Willistown Conservation Trust's mission is to: "preserve and manage the open land, rural character, scenic, recreational, historic, agricultural and natural resources of the Willistown area and nearby communities, and to share these unique resources with people of all ages and backgrounds to inspire, educate and develop a lifelong commitment to the land and the natural world."
Land conservation efforts have been underway in the Willistown area for over 40 years. The initial organization, formed in 1979, was known as the Willistown Area Conservation Program and was a satellite program of the Brandywine Conservancy.
With the encouragement of the community and key local conservation leaders, the Willistown Conservation Trust became an independent, community based land trust in 1996 with a committed and active Board of Trustees. Bonnie Van Alen, who was instrumental in the Brandywine Conservancy program, founded the organization with Alice Hausmann and Kathy McCoy.
Using the Crum, Ridley and Darby Creek watersheds as an organizing principle, the Trust program focal area encompasses 28,000 acres in Chester County and portions of Delaware County, and is located approximately 20 miles west of Philadelphia.
Despite tremendous growth pressures that have converted many neighboring communities into vast tracts of sprawl development, the Willistown Conservation Trust program area still remains largely an oasis of green space. With the leadership of the Trust, the community conservation ethic has evolved and strengthened over the years.
The Trust’s programs and services fall into six major categories: (1) Land Protection; (2) Bird Conservation; (3) Habitat Restoration; (4) Community Farm; (5) Watershed Protection and (6) Education and Community Outreach.
Local Conservation with Broad Impact
Our holistic approach to conservation explores the connections among land, birds, habitat, farm and water. While our land protection efforts are local to the Willistown area, our work has a regional and national impact on conservation.
Protecting open land in the Willistown area is the Trust’s highest priority.
We are working to add another 4,000 acres of land to the already protected 7,500 acres in the Trust’s focal area. We use this protected land to inspire people to be good stewards of nature. It enables hands-on research; internships; workshops; training; youth education; conservation leadership; and promotes support for land conservation beyond Willistown.
We utilize all available conservation tools, including donated conservation easements from private landowners, the purchase of conservation easements, the purchase of land, seeking and leveraging public funds to acquire land or easements, and accepting donations of land. In addition, the Trust has developed an array of creative and proactive approaches to land protection.
Monitoring all Trust easements annually to ensure that the provisions of the easement are upheld is an important part of our land protection efforts.
Benefitting from the Willistown area’s rich conserved habitat that is a magnet for birds, the Bird Conservation Program is dedicated to advancing avian research, teaching, and fostering a love of birds, whose populations are in rapid decline. We have banded over 12,000 birds since 2010 at our federally licensed banding station and we lead the effort to expand the Motus network in the Northeastern U.S. which tracks and reveals critical secrets of bird migration.
Our primary initiatives include bird banding, bird monitoring, and habitat restoration. Our bird conservation program is nationally recognized, and attracts students, scholars, and scientists from all over the country.
The different habitat types in our focal area—woodland, farm, meadow, hedgerow and stream—combine to create an ideal model and research site for best practices in land stewardship. We use our conserved habitat to teach and inspire good land stewardship, facilitate research, and magnify our conservation work by sharing and collaborating with the scientific, academic and conservation community.
We view our protected lands (and those not yet protected) as a large reservoir of natural resources and strive to work with area landowners to manage this land for the promotion of healthy ecosystems, clean water, and the diversity of flora and fauna. The Trust aims to strengthen its reputation among private and public landowners as an excellent resource for advice on how to help sustain plants and animals that were once common in this area.
Our Land Stewardship efforts focuses on habitat restoration in our nature preserves and develops and promotes guidelines for private landowners. Native tree, shrub, and wildflower plantings are the most common habitat restoration projects. Our goal is to enhance bird and wildlife habitat and to protect water resources.
The Trust’s Rushton Farm is located within the 86-acre Rushton Woods Preserve and is adjacent to one of the largest contiguous woodland tracts in Chester County. Its unique site provides a powerful demonstration of the ways in which regenerative agriculture and important natural areas can be mutually beneficial.
The Community Farm program models and promotes regenerative agriculture, producing healthy food for the community while enhancing the area with biodiversity and habitat. Rushton Farm hosts a 130-family Community Supported Agriculture program, myriad school groups, volunteer days, and a "Share the Bounty" program that donates thousands of pounds of fresh food to local food cupboards.
Studying local waterways educates and informs our land conservation intiatives to ensure that the water which flows beyond our boundaries is the highest possible quality for our downstream neighbors. Our watershed team collaborates with the scientific and academic community including partners at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University and Stroud Water Research Center.
With over 190 stream miles in Willistown Conservation Trust’s focus area, including the headwaters of Ridley, Crum and Darby Creeks, the goal of the Trust's Watershed Protection Program is to ensure the long-term health of these streams through monitoring, restoration, and best management practices.
Education and Community Outreach
In addition to on-the-ground land protection, stewardship and farm efforts, we view education and public outreach as essential to advance conservation. Education initiatives include science and discovery experiences for K-12 children, and a breadth of field study research projects conducted by higher education scholars. Through publications, events, educational activities and habitat restoration projects, the Trust aims to raise awareness about the benefits of land protection and stewardship, thus forwarding the Trust’s mission.
In 2018 we completed the Rushton Conservation Center to focus and magnify regional and national conservation issues by hosting conferences; workshops; films; lectures and events.
7,500 Acres Preserved – 4,000 Acres Remain Vulnerable
Due to the foresight and vision of the Trust, whose board members and staff have worked with the community and local landowners to protect many vulnerable farms and other ecologically important land areas, more than 7,500 acres have been preserved in the Willistown area to date. Most of this land has been protected through the donation of conservation easements by more than 120 local landowners.
The Trust, as part of its Long Range Plan, has identified an additional 4,000 acres of ecologically important and vulnerable lands in the headwaters of the Crum, Ridley and Darby Creek watersheds.