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Annapolis Valley Sand Barrens (Past Project)

We were collaborating with a variety of partners to gain a better understanding of this unique ecosystem, and working to engage the community in the development of conservation strategies. 

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What are the Annapolis Valley Sand Barrens?

The Annapolis Valley Sand Barrens are sandy areas that are  low in nutrients, slightly acidic, and dry. While these conditions make it tough for some plants to grow, the same conditions are perfect for certain rare and unique species. These sandy areas were left behind by glaciers thousands of years ago!  While we have some understanding of how these ecosystems form and some of the things that live there; we've had less success coming up with a name.  Different people around the world have different names for the same ecosystem, including Sand Barrens, Atlantic Coastal Heathland, and Sandplain Heathland! 


The terms barrens and heathlands are often used interchangeably.  Heathlands are extensive areas dominated by plants called heaths.  Heaths are a group of related plants that belong to the family Ericaceae. Plants in this family are typically found in acidic, infertile soils. Some of the more well-known plants in this family include blueberries, cranberries and rhododendrons. 


The Atlantic Coastal Plain is a region of relatively flat land found along the Atlantic Coast from Florida to Southern Maine, extending into Nova Scotia. This land is covered in sediments that have collected over millions of years from coastal marine waters and rivers draining from the Appalachian Mountains.  At the end of the last glacial period (about 10,000 to 14,000 years ago), the sea level was about 100 metres lower than it is today, exposing a  land bridge connecting southwest Nova Scotia and Massachusetts. This land bridge allowed for wildlife to migrate overland. As a result, we can still find rare species in Nova Scotia that are also found in similar habitats in New England. The term Sandplain Heathland is used to describe sand barrens within the Atlantic Coastal Plain region.

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An Introductory Guide to the Annapolis Valley Sand Barrens

A lack of awareness of the existence of the Annapolis Valley Sand Barrens is a key challenge to getting people engaged in stewardship and conservation efforts. To help address this, we've created an Introduction Guide available online as a PDF or in hard-copy while supplies are in stock. If you would like to receive a hardcopy, get in touch!

View the PDF

We would like to thank all of the collaborators who contributed to the guide, and the Nova Scotia Department of Natural Resources and Renewables and Environment and Climate Change Canada for providing funding for this work. 

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Help us identify sand barrens sites

Compared to other ecosystems, relatively little research and survey work has taken place in the Annapolis Valley Sand Barrens. We are still working with our partners to develop an accurate map of where the Annapolis Valley Sand Barrens can be found. 


We need help "ground truthing" the predictions that have been made through the mapping work completed by the NSCC's Applied Research Group. Ground truthing is a term used to refer to information provided by direct observation (i.e. empirical evidence) as opposed to information provided by inference.

Using iNaturalist to record species observations...

If you live in an area that may be part of the Annapolis Valley Sand Barrens, you can contribute to ongoing research by documenting the wildlife (plants, lichen, mosses, animals) around your property using iNaturalist

There are several species that are commonly associated with the Sand Barrens profiled on the iNaturalist project page and found on this webpage. We would like you to document as many of these species on your property as possible. 

If you are willing to take it a step further, you can try to document as many different species on your property as possible using iNaturalist. It is ok if you do not know the identity of the species you are making an observation for. iNaturalist will make some suggestions, and there is a community of naturalists who will help with identification based on the photos you submit. 

How to determine if your property is in the Annapolis Valley Sand Barrens

You can use this map link to zoom in, explore, and determine whether your property falls within the area predicted to be part of the Sand Barrens. We are hoping to collect data from as many properties in the yellow "sandy- well drained soils" and "peat" areas as possible. Observations from the surrounding areas are also valuable. 


Explore change over time...

In April 2021 CARP was able to partner with the Center of Geographic Sciences and Acadia University to engage a student in the Master of Applied Geomatics Program in our sand barrens work. 

This project had several objectives including:

  • Create georeferenced orthophotomosaic of 1970s historical airphotos

  • Analyze imagery and classify land cover types

  • Land cover and land-use change analysis between available datasets {1930s, 1950s, 1970s, 2010s} (what is the extent, distribution, causes of change)

  • Share the results with final report, and online story map to facilitate data sharing

To see the results of this project, follow this link!


Get Involved

We have a number of existing resources and programs developed for this project and we are always on the lookout for the way to engage with the community. If you are interested in learning more about opportunities for involvement, please contact us. Examples of past events/programs include:

  • School-based educational program delivery for elementary and secondary students

  • Native landscaping workshops

  • Guided tours and BioBlitz events

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Sand Barrens BioBlitz Challenge

Download the PDF or make a printed copy to guide your exploration of the Sand Barrens. We have tried to select species that you should be able to identify in spring. We will make another version for summer observations. 

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