New program pays farmers and protects turtles
In the unfrozen depths of Nova Scotia’s waterways there slumbers a handsome turtle, its carapace dark with the rough texture of wood, its underbelly yellow with brushstrokes of black. And soon they’ll be awake, emerging from their aquatic hibernation with unsurprising sluggishness.They are called wood turtles, one of four semi-aquatic species to inhabit the province and by far the most outgoing. In pursuit of food and nesting grounds this enterprising reptile can travel quite a distance from its stream of choice, but sadly it’s this same unreservedness which has forced them into a marked decline.
Fewer of them are likely to emerge from our waterways this year than last, and the reasons are many. They suffer deaths on roadways, there is poaching and predation, the development of their habitat and fatal collisions with agricultural equipment. This last is among the most widespread threats to the species locally and in Canada, but soon the farmers of Nova Scotia will be able to strike it off the list.
Simon Greenland-Smith is the project manager of Wood Turtle Strides, an initiative of the Nova Scotia Federation of Agriculture (NSFA) which seeks to forge a lasting peace between the lands being farmed and the turtles that visit them.
“One of the best places for wood turtles to find food are hay fields, where they search for worms, slugs and berries,” said Greenland-Smith. “Unfortunately, they often come into contact with mowing equipment or tractor tires.”
During the month of June, in particular, hungry turtles fresh from hibernation find themselves on farmland for the first cut of hay, a dangerous arrangement for a species not easily spotted. Greenland-Smith said there are an estimated 2,000 to 8,000 Wood turtles across Nova Scotia, occurring in isolated pockets along the Annapolis, St. Mary’s and Musquodoboit watersheds, among others. Given their slow rates of reproduction, the increasing fragmentation of their riverside habitat and their status as a species-at-risk, the loss of even a few individuals has far reaching consequences.
“The Nova Scotia Federation of Agriculture has been increasingly aware of biodiversity concerns on farmland,” said Greenland-Smith, “and we’ve decided to do something about it.”