia. This 65-acre scrub hammock and saltmarsh, located behind Cedar Island in Accomack County, had been owned jointly by the Conservancy and Mr. Ayres since 2009.
Mr. Ayres contacted the Conservancy in 2016 and offered to donate his 50 percent interest. Mr. Ayres’ partial ownership originated with his father, who bought the property for duck hunting with a friend after World War I. We are very pleased that Mr. Ayres has donated his interest in Snead’s Beach.
As part of adjacent Cedar Island, and the broader barrier island system in Virginia, Snead's Beach provides critical habitat for shorebirds, waterbirds, waterfowl, and other migratory birds throughout the year.
Through the Southern Tip Partnership, the VCR staff works with local, state, and federal partners, as well as private organizations, to conserve land in Accomack and Northampton counties.
Over the years the Conservancy has assisted Virginia’s departments of Conservation and Recreation, Game and Inland Fisheries, and the Coastal Zone Management Program, to identify and conserve natural areas for wildlife and public access.
We have partnered with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to add property to the Eastern Shore of Virginia National Wildlife Refuge, and helped develop the Cape Charles Bike and Hike Trail.
One private partner, Virginia’s Eastern Shore Land Trust (VESLT), was established in 2003 to protect local farms, forests, and wetlands. VESLT holds 74 conservation easements on 13,953 acres of land, including 1,037 acres that are co-held by The Nature Conservancy. The Conservancy and VESLT also partner in outreach and education efforts, including an annual 2nd grade field trip to Virginia's Brownsville Preserve.