Kiawah Conservancy Doubles Conservation Footprint
Kiawah River Marsh East and Little Rabbit North – 1,155 Acres Preserved
Kiawah Island, S.C. – The Kiawah Conservancy announces that the entire span of the Kiawah River, from the bridge to the Stono River, has been protected, more than doubling the Conservancy’s conservation footprint in the first quarter of 2018.
The Conservancy received a generous donation of 1,150 acres of intertidal marsh (Kiawah River Marsh East tract), including hummock islands, on the eastern side of Kiawah bound by the Kiawah River, Kiawah Island, and the Stono River from Kiawah Partners. In addition, the Conservancy completed the purchase of Little Rabbit North—a five-acre upland finger, which extends out into the marsh and is situated between Mingo South and mainland Kiawah Island. This property was purchased from Kiawah Partners at a substantially below market value.
By combining the donated Kiawah River East Marsh tract and the purchase of Rabbit North with the previously donated (2017) conservation easements on Mingo North and Mingo South and 720 acres of donated Kiawah River West marshlands all from Kiawah Partners, the Conservancy has protected more than just the entrance to Kiawah Island. These lands provide habitat for a wide variety of flora and fauna, including “at risk,” “threatened,” and “SCDNR highest priority” species. Their preservation sustains key components of the Kiawah ecosystem.
Marsh East Conservation Value
The Marsh East tract is dominated by smooth cordgrass and is interspersed with mud flats, and natural oyster bars. It also includes some areas of high marsh that consists of sea oxeye, saltwort, black needlerush, slender glasswort, salt grass, salthay, and marsh fimbry. Open salt flats also occur that are sparsely vegetated with slender glasswort and salt grass. There are numerous tidal creeks that bisect the intertidal marsh that all stem from the main branch of the Kiawah River. Hummock islands are scattered throughout the intertidal marsh and are dominated by salt shrub thickets and/or maritime forests. Salt shrub thicket vegetation includes several of the high marsh plants as well as groundsel tree, yaupon holly, seaside goldenrod, saltwater false willow, sea lavender, and marsh elder. The forested portions of these hummocks include loblolly pine, cabbage palmetto, southern red cedar, live oak, wax myrtle, and greenbrier. In addition, the Marsh East tract includes an important ecotone fringe at the transition zone of the marsh and larger maritime forests of Kiawah Island.
The hummock, high marsh, intertidal marsh, tidal creek, and salt shrub thicket habitats found within the Marsh East tract support a variety of wildlife including wading birds, shorebirds, and furbearers as well as secretive marsh birds. The detrital cycle of the high and intertidal marsh produces decaying plant material, which serves as the basis of the estuarine food chain. Recreational and commercially important species supported by these marshes include shrimp, blue crab, oysters, and numerous fish species. The island hummocks are particularly important for neotropical songbird migrants as seasonal and stopover habitats. Additionally, the habitats within this tract have the potential to support a variety of rare and endangered species such as the clapper rail, yellow rail, white ibis, whimbrel, American oystercatcher, royal tern, little blue heron, wood stork, and American bittern, all of which are listed as “Highest Priority” species per the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources’ (SCDNR) Comprehensive Wildlife Conservation Strategy. Other priority species include the great egret, MacGillivray’s seaside sparrow, black-bellied plover, tricolored heron, brown pelican, willet, greater yellowlegs, bald eagle, semipalmated plover, snowy egret, Carolina chickadee, sora rail, spotted sandpiper, and great blue heron. In addition to being a “Highest Priority” species, the wood stork is also listed as a federally threatened species. Several federal At-Risk Species are listed for Charleston County and could occur within the habitats of the Marsh East tract. These include MacGillivray’s seaside sparrow, Monarch butterfly, Eastern diamondback rattlesnake, black rail, and Godfrey’s privet.
Rabbit North Conservation Value
Rabbit North, a piece of a hummock island bisected by the Kiawah Island Parkway, provides key habitat for several unique and at risk species. By purchasing Rabbit North for conservation, the Conservancy has ensured that an additional 19 dwelling units will never be constructed at the entrance to Kiawah Island, and this special habitat will be maintained into the future.
Data collected via GPS collars since 2007 indicates that bobcats regularly utilize the property. The Town of Kiawah Island’s “Bobcat Management Guidelines” (2014) delineates two nearby “Important Bobcat Areas,” used primarily for daytime resting cover. The salt shrub thicket habitat that forms the perimeter of Rabbit North provides key resting and movement habitat for bobcats. The property also likely provides habitat for additional mammals, including white-tailed deer, raccoons, opossums and rodents. Besides bobcats, Rabbit North is used by a variety of birds, including painted buntings, cedar waxwings, Carolina chickadees, and red-bellied woodpeckers. The federally listed “at risk” monarch butterfly finds a robust foraging area here, as the numerous groundsel trees provide a vital fall food source for migrating and overwintering butterflies.
In addition to the typical marsh edge and hummock island plants, such as black needlerush, sea ox-eye daisy, southern red cedar, and live oak, Rabbit North contains southern magnolia, laurel oak, loblolly pine, slash pine, and pignut hickory in its upland areas. Unique understory plants found on Rabbit North include Hercules club, coral bean (in abundance), and partridgeberry. These plants are more typically encountered in Kiawah’s maritime forests.
About the Kiawah Conservancy
Founded in 1997 by Island residents through a grassroots movement, the Kiawah Conservancy is dedicated to preserving the natural habitats of Kiawah Island. To date the Conservancy has preserved 47 properties that total over 2,255 acres of pristine barrier island habitat. The Conservancy benefits Kiawah Island and surrounding communities by providing a long-term vision and plan for land and habitat protection, encouraging and assisting with the enhancement and restoration of natural habitat in developed areas, sponsoring critical wildlife and habitat research programs and fostering conservation education throughout the community.
In February 2017, the Kiawah Conservancy achieved the national recognition of Land Trust Accreditation – joining a network of land trusts across the nation that have demonstrated their commitment to professional excellence and to maintaining the public’s trust in their work.
The Kiawah Conservancy envisions all citizens of and visitors to this area enjoying the natural habitat, wildlife, and unique beauty of Kiawah Island for generations to come. Visit www.kiawahconservancy.org to learn more.
About Kiawah Partners
Kiawah Partners is the master developer of Kiawah Island, a 10,000-acre barrier island located 21 miles south of Charleston, South Carolina. The company’s subsidiaries include KiawahIsland Real Estate and The Kiawah Island Club, which encompasses The River Course by Tom Fazio, Cassique Course by Tom Watson, The Beach Club by Robert A.M. Stern and Sasanqua, the members-only spa. The island is home to hundreds of species of animals and ten miles of pristine beach due to the developer’s lifelong commitment to conservation and respect for the natural environment.
Kiawah Island Real Estate is the sole real estate broker with offices on Kiawah Island. Its 25 agents exclusively offer homesites, villas, cottages and single-family residences, many with views of the Atlantic Ocean or Kiawah River and the surrounding marshlands. To view current listings, developments and learn more about the island visit www.kiawahisland.com.