New P.E.I. project turns wet areas of farm fields into environmentally friendly wetlands

A new pilot project on P.E.I. is taking wet, boggy areas of farm fields and turning them into environmentally friendly wetlands. Two have been created this fall in the Souris area, with funding from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.

Designed to filter sediments and nitrates from water coming off fields

Farmer Becky Townshend (left) and Frances Braceland from the Souris wildlife group stand next to one of the new wetlands, in Bear River, P.E.I. (Nancy Russell/CBC)

A new pilot project on P.E.I. is taking the wet, boggy areas of some farm fields and turning them into wetlands.

Two new wetlands have been created this fall in the Souris area, with funding from Agriculture Canada and Agri-Food Canada.

"These wetlands are designed to try and filter water that's coming off the fields," said Frances Braceland, co-watershed coordinator with the Souris and area branch of the P.E.I. Wildlife Federation.

"Hopefully they'll take sediment out of the water, and it should filter nitrates as well, stop some of the nitrates running off from the fields into our water courses." 

Work is underway on the new wetland in Souris West, P.E.I. (Ken Linton/CBC)

One of the new wetlands is currently under construction on a farm in Souris West.

"This piece of land here is just a wet area adjacent to the field. It's never really been farmed because it gets too wet and the machinery gets stuck," Braceland said. 

"So when we came to the farmers and asked, 'Is this a good spot?' they were very amenable to the idea."

This was a piece of farmland that wasn't being used because it was too wet and farm equipment would get stuck. (Ken Linton/CBC)

"They realized it's not going to impact the buffer zone at all," Braceland said. "But it's going to mean that … rather than just sitting there being unused, we're going to have a nice functional wetland that will serve a variety of functions."

The project is part of a larger initiative called the Living Lab-Atlantic, a partnership among Agriculture Canada and Agri-Food Canada, watershed groups and farmers. 

Capturing carbon

The watershed groups are hoping the new wetlands will mean several environmental benefits.

"Once they start to build up and get root systems, vegetation growing, they'll hold carbon in place as well," Braceland said.

"They'll also increase biodiversity. There's not going to be a lot of open water but that might attract some wetland species of ducks and waterfowl, and we might also get some different types of insects." 

Braceland said there won't be a lot of open water at these wetlands, but they may attract some wetland species of ducks and waterfowl, as well as different types of insects. (Ken Linton/CBC)

The wetland project in Souris West will cost about $15,000, paid for with funding from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. 

'Go for it'

Another of the new wetlands is in a field potato farmer Becky Townshend owns in Bear River, which cost about $4,000 to build earlier this fall. 

"We weren't farming it. It was a little too wet to do anything with and we just stayed away from it," Townshend said. 

"So when the Souris wildlife group approached me with this project, I pretty much said, 'Go for it.'"

When the Souris wildlife group approached Becky Townshend about the project, she said 'go for it'. (Nancy Russell/CBC)

Townshend said it's not a project she would have taken on without the support of the wildlife group.  

"We wouldn't have had the the funds to to do this on our own, to be truthful. It was bulldozers and heavy equipment here for a couple of days and we just wouldn't have that in the budget," Townshend said.

"So the best thing we could do for the environment was just to stay away from it and keep the machines, keep our tractors out of it.

This wetland project at Bear River cost about $4,000. (Ken Linton/CBC)

"This way, it's just that much better for the environment, for the adjacent water system," Townshend said. "They just improved it immensely."

Wetland expertise

The Souris watershed group reached out to Ducks Unlimited for help with the project, because of that organization's expertise in creating wetlands. 

"It's a great idea. I think wetlands provide a lot of benefits in helping to filter out a lot of nutrients and sediments," said Jana Cheverie of Ducks Unlimited Canada.

"Wetlands are a key tool in the toolbox to help with water conservation."

Jana Cheverie stands in front of a new wetland being built on a farm in Souris West, P.E.I. (Nancy Russell/CBC)

Cheverie hopes the new project will encourage other farmers across the Island to get involved.

"We certainly would love to work with more landowners in identifying these wetland restoration sites," Cheverie said.

Water is starting to accumulate in the new wetland on Becky Townshend's farm in Bear River, P.E.I. (Nancy Russell/CBC)

There is another new wetland in the Kensington area, also part of the Living Lab-Atlantic project, with plans for several more to come, in both areas, in the next couple of years. 

More from CBC P.E.I.

About the Author

Nancy Russell has been a reporter with CBC since 1987, in Whitehorse, Winnipeg, Toronto and Charlottetown. When not on the job, she spends her time on the water or in the gym rowing, or walking her dog.


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