Open Farm Day 2023 – A look into riparian restoration on farms in NB

Ben Whalen, Executive Director of the Kennebecasis Watershed Restoration Committee

In September, the Kennebecasis Watershed Restoration Committee (KWRC) and Nature NB hosted an Open Farm Day to help showcase the important work local watershed organizations and farmers play in protecting species at-risk on farms. It was an occasion for people to see the importance of the work local watershed associations do to help farmers increase species-at-risk habitat in their managed landscapes.

A big part of managing ecosystems in agricultural landscapes, notably species-at-risk, is including healthy vegetation buffers along streams, rivers, and other water bodies. These buffers help to protect water quality by filtering pollutants, provide habitat for wildlife, and slow flood waters.

This blog post will highlight three sites that were visited as part of the KWRC and Nature NB’s Open Farm Day even in September 2023.

Site 1 – Pleasant Ridge

Since 1991, the KWRC has been restoring habitat at a farm in Pleasant Ridge,

Using “stabilized fording” methods, KWRC has provided a safe place for livestock to acccess water sources, without impacting the natural stream bank. The KWRC has installed 85 stabilized fording sites in their watershed zone since 1994. 

“This is hopefully what we’re going to see in the long tem”, says Ben Whalen (KWRC). “On top of that, it shows really good resilience too, as far as channel stability goes… And there’s a lot more habitat components there, both from a terrestrial and aquatic ecosystem sense.”

This site is also part of the Living Labs project, which aims to showcase and demonstrate  projects that provide a win for farmers, biodiversity, and climate change. For more information see: https://lvnbll.ca/

Site 2 – Lower watershed farm site

At a farm near the head of tide of the Kennebecasis lies another restoration project, where two kilometers of fence were installed along the main stem of the river. This fencing helps to protect the healthy riparian buffer and shows the importance of this work on small and large streams.

This farm is also home to large number of wetlands, highlighting an opportunity for carbon credits in the future. The KWRC is also looking at evaluating how riparian zones help provide healthy soils for farming in this area.

“We’ve got a fairly substantial setback at this farm. We planted a number of trees and staked a number of willows there last year, and we’re going to be back there again, it’s going to take some time to get that one to come up, because it is prone to a little bit of ice scour… So we’re going to have to spend some time improving that and working with the farmer to bring it along.”

Pollinator and species-at-risk assessments

Ben Whalen notes that biodiversity assessments are done at the three sites, including on plants, mushrooms, and aerial insectivores. But to take it one step further, scientists at Agri-Food Canada are collecting pollen samples on bees in these sites, potentially allowing farmers to know how much their ecosystem stewardship is helping their crops thrive.

3 – Upper watershed farm site

Where the Kennebecasis is barely recognizable as a major river, there are. “…pools, the big boulders etc. that are all exposed. So it’s a completely different ecosystem, but just as important”, mentions Ben Whalen.

In this part of the watershed, the KWRC and partners at the Petitcodiac Watershed Alliance test benthic biodiversity, what we call the animals that live in the bottom of rivers. “At this farm, we did over two kilometers of testing. The farmer has 2.3 kilometers of riparian zone along his property. So we put up a lot of fence, over 250 fence posts, to protect that area. It took a lot of work.”

“The projects are just as important, but they are going to have a little bit of difference when we look at you know, what’s there for pollinator species or what’s there for aerial insectivores, that kind of thing or what’s there for efficient aquatic habitat.” 

The importance of restoration work for farmers and the environment

For farmers, the work KWRC is doing is important for their livelihoods.. Time and time again we hear that farmers want stream bank stability.  “They really want a river that isn’t going to move and wash out a whole bunch of land on them in the long run”, says Whalen. 

This restoration work is equally as important for species of conservation concern as degraded riparian areas contribute to elevated stream temperatures, excess nutrients in the streams, and sedimentation.  “We’ve been going to work since 1994, trying to correct these issues. We now have 60 plus riparian restoration sites in our portfolio to prop that up and say, here’s what we’re doing.

What you can do

If you live on a farm, invite your local watershed group or Nature NB out and ask us how we can work together. 

You can also keep your eye out for volunteer opportunities. For instance, the KWRC calls for volunteers often include tree planting, and bioblitzes.

Whalen adds that “If you’ve got a skill set and you want to donate it, we’re always looking for help”.

In the meantime, Nature NB and the KWRC will keep working together to restore riparian areas in the watershed with hopes of expanding this work in the future.

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