Sobey family donates property with 'critical habitat' to Nature Trust
12-hectare property near Sherbrooke important to endangered species
A critical habitat for several endangered species along an ecologically rich Nova Scotia river has been protected following a land donation from a well-known family with a special connection to the picturesque waterway.
The Nova Scotia Nature Trust says David and Faye Sobey have donated a 30-acre property on the St. Mary's River in Mitchell's Pool, just north of Sherbrooke in Guysborough County.
Bonnie Sutherland, executive director of the trust, said the property's brooks, swamp and island provide important habitat for a range of wildlife including ducks, forest birds and wood turtles — a species on Canada's endangered species list.
"It has long been known as a spectacular, beautiful river that was really important to the community as an Atlantic salmon river and a canoeing river. But it started to become clear to us as the conservation science came together that ecologically, this is a really important river," said Sutherland.
The donation protects some of the last mature floodplain forest in the province, a ecosystem made up of large oaks, maples, and yellow birch that provide cooling shade essential for the river's aquatic life.
"In almost all of Nova Scotia, we've cleared those floodplain forests," said Sutherland. "So protecting the last vestiges of these forests is so important, and our work on the St. Mary's is to piece together all of these intact floodplain forests that we can with the idea that they can work to regenerate as we work with adjacent land owners to restore their fields and allow them to naturally regenerate."
The Nature Trust said the Sobey family — known for starting the now multibillion-dollar Sobeys Inc. grocery business — have been visiting that part of the river for about 80 years and they wanted to ensure the lands were protected indefinitely.
In a video interview posted on the trust's website, David Sobey said he has a camp in Mitchell's Pool and when the opportunity arose to buy another 30 acres, he decided to give the land to the nature trust.
"I hope that we can keep it in the pristine way that it is today," said Sobey, who Sutherland described as passionate angler and river conservationist.
"It will be a property that's well looked after and perhaps something that we could not keep in the family, but keep close by so that my family and children and other people can enjoy visiting it and enjoy what I did when I was a young boy."
Sobey described going to the St. Mary's River when he was about eight years old in 1939.
"My father used to take my older brother Bill and I fishing and my younger brother Donald... and at first we came down with a couple tents and we'd find a spot," said Sobey, adding that his father later bought land and built a camp.
Sobey said he spent his honeymoon with his wife at the camp in 1953, adding: "We even went fishing in some of the spots I did as a boy."
The new property brings the Nature Trust's conservation network to nine protected areas encompassing over 800 acres of forests and wetlands on the St. Mary's River, which stretches 250 kilometres and has drawn Atlantic salmon anglers for decades.
Sutherland said she hopes the donation inspires other private land owners to work with the Nova Scotia Nature Trust. She said 70 per cent of the land and 85 per cent of the coast in Nova Scotia is privately owned.
"We really can't look to the government to protect these really special places. They're owned by individual families, so I think by such a prominent family entrusting their land to the Nova Scotia Nature Trust, our hope is that will help other people to see what private land conservation is about."