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Reforesting the Thames River Floodplain

Carol and Jim Harrison’s property is located along the shores of the Middle Thames River in Oxford County. When the Harrisons joined the Landowner Leaders Program in December 2015, their property (aside from the residential portion) consisted of a 56-acre mature Maple-Beech woodland, 7 acres of cropland on high ground, 8 acres of cropland in the river’s floodplain, and a ¾ acre grass pasture for their alpacas. The vegetation buffer along the river’s edge already exceeded the minimum recommended width of 3 meters (10 ft) for the most part, but there were areas devoid of vegetation, thus allowing surface water to enter the river unfiltered.

The Harrisons and CCC developed a Carolinian Habitat Action Plan that identified specific actions that could be taken on their property to benefit nature.

The top priority was to reduce fertilizer, pesticide and sediment run-off into the river. To this end, any increase in the width of vegetation buffers along waterways is beneficial. The Harrisons decided to retire the entire agricultural field adjacent to the river and reforest the floodplain. Crop yields were low partly due to flooding at planting time so the agricultural loss was minimal.

In spring 2017, the ground was first seeded with a mix of barley and white clover. The Upper Thames Conservation Authority then planted 3900 tree seedlings in rows 9 feet apart, and 8 feet between trees, consisting of Bitternut Hickory, Black Walnut, Bur Oak, Sycamore, Tamarack, White Oak, and White Spruce.

Over the summer Jim mowed between the rows to minimize competition from herbaceous plants. Roughly 80% of the cost of the seedlings was covered by the 50 Million Trees Program and the Oxford County Clean Water Program. By undertaking this project the Harrisons have improved the water quality of the Thames River as well as the riparian habitat on their property.

As a future project, the Harrisons plan to replace approximately 1/2 acre of mowed lawn into a wildflower meadow. This will create habitat for pollinators, which are essential to agricultural production.

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