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Feature Story

Hull Springs Farm

An Emerging Model of Conservation and Sustainability

Bobbie Burton Executive Director, Hull Springs Farm

 

Hull Springs FarmHull Springs Farm, located in Westmoreland County on Virginia’s Northern Neck, consists of 637 acres of richly diverse habitat including farmland, forest, shoreline, and wetlands as well as 10 buildings. It is a segment of almost 2,000 acres of conserved land on Machodoc Neck and is being managed to demonstrate best practices conservation measures in all of those areas.

While still referred to as a farm from its historical roots, the diversity of habitat and long-term goals are taking Hull Springs Farm far beyond the traditional concept of farming. Our recent initiatives have concentrated on cultivating appropriate partnerships in the conservation community; developing stewardship plans for the natural resources; building the human infrastructure with an executive director, board and advisory committees; defining a mission and visionary goals; and implementing key resource plans for living shorelines and wetland restoration.

Mission

The mission approved by the Hull Springs Farm Foundation's board of directors in November 2008 is: To manage and develop Hull Springs Farm as a compelling model of conservation and stewardship to educate the studentsof Longwood University, other institutions, and the greater community about their role in creating a more sustainable planet.

To this end, Hull Springs Farm uses its unique resources to develop models of conservation and sustainability at levels that will be instructive to university students, the surrounding community and residents in the larger Chesapeake Bay watershed.

shoreline beforeshoreline after

Shoreline Protection Before & After
After severe storms in the fall of 2006 the vulnerable shoreline has now been restored through the "Living Shorelines" project. More than 8,000 square feet of new marsh will protect the shoreline from future storms and provide excellent habitat for crabs, juvenile fish and other animals.

Goals

Five Visionary Goals define the foreseeable future for Hull Springs Farm:

  1. Create a model of conservation and demonstration sitefor best management land and water use practices using the unique resources at Hull Springs Farm. 

  2. Coordinate, develop and deliver educational programs using the unique features at Hull Springs Farm in the context of a model of conservation to educate many constituencies about sustainable land and water management and stewardship.

  3. Provide adequate facilities and support for undergraduate research, a scholar-in-residence program, and for use by other members of the conservation research community. 

  4. Renovate existing buildings and construct new facilities necessary to deliver education and research programs using green design and construction principles that could be reasonably replicated by the public.

  5. Be an active good institutional citizen of the Northern Neck, the Commonwealth of Virginia and the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.

While these goals must evolve somewhat simultaneously, practicality and funding dictate that the first goal, creating the model of conservation, must lead the sequence in order to provide the platform for goals two, three and four. Already, goal five, to be an active good institutional citizen, is being fulfilled through citizen education workshops and partnerships with many organizations.

Hull Springs Farm has approximately 8,400 feet of shoreline some of which is subject to extensive erosion. In 2006, Living Shorelines: Shoreline Erosion Control and Habitat Research Project was launched. Longwood secured a $40,500 grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) through the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to assess how living shoreline techniques could be used on-site to control erosion, while also preserving or restoring shoreline habitat that supports shorebirds, juvenile fish, tidal marsh, submerged aquatic vegetation, and other plant and wildlife species. That research resulted in a shoreline protection plan that called for the installation of a sill and fringe marsh to protect the Farm'smost vulnerable point, the Big House and the signature Southern Red Oak tree (c. 1595.) A subsequent grant in 2008 through the same agencies provided $75,000 which covered most of the costs for the installation.

As a result of the project, several community workshops have been conducted to demonstrate living shoreline technologies.  Students and faculty from Longwood and Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) established baseline data and will conduct follow-up research to determine the success of the project in enhancing plant and animal populations. The College of William and Mary's Virginia Institute of MarineScience (VIMS) was instrumental in the construction design of the sill and fringe marsh and in overseeing the implementation and community workshops. Several more workshops are planned to introduce living shoreline techniques which offer a biologically sensitive alternative to bulkheads and other expensive, temporary,and "shore-hardening" structures that may be detrimental to shoreline habitat. The Hull Springs Farm demonstration site could be instrumental in reducing the impact of shoreline hardening on Virginia's Northern Neck and beyond and the related research will contribute to the growing body of information on the most effective ways to manage shoreline erosion while at the same time conserving critical habitat.

Wetland Restoration

green heron

We are in the process of restoring, enhancing and preserving more than 80 acres of wetlands. The wetlands will contribute migration corridor value, create habitat, detain and treat storm water, which will serve to improve water quality and wildlife and ecosystem diversity. The wetlands will provide educational and research opportunities for the students and faculty of Longwood, VIMS, and other universities and state agencies. In addition, a Wetland Mitigation Bank will be established, which will allow us to sell wetland mitigation credits to others to compensate for the unavoidable destruction of wetlands (as determined by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers) in order to build roads, bridges and other structures. This will provide funding to support the research and maintenance related to the wetlands and critical base funding for sustaining and operating Hull Springs Farm as an environmental education and research facility.

Education

The unique habitats of Hull Springs Farm offer a wealth of opportunities for exploration of our natural world. Our current focus is on developing and implementing stewardship plans for those diverse habitats. As funding becomes available more extensive educational programs will be developed using the natural resources at the Farm. 

macroinvertebrates

For more than a decade, students in Longwood's ecology, botany, archaeology, anthropology, mammalogy, and ornithology courses have gained valuable hands-on experience during extended field trips to the Farm. Local environmental organizations as well as elementary school children from local schools have used the forested stream banks to examine and understand the plants and animals that are part of the natural history of the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

Additionally, faculty, undergraduate, and graduate students from Longwood, VIMS, Virginia Tech, and VCU have researched bird and bat populations, nesting patterns, water quality, archaeology sites, prevention of shoreline erosion, wetland restoration, forest management to enhance micro-environments, and the dynamics of tidal creeks. Landowners on the Northern Neck have learned the value of living shorelines and water stewardship from education programs held at the Farm.

Future research may focus on nutrient runoff from farm fields, public health issues and water quality, healthy oyster beds, on-site waste water management alternatives, and many other sustainable land management and water stewardship areas. 

Developing a deep and meaningful understanding of the natural world (and how human actions impact it) requires stepping out of the classroom and into nature. In addition to offering education and research opportunities in the formal sense, the farm also offers outreach programs for local shoreline property owners, farmers, forest owners, contractors and builders, regional policy makers, and life-long learners with an interest in nature.

Hull Springs Farm will be evolving for many years as a model of conservation dedicated to education and research leading to a more sustainable planet by focusing on its own natural resources as a living laboratory within the Chesapeake Bay watershed.  

Related Story: Learning About Sustainability Down on the Farm