Nature’s Guardians: Messengers from the Heart of Our Natural Areas

For over four decades, Island Nature Trust (INT) has been dedicated to the protection of Prince Edward Island’s natural landscapes and its at-risk plants and wildlife. In July, the organization achieved a significant milestone, surpassing 10,000 acres of protected land, and it’s through the tireless efforts of over 70 dedicated Guardian volunteers that we aim to maintain the ecological integrity of INT’s natural areas.

Chris Brennan, a 70-year-old Islander and one of INT’s 76 Conservation Guardians, shares his motivation for being a Guardian for Nature: “It’s a way to help nature a little and not feel as hopeless and anxious in the face of the major environmental crises we are experiencing.”

Established by a group of passionate volunteers in 1979, INT’s primary goal has always been the conservation of ecologically significant land. Since its inception, INT has safeguarded more than 100 natural areas on the island, including upland hardwoods, bogs, salt and freshwater marshes and coastal cliffs, beaches and dunes. As Kayle Laverty, Engagement Coordinator at INT explains, “As we acquire more land, our number of volunteers increases. Our volunteers are nature lovers who have a sense of community; they like to share their experiences and their knowledge.”

For Guardians like Chris Brennan, the work is diverse and impactful. They engage in activities such as tree plantings and efforts to combat invasive species. They make regular visits to protected natural areas. Conservation Guardians report on human use and disturbance of natural areas, wildlife sightings and rare and invasive species observed. Chris describes his role: “I keep my eyes open for anything that goes wrong. I check that there are no motor vehicles, garbage, illegal tree cutting, invasive insects, that kind of thing.”

The vulnerability of the island’s forest landscapes, home to many species-at-risk, prompted Chris to step up a decade ago: “Forest landscapes are the most vulnerable on the island. I want to take care of these spaces at my level.” In the past decade, he has witnessed remarkable progress in INT’s work: “The area of land that they have protected has seen a jump in recent years. Through their work, we are seeing a return to the natural forest as the newly planted trees become established.”

Island Nature Trust’s mission extends beyond the conservation of land to encompass the conservation of wildlife, including critical species-at-risk initiatives. Among these efforts is the essential Coastal Guardian program, which plays a vital role in the conservation of piping plover and bank swallow populations in PEI. These at-risk coastal species face numerous threats, including habitat loss and disturbance from human activities.

The volunteer Coastal Guardians receive training to assist in monitoring the endangered piping plover and surveying our coastline for bank swallow colonies. Their efforts are crucial in ensuring the survival of these species.

In 2022 alone, staff and volunteers covered an impressive 763 kilometres of beaches. Additionally, they undertook shoreline clean-up initiatives, removing litter and debris to enhance the nesting environment for piping plovers and other coastal wildlife. Supporting Island Nature Trust’s species-at-risk work is vital in safeguarding the future of vulnerable species like the piping plover and bank swallow. Individuals can contribute to these conservation efforts by volunteering their time, participating in educational programs, and making donations to support ongoing initiatives.

In the face of climate change and growing environmental challenges, Chris Brennan encourages Islanders to take greater action: “By actively supporting associations like the Island Nature Trust, we give more power to civil society to put pressure on governments and change things. His optimism is evident as he observes the growing involvement of young people alongside him in the field. Island Nature Trust continues to nurture the spirit of a hands-on approach to conservation, uniting individuals of all ages and backgrounds in a shared commitment to protect the natural beauty of Prince Edward Island.

We all share a unique connection to nature, and our supporters express it in diverse ways.
They are our Champions of Nature, coming from various backgrounds – from hands-on volunteers to
digital advocates, creative fundraisers, and generous donors.

Are you passionate about hands-on conservation efforts or getting directly involved in nature protection?

Are you interested in supporting nature through financial contributions or potentially donating land for long-term protection?

Are you an artisan or entrepreneur and enjoy using your creativity to raise funds for nature conservation?

Do you love using your voice to raise awareness and advocate for environmental causes in your community?

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