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New England Cottontail Habitat Restoration Project

Madbury, New Hampshire- Text Box: Above:  Berwick Academy teachers and students progress in clearing the two-acre site during the first phase of the projectThis past winter held on with a stubborn grip. Just when the warmer weather seemed to arrive, mid-April brought freezing rain to New Hampshire.  The grey skies and cold temperatures did not deter Gray Cornwell, an enthusiastic landowner working with NRCS on the New England Cottontail (NEC) Initiative.  Cornwell, who teaches Natural Resources and Wildlife Conservation at Berwick Academy, owns and operates a small horse farm in Madbury, New Hampshire and has been working with Soil Conservationist Keri Neal for several years through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and the Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program (WHIP).   

Gray and his wife, Katherine, have lived on the farm for 20 years, during which time NRCS has provided assistance with nutrient, pest, and forest management. 

Text Box: Above:  Freeman Fletcher helps clear the site During this particular cold and wet April day, Cornwell and fellow Berwick Academy teachers, John Davies and Bill Clapp, transported and worked with 32 of their students on the first phase of the project site.  This was one of the Academy’s two Community Service Days that it holds annually. During these days, the high school students spend a day working on a service project in the Seacoast region.  Cornwell and his fellow teachers chose students who they felt would benefit from and contribute to the NEC restoration project, and most of them joined the Earth Team Volunteer Program by helping with this conservation effort.  The work crew removed undesirable species with hand saws and loppers to prepare for the next phase of the project – planting.  Numerous brush piles were created on site, which will provide shelter for numerous animals, including the NEC.   

Prior to the spring clearing, Cornwell brought students out to the site to look for signs of the cottontail.  Matt Larkin, NRCS Soil Conservation Technician, assisted collecting pellets.  He submitted the samples to Heidi Holman, NH Fish &Game Wildlife Biologist, for DNA identification.  Results are pending.  

The entire NEC site is comprised of six acres, and the plan is to work on two acres per year.  The clearing and planting plan was designed by Neal and UNH Cooperative Extension Wildlife Program Assistant, Emma Carcagno.   A variety of species that naturally occur in NEC habitat will be established using bare-root, live stakes and potted plants.  It will consist of a large variety of plants including red-osier dogwood, gray dogwood, silky dogwood, winterberry, buttonbush, pussy willow, and many more.

Text Box: Above:  Landowner and Berwick Academy teacher, Gray Cornwell, leading his project team back to the barn from the cleared areaIn total, 36 volunteers participated and yielded 288 Earth Team hours, contributing an estimated $6,376*.