Couple donates 27 acres to protect at-risk species, rare forest in N.B.

Alice Reed and Bob Bancroft say they are relieved to know their former land is protected. (Submitted by Stephanie Merrill - image credit)
Alice Reed and Bob Bancroft say they are relieved to know their former land is protected. (Submitted by Stephanie Merrill - image credit)

Bob Bancroft and Alice Reed have given away 27 acres of their land in New Brunswick.

And they couldn't be happier about it.

That land, located in Gagetown, is now a nature preserve and will be protected forever by Nature Trust New Brunswick, a non-profit land conservation organization.

Bancroft, a biologist from Nova Scotia and a regular guest on CBC's Maritime Noon, said he and his wife Alice found the land by chance when they began looking for a property in Gagetown in 2015 so they could live near their friends for a part of the year.

Submitted by Stephanie Merrill
Submitted by Stephanie Merrill

They have a boat at the Gagetown Marina they they use to travel up and down the St. John River, but it's not ideal for long-term living.

"Although we can stay on it for three or four days, it's small so we decided we better have a land base," Bancroft told Shift.

"We were really lucky, we just found this property next to our friends … that fit the bill really nicely right within the village of Gagetown."

One day in 2016 when Bancroft and Reed were working to build a campsite on their land, he decided to explore the depths of the property for the first time.

Submitted by Bob Bancroft
Submitted by Bob Bancroft

"I came upon this amazing floodplain … a lot of the trees were about 30 meters apart, but their canopy shaded them from the afternoon sun so they were catching all of the solar rays," he said.

Bancroft said what was most significant about the forest, filled with silver maples, is that they appeared to never have been cut down.

He said it's rare in New Brunswick to find trees that haven't been cut down three or four times.

"Later that day I grabbed Alice and I said, 'Well you've got to go see what we have here.'"

He was amazed to find the land was home to a host of species, including moose, fox, bears, otters and at least two kinds of turtles — the snapping variety and the wood turtle.

He also found a creek that flows into Harts Lake, an important spawning place for the speckled trout.

Submitted by Bob Bancroft
Submitted by Bob Bancroft

Bancroft said he quickly discovered their land served as a refuge for because of areas around it that have either been clear cut or developed.

"It's interesting because these big tall pines, the bears would get up in them on a windy day just to cool off … it's like air conditioning up there," he said.

"The creek is beautiful, the beavers have managed it for thousands of years … the streams are filled with dams."

They decided they needed to protect this land and made contact with Nature Trust New Brunswick.

Bancroft and Reed donated 27.2 acres of their 34-acre lot, which is now officially protected as a nature preserve.

Submitted by Stephanie Merrill
Submitted by Stephanie Merrill

Stephanie Merrill, the CEO of Nature Trust New Brunswick, said the property is "a really special place."

"Bob and Alice's property is gorgeous. It is an example of old-growth forest, which we all know is becoming more and more rare in New Brunswick," said Merrill.

She said the silver maple floodplain forest found on the property is important for protecting river systems and flood control.

Merrill said the land also has wetlands, which are breeding grounds for birds and reptiles.

The process of donating land

Nature Trust has been working to protect New Brunswick land since 1987, according to its website.

Submitted by Bob Bancroft
Submitted by Bob Bancroft

It says it has conserved more than 11,000 acres of land across more than 70 sites.

Merrill said a lot of work goes into certifying land as a nature preserve and protecting the land for years afterward.

"Conserving private land is really rewarding and, of course, is a lot of work and a really big decision," said Merrill.

"This is a long commitment by us and the families."

Nature Trust must first determine whether land is ecologically significant, whether it is supportive of at-risk species or includes unique features, including wetlands, bogs or floodplain forests.

From there, a conversation is had about what the owners of the land would like to see protected, and how much of the property would be donated.

"There are a lot of options … we can tailor the options to the individual's or family's needs," said Merrill.

Once land is protected, it is monitored and cleaned up by members of Nature Trust and any trails on the land are maintained for public use.

The organization completes surveys to understand plants, birds and other species on the preserve.

"We keep track of how the protected land is providing habitat and how we may be seeing changes to species observations over time thanks to the newly conserved land," said Merrill.

She said New Brunswick is still behind in land protection on the national scale.

The national average for protected land is 13.5 per cent, Merrill said.