Saving the sandhills

Eric McCarthy
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Nature Conservancy of Canada nears halfway point of protecting Conway Sandhills on P.E.I.’s north coast

The Conway Sandhills, a narrow strip of land along Prince Edward Island’s northern coast, is seen in this photo. The Nature Conservancy of Canada is working to preserve what it calls ‘a beautiful wildness’.

The Nature Conservancy of Canada is one step closer to protecting the Conway Sandhills, a narrow strip of land dotted along the northern coast of Prince Edward Island, not far from Malpeque Bay.

The group will be halfway to its goal if it can raise $15,000 before the end of March to close a deal on the purchase of two more properties on the narrow strip in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

The conservancy’s P.E.I. manager, Diane Griffin, is confident the group will get there.

“They are wilderness,” said Griffin, who has walked the properties.

“They’re a beautiful wilderness, and we have almost no wilderness in Prince Edward Island. This is our wilderness.”

The Sandhills is a natural sand dune structure between Alberton Harbour and Malpeque Bay. It is also a key breeding area for nationally endangered species like the piping plover. There were only 6,000 of these birds remaining in Canada, fewer than 500 in the Atlantic region and St. Pierre and Miquelon.

The NCC got the ball rolling on the plan when it acquired two properties on the sandhills, totalling 237 acres, in 2011.

Last year, it obtained two more and came very close to finalizing the deal on the fifth and sixth properties.

Ultimately, the NCC hopes to acquire all of properties on the sandhills, totalling just over 700 acres.

Starting out, there were about 22 properties and 17 property owners.

The NCC has been reaching out to all the owners in hopes of accelerating the pace of land conservation.

The entire sandhills structure is dominated by sand dunes and saltwater marshes.

“It’s excellent wildlife habitat,” Griffin said. “It’s especially good for birds, especially two kinds of birds, the shore birds and the migrating water fowl.”

“They’re a beautiful wilderness, and we have almost no wilderness in Prince Edward Island. This is our wilderness.” Diane Griffin, Nature Conservancy of Canada

And the NCC wants to ensure the entire natural area remains natural, and protected.

While there might be a certain charm to owning an offshore sand dune, the Planning Act and Environmental Protection Act does not allow any structures to be built on the property, even if it is privately owned.

Owners can go and visit their property, but Griffin pointed out people can go to NCC properties as freely as if they owned them.

“We make our properties available to the public, as long as they’re not doing something that’s inappropriate on the property, like causing damage to the plants or the wildlife.”

Griffin said the NCC lost a funding partner when it couldn’t close the current deal by the end of December.

“When you’re working with other funding partners, it’s critical to also meet their criteria,” she explained.

She has another potential funding partner but needs to finalize the funding by the end of March to make it work.

Donors receive receipts for tax deduction purposes. Griffin pointed out potential donors can visit the NCC’s website for more information or call 1-877-231-4400.

To ensure the money is directed towards the purchase of property on the sandhills, it is important for donors to note that in the comment box of the donor form.

Online: natureconservancy.ca

Organizations: NCC

Geographic location: Canada, Prince Edward Island, Atlantic

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