The Ebb & Flow BLOG

Wadmalaw Island’s Community United in Conservation

Wadmalaw Island is a testament to the power of a community’s commitment to conservation. With the recent addition of two new easements in 2023, Lowcountry Land Trust’s land protection efforts now encompass 66 properties, or 7,616 acres, accounting for nearly 30% of the island’s total landmass. In total, 8,906 acres, or 31.7% of Wadmalaw Island, are protected forever. This remarkable achievement—protecting a third of a coastal community—is nearly unprecedented and highlights the residents’ steadfast culture of conservation.

A Legacy of Conservation

The relationship between Wadmalaw Island and Lowcountry Land Trust dates back to the late 1980s when a few pioneering residents began placing conservation easements on their properties. Founded primarily by Wadmalaw residents, Lowcountry Land Trust recorded its first conservation easement on the island in 1989.

Around the same time, parallel efforts by Wadmalaw residents were underway to ensure Charleston County’s zoning code revisions and adoption of a comprehensive plan. Through the Wadmalaw Island Land Planning Committee, island residents were crucial in advocating for special zoning that balanced development with conservation. The resulting regulations allowed for higher-density waterfront development (1 dwelling per 3 acres) and settlement areas while maintaining the rural character of the island’s interior (1 dwelling per 15 acres), exemplifying the community’s proactive stance on land protection—a rarity, as typically only neighborhoods rally against imminent threats.

Over the years, this commitment to conservation has only strengthened as more landowners and conservationists have decided to protect property, such as Bugby Plantation and Stevens Farm at the island’s gateway, which was the venue of Lowcountry Land Trust’s 2024 Spring Gathering. To the residents of Wadmalaw Island, taking their future into their own hands has always been evident. 

Recent Conservation Successes

The past year has underscored Wadmalaw’s enduring culture of conservation with the permanent protection of significant properties like the Ilderton Tract and Whaley Farm.

In July 2023, the Ilderton Tract at the headwaters of Leadenwah Creek was protected forever. This 87-acre easement epitomizes a classic Sea Island sanctuary featuring upland forests, open fields, hammock islands, maritime edges, and forested wetlands. These natural features play a crucial role in enhancing the water quality of Leadenwah Creek and the North Edisto River. The property’s visibility from Maybank Highway contributes to the rural scenic character of the area. Its proximity to other Lowcountry Land Trust-protected lands—including Selkirk Plantation, Brambleberry, Sheldon Farms, Thompson Tract, Camp Ho Non Wah, Morgan Tract, and Rosebank-Bogle Plantation—enhances landscape connectivity, strengthens the protective wildlife corridor, and boosts overall ecological resilience.

Just south of the Ilderton Tract, Whaley Farm was placed into a conservation easement in December 2023. This 179-acre property represents the latest chapter in a long-standing partnership with a family dedicated to permanently conserving land, culture, history, and stewardship. Wadmalaw Island has particularly benefited from their unwavering commitment to conservation. Whaley Farm consists predominantly of actively farmed fields, preserving traditional agricultural practices while providing essential habitat for wildlife. Its connection through protected land with High Point and Oak Grove Plantation directly adjacent and other Lowcountry Land Trust-protected lands—including Little Rockland, Sheldon Farms, Linton Family Tract, and Red House I nearby—further enhances the area’s protection and ecological resilience. Moreover, Whaley Farm includes 4,438 feet of marsh frontage on an unnamed tributary that drains into Adams Creek, Bohicket Creek, and ultimately the North Edisto River. This extensive ecotone fringe at the transition zone from marsh to upland forests is vital for preserving water quality and supporting biodiversity, including endangered species like the Wood Stork, Florida Manatee, and Diamond-backed Terrapin.

A Bright Future for Conservation

The future of Wadmalaw Island’s conservation efforts is bright. On May 21, 2024, dozens of longstanding members of the island community advocated on behalf of Wadmalaw’s future at a critical Charleston County Council meeting. With a unified message, residents urged Council to keep Wadmalaw Island rural by voting to remove incompatible density bonuses from the county’s comprehensive plan. The Council’s unanimous vote was a victory for conservation and also highlighted the continued need for permanent land protection measures like conservation easements. Natalie Olson, Lowcountry Land Trust’s Sea Islands Program Director, continues to champion these efforts alongside committed Wadmalaw residents, ensuring the community’s vision for a preserved and cherished Wadmalaw Island remains steadfast.

Conclusion

Wadmalaw Island’s culture of conservation is not just about protecting land; it’s about preserving a way of life, a heritage, and a sanctuary for nature, wildlife, and people for future generations. The enduring efforts of the island’s residents have created a model for conservation that other coastal and rural communities can emulate. As we look to the future of the ever-growing Lowcountry region, the ongoing commitment to land protection on Wadmalaw Island stands as a beacon of hope and a testament to what can be achieved when a community unites for a common cause.

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