Just north of Lewes lies the Great Marsh, a 17,000-acre coastal wetland near the mouth of the Delaware Bay. To the casual observer, the Great Marsh may seem uninviting. But to those curious about nature, exploration by canoe or kayak reveals another world – a vibrant and fluid landscape governed by the ancient cycle of the tides.
The Great Marsh contains a fascinating and complex ecology unlike any other, encompassing diminishing habitats such as fresh and saltwater wetlands, intertidal mud flats and Atlantic white cedar swamps. If these wetlands disappear completely, so will plants and animals that come to rest and reside, including thousands of migratory birds visiting throughout the year.
Less than half of Delaware’s original wetlands still exist. In order to protect what remains, the Conservancy’s primary strategy in the Great Marsh has included setting aside lands and waters to establish a permanent wildlife corridor. In recent years, that has included working with the Sussex County Land Trust to secure conservation easement agreements from local landowners to protect 600 acres within the heart of the Great Marsh, and 149 acres along nearby Beaverdam Creek. Protecting these properties has created local enthusiasm for preservation, and a significant amount of contiguous habitat for numerous plants and animals that are rare in Delaware and around the world.
Size: 17,000 acres
Location: Sussex County
What’s At Stake: Forests of pine, oak and tulip poplar. Colorful hummocks of cord grass mix with glassworts, salt hay grass and spike grass. Bayberry, wax myrtle, holly and groundsel trees provide forage and habitat for numerous bird species, including black ducks, teal, red-wing blackbirds, willets, marsh hens, sea gulls and many songbirds. Wading birds such as herons, egret, and yellowlegs hunt in the calm waters along the tidal flats. Cooper's hawks and Peregrine falcons glide high above. Many species, such as geese and northern harriers, arrive during the fall as a stop during long seasonal journeys.
Threats: Development, water quality degradation.
Milestones: In 2007, John Goody placed an easement on Burton Farm, 149 acres located along Beaverdam Creek. In 2002, the Fisher family placed a conservation easement on their farm near Lewes.
Action: Exploring voluntary conservation options with local landowners through workshops and one-on-one relationships.
Partners: Sussex County Land Trust, Sussex County Council, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, elected officials, individual landowners