High Meadow Restoration: Botanist Evaluates Five-Acre Parcel At Fairfield Hills
Tucked away off the beaten path deep within the Fairfield Hills Campus is a five-acre parcel of land that has been left in its natural splendor. Many would not even know it was there unless they happen to venture on a small trail behind the old water storage facility.
It is there that travelers can see a sign that reads, “Vegetative Study Area High Meadow Restoration Project. For the purpose of monitoring and evaluating plant diversity. Town of Newtown Conservation Commission.”
Surrounding the flourishing meadow on the less traveled sides of its perimeter are wood stakes that label it as “open space.” There are also a slew of green metal markers to help with the research effort.
The Newtown Conservation Commission sectioned off this particular piece of land to do a study on what happens when a meadow is left untouched for an extended period of time.
Holly Kocet, chair of the Conservation Commission, explained, “The idea was to have some scientific data on how meadows progress naturally compared to the managed areas and also give guidance on future meadow projects the town may endeavor to do.”
More than three years ago, the group hired botanist Dr Bryan A. Connolly, who is an assistant professor for the Department of Biology at Eastern Connecticut State University, to do a baseline survey of the vegetation on the test site.
“Prior to preserving that area and the six acres on the other side of the trail road for pollinator habitat, all the fields were hayed by a farmer,” Kocet shared. “Haying was done for many years for feed and bedding hay, so the horticultural [cool-season] grasses [introduced species] were well-established, possibly even reseeded at times.”
Once the initial evaluation was completed, the five acres were left to grow with no human intervention to it.
Connolly returned to the five-acre site in September to survey the 40 plots that were established in 2017.
Kocet explained, “For each plot, a complete plant species list will be made, and he will estimate the percent cover for each species. The plots will be compared to 2017 data to assess species composition and cover change. A master species list will also be compiled.”
The following month, on October 3, Connolly came back with Kocet to walk the property once more.
This time, Kocet said, it was “to collect representative herbarium specimens for as many species as possible.”
Connolly took samples of a variety of plants and stored them in plastic baggies to further examine later.
Some beneficial native plants that Connolly identified in the high meadow were mountain mint (Pycnanthemum muticum), rough goldenrod (Solidago rugosa), lance-leaved aster (Symphyotrichum lanceolata), pearly everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea), blue vervain (Verbena hastata), common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), and common blackberry (Rubus alleghaniensis).
Four native grasses that he found were deertongue (Dichanthelium clandestrum), purpletop tridens (Tridens flavus), Indiangrass (Sorghastrum nutans), and little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium).
Kocet noted that there were also some helpful nonnatives found on site, including butter-and-eggs (Linaria vulgaris) and Carolina nightshade/Horsenettle (Solanum carolinense).
Throughout the five acres, a plethora of pollinators could be seen visiting the plants, as well as woolly bear caterpillars inching along the ground and birds soaring in the sky.
Connelly also pointed out that the patches of grass with imprints in them were indications that deer were seeking refuge and sleeping in the undisturbed meadow.
While walking through the site that day, Kocet mentioned in passing that it is clear that when left to its own devices, “Fields want to become forests in Connecticut.”
In a few weeks, Connolly will present the Conservation Commission with a full report of his findings about how the area diversified over time.
The current plan is that with the high meadow study completed, the five-acre parcel of land will return to being maintained how other areas are at Fairfield Hills. It will be mowed once a year beginning in 2022.
Kocet said that they will mow before the summertime to be considerate of when deer are born in June (many mothers leave their babies in tall grass to hide them while they search for food) and when birds, such as bobolink, begin nesting.
For more information about the Conservation Commission, visit newtown-ct.gov/conservation-commission.
Reporter Alissa Silber can be reached at email@example.com.