On the north shore of Prince Edward Island, the wind buffets sand across dunes on the Conway Sandhills. Just weeks ago, thousands of shorebirds, including endangered piping plovers, would have left their footprints here. But it is fall, and all trace of their passing has been swept clean now that they have left for the winter. Gone too are the footprints of the close to 30 Conservation Volunteers who visited the sandhills with Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) staff in late August to clear the beach of debris and old shacks.
It’s thanks to the support of the Government of Canada, under the Natural Areas Conservation Program (NACP), that the plovers and this habitat are now protected for the long term. Under this program, NCC has conserved more than 350 acres (140 hectares) of sensitive habitat here – a 50-kilometre complex of sand dunes and salt marshes that stretches from Malpeque to Jacques Cartier Provincial Park – and more than 75 per cent of that has been funded through the NACP.
The conservation of the Conway Sandhills is just one of the many conservation successes accomplished under the NACP – an innovative public-private partnership launched in 2007 to acquire and care for ecologically sensitive lands. The NACP is also the largest commitment to habitat conservation on private lands by any Canadian government.
Over the past six years, the NACP has funded the conservation of more than 912,151 acres (369,134 hectares) from coast to coast, of which 769,671 acres (311,475 hectares) have been secured by NCC. That’s equivalent to conserving about 1,000 NHL hockey rinks a day. The conserved lands protect habitat for 160 species at risk.
In March 2013, the Government of Canada announced a $20-million extension to the $225-million Natural Areas Conservation Program to support the program through 2014.
Back on the shores of the Conway Sandhills, the beaches remain all but empty, with cooler temperatures signalling the onset of winter. NCC field staff have returned indoors, where they are planning new projects that can be accomplished next year through the extended program.
Come spring, the birds will return – and with them, new challenges and opportunities for conservation made possible through the NACP.