Posted on Friday, April 23, 2021, 9:58 am
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Virginia has received a gift of approximately 7,300 acres of Halifax County’s private land, the largest private conservation land donation in Virginia’s history.
The area known as Falkland Farms will be owned and operated by the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation as the first joint natural heritage and state park project. In the so-called Southside Virginia Conservation and Recreation Complex, the property is managed to protect biodiversity and ultimately offers public recreational opportunities.
“This announcement marks one of the most significant conservation achievements in Virginia history,” said Governor Ralph Northam. “Falkland Farms is exactly the kind of priority land we want to preserve. By setting it aside for conservation, we will protect the natural habitat and ecosystem, increase floodplain resilience, and preserve scenic views. I am deeply grateful to conservation philanthropist Tim Sweeney for his generosity and vision in conserving this land and for entrusting the Department of Conservation and Recreation with this tremendous opportunity. “
Northam’s ConserveVirginia land conservation initiative uses technology to identify the most valuable protected areas in the Commonwealth from 19 mapped data inputs across seven categories. ConserveVirginia has classified the entire property as a conservation priority.
The area will serve as a link between Difficult Creek Natural Area Preserve and Staunton River State Park, creating the largest DCR-owned land holdings and one of the largest state conservation areas in Virginia.
This new complex will be more than 10,000 acres contiguously larger than any of the existing Commonwealth state parks. Nearly 60 km of streams and 1,000 hectares of wetlands, including mature forested wetlands, will be permanently preserved.
To date, 17 species of rare plants and animals have been documented on the property, which conservationists have hailed as an area of high biodiversity. DCR’s Virginia Natural Heritage Program will undertake one of the largest habitat restoration projects in southeast Piedmont. Mandatory fires are used to restore the Piedmont savannah and forest ecosystems that once supported the area.
In addition, the tract forms an important link in a scenic network of natural areas with the Kerr Reservoir, the Banister River South and the Wolf Trap Federal Wildlife Sanctuary. These state and federal lots will comprise a total of 40,000 acres of preserved contiguous wetlands, floodplain and upland forest.
“The conservation of the falconry farms is an exceptional investment in large-scale landscape conservation that offers the opportunity to restore globally significant natural communities and habitats for endangered species,” said Matthew J. Strickler, Minister for Natural Resources. “This will make the entire region more resilient to changes in climate and land use.”
Going forward, DCR plans to offer public access in a manner that complements outdoor recreational activities at Staunton River State Park and expands biodiversity management and restoration at Difficult Creek Natural Area Preserve, both of which are adjacent to the property. DCR will soon launch a series of public meetings to update the master plan for Staunton River State Park and gather information on how Falkland Farms should be used for recreational purposes.
“This project is an opportunity to restore Piedmontese natural communities to an unprecedented level and it will ultimately grow the local economy by meeting the increasing demands for recreational trails and water access,” said DCR Director Clyde Cristman. “This is truly a unique opportunity to serve not just one but multiple missions for our agency and the Commonwealth.”