The North Carolina Botanical Garden will expand the Stillhouse Bottom Nature Preserve in southern Chapel Hill by purchasing 24.7 acres of land.
Johnny Randall, director of conservation programs at the NCBG, said the organization expects to acquire the land in early 2023. He said the NCBG has a contract and the funds to buy the additional acres.
With the acquisition of the additional land, Stillhouse Bottom Nature Preserve will be around 50 acres, Randall said
“The Botanical Garden Foundation and its staff have worked very hard on this and other acquisitions over many months and years,” Milo Pyne, senior regional ecologist at the non-profit NatureServe, said.
Randall said the garden's goal is to preserve biological diversity and promote an appreciation for biological diversity and its conservation among the general public.
He said the NCBG is looking to add even more acreage to the Stillhouse Bottom Nature Preserve in the future.
Randall also said the organization hopes to eventually expand the preserve to 100 acres through additional purchases of land, donations and conservation easements.
“Acreage is essential for maintaining biological diversity,” he said.
The preserve is important for biological diversity and is part of an existing wildlife corridor where animals and plants migrate along Morgan Creek, Randall explained.
Stillhouse Bottom and Morgan Creek Bluffs Natural Area are part of a wildlife corridor that runs along Morgan Creek and several of the NCBG's nature preserves.
Randall said over 100 different plant species have been identified in the Stillhouse Bottom Nature Preserve area.
"It's original forest and there is very little of that anywhere, especially in Piedmont North Carolina," Randall said. "So, we’re talking about original forests with trees 150, maybe even 400, years old."
He added that there is a lot of animal diversity in the Stillhouse Bottom Nature Preserve because of its isolation and how it has been continuously forested.
“There are birds that breed there that require deep forest like the (summer) tanager, ovenbirds, and worm-eating warblers,” he said.
Ben Heuser, the natural areas steward at the NCBG, said habitat loss is one of the largest forces leading to the destruction of natural spaces and biodiversity. Even preserving a little bit of land creates a safe space for plants and animals to exist.
Heuser said the land the NCBG will acquire will never be at risk of being sold for development since it is a conservation effort.
Bo Howes is the director of land protection and stewardship (west) at Triangle Land Conservancy and co-chair of the Conservation Committee of the Botanical Garden Foundation.
Howes said one purpose of the Stillhouse Bottom Nature Preserve expansion is to protect the water quality of Morgan Creek, which is less than 1000 feet downstream from the preserve.
Howes said that the goal of the TLC is to conserve land in the Triangle to have a more vibrant place for people to work and play. He also said TLC conserves land to prioritize clean water, public access to nature, family farms and wildlife habitat.
“Property in its natural state and especially woods in their natural state are great filters for everything that’s bad that we as humans put into the environment,” Howes said.
Howes also noted that cutting down trees and building houses, stores or other infrastructure will degrade the habitat of the Stillhouse Bottom Nature Preserve.
“It will affect both the water quality in that stream, but it’ll also affect the plant communities,” Howes said.
Nature conservation can feel like an uphill battle in development-heavy places like Chapel Hill, Heuser said.
“Victories like the expansion of Stillhouse Bottom, even though 25 acres may not seem like so much land, are really incredible reminders of the power and importance of conservation,” Heuser said.
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