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Magnolia Gardens will benefit from $1 million Ducks Unlimited grant

Swamp Garden

Ducks Unlimited has received a $1 million federal grant to launch a habitat enhancement and restoration project at Magnolia Plantation and Gardens. The goal is to improve the flow of water through the various impoundments and ponds on the 500-acre Magnolia property to raise the diversity of plants and animals.

Funding from the North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA) will be combined with $2.2 million in matching funds from federal, non-profit, state and private sources, said James A. Rader, manager of conservation programs in Ducks Unlimited's South Atlantic Field Office in Charleston. The first phase of the two-year project will begin in the spring.

The project will enhance Magnolia's historic tidal rice field by restoring the function of the inland rice field complex, which includes the Audubon Swamp Garden, Rader said. "The improvements will enhance breeding habitat as well as foraging habitat for species closely associated with the rookery," he said. "The inland rice field project will also increase management capabilities by providing independent flooding, draining and circulation of each and increase connectivity between the inland and tidal systems."

Rader said, "The NAWCA proposal at Magnolia is a great opportunity for Ducks Unlimited to enhance habitat within the urban setting of Charleston. Similar work by Ducks Unlimited included enhancements at Drayton Hall and Bulow County Park in West Ashley."

Winslow Hastie is a member of the Drayton-Hastie family that has owned Magnolia since 1676. He said, "My family's stewardship of this land is well documented. We are looking forward to working with Ducks Unlimited to continue that legacy. We are excited about the potential this project holds to improve the wildlife habitat at Magnolia for the enjoyment of the people who visit our gardens and for the benefit of Lowcountry residents."

Before collaborating with Ducks Unlimited on the NAWCA grant, Magnolia began improvements to the wildlife habitat in the 60-acre Audubon Swamp Garden and the 100-acre water impoundment and wildlife refuge along the Ashley River. Magnolia's ecologist Stacy Turner manages this work. It involves clearing vegetation from the swamp garden, and in the impoundment burning cattails, a fast-growing plant, and introducing native plants.

The grant, Turner said, will hasten the work he's done so far. An engineering assessment next spring will identify the scope of work. Rainwater flowing on the Magnolia property fills the Ravenswood Pond. From there water travels to the swamp garden, then to the impoundment and finally to the Ashley River. Over time culverts that direct water under road beds and dikes have become clogged with vegetation and sediment. These blockages prevent proper management and have led to the degradation of habitat by allowing an overgrowth of vegetation. To solve this problem, Turner explained, small culverts will be replaced with larger ones and embankments will be enhanced.

Turner has plans to reclaim overgrown areas and continue adding native plants, including powdery alligator flag, an aquatic plant that attracts butterflies. Enhancing the flow and management capacity will increase sources of food to diversify the population of wading and migratory birds and waterfowl. When that happens river otters, mink and marsh rabbits will be lured back to the swamp, he added.

Although the grant will support the work for two years "there is never a stopping point when it comes to the ecology," Turner said. "When you finish one part of a project you can turn your head and see another area that needs improvements."

Landscape and environmental consultant Jeff Jackson, founder of Lowcountry Roots, said the land management project at Magnolia is "going to be a major undertaking that holds enormous potential to use native plants, not only for aesthetic purposes, but to attract wildlife to the area." Jackson said Magnolia's executive director Tom Johnson has asked him to work with the Native Plant Society to compile a "wish list" of native plants for Magnolia. Jackson estimates that as many as 70 species of native plants could be used to improve the habitat. Where to plant them, he added, will depend on the slope of the terrain and the moisture in the soil.

Johnson said, "The signing of this agreement is the culmination of months of planning. I am so excited that Magnolia will receive this support from Ducks Unlimited to enhance the wildlife not only at Magnolia but also in the surrounding area. This is certainly the largest project I've ever done in my career that will have wide-ranging impact for years to come."

Grant administration, engineering services and construction oversight will be managed by Ducks Unlimited, the world's largest non-profit waterfowl habitat conservation organization. In addition to the work at Magnolia, Ducks Unlimited will use the NAWCA grant to work with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to enhance the Bluff Unit at the Santee National Wildlife Refuge.

A large component of a successful NAWCA grant proposal is bringing together matching funding from a diversity of partners, Rader said. In South Carolina, the South Carolina Conservation Bank has been an essential ingredient in Duck Unlimited's and other conservation partners' recipe for success, he said. The South Carolina Conservation Bank SCCB provided $653,000 in match for this particular effort.

Craig LeSchack, Ducks Unlimited's director of conservation programs, said, the SCCB "is an incredibly sound investment in conservation and land protection. Most of the restoration we do on public lands in South Carolina wouldn't be possible without the state and private match generated through bank projects. Because of the bank, Ducks Unlimited and its partners have secured more than $25 million from the North American Wetlands Conservation Act for conservation of South Carolina's wetlands since 2007. Other funding sources include Wetlands America Trust, a Ducks Unlimited land trust affiliate, Ducks Unlimited, USFWS and Magnolia."

 

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