The Ebb & Flow BLOG

Conservation Focus Area: The ACE Basin

Lowcountry Land Trust is a long-time conservation partner in the ACE (Ashepoo-Combahee-Edisto) Basin, a 1.7-million-acre watershed recognized by the US Fish and Wildlife Service and SC Department of Natural Resources as a priority focus area for diverse ecosystems and a wealth of wildlife. The collaboration of private landowners, conservation organizations, and federal and state agencies known as the ACE Basin Task Force has forever protected over 300,000 acres of public and private land.

The ACE Basin is one of the largest relatively-undeveloped estuaries along the Atlantic Coast. Still, the encroachment of urban development from Beaufort and Charleston counties is a significant threat to its conservation. Since its fragile wildlife and water resources are vulnerable to the adverse impacts of incompatible land use, accelerated conservation efforts are critical for protecting the ACE Basin. Lowcountry Land Trust protects 114 properties totaling 59,240 acres in the ACE Basin, adding five more to its portfolio last year. In 2023, Lowcountry Land Trust hopes to conserve additional acreage within the ACE Basin to continue creating protective buffers between fast-growing areas and this vital ecosystem.

Keep reading below the map to learn more about the ACE Basin properties Lowcountry Land Trust, in partnership with landowners, protected in 2022.

Coldwater Branch at Brosnan Forest: In 2022, Lowcountry Land Trust announced the protection of an additional 161 acres of critical land within Brosnan Forest, bringing LLT’s total protected lands at this wildlife and timber preserve 35 miles northwest of Charleston to 12,949 acres. This conservation easement on the new Coldwater Branch Mitigation Bank restores streams that flow into Four Holes Swamp and also adds increased protections to part of the 12,778 acres already under an LLT conservation easement. The project will return to a natural condition 6 miles of streams that many decades ago were ditched and straightened, and will also restore up to 500 acres of wetlands and riparian areas. The Coldwater Branch conservation easement is the third easement donated by Norfolk Southern to Lowcountry Land Trust and represents the innovative use of ecosystem services markets to fund a major effort to repair land from past practices whose damage we now understand better. In addition to the direct stream and wetland repair, over 300,000 native plants representing 23 distinct species will be planted, including sweet bay, pond cypress, black gum, blueberries, honey cup, and fetterbush. The Coldwater Branch project will bring multiple benefits to the region, including improvements to air and water quality, wildlife habitat, and natural communities. Restoring this vital stream complex will also increase water retention in the forest and reduce the negative impacts of flooding on nature and people downstream, including in the nearby Four Holes Swamp and the Edisto River Basin.

Sheldon Plantation: Lowcountry Land Trust permanently protected an additional 512 acres near one of the most iconic sites in the Lowcountry, the Old Sheldon Church Ruins, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. This second conservation easement was executed only one year after the initial protection of the 240 acres immediately surrounding the ruins at Sheldon Plantation in Yemassee, South Carolina. Together, these two projects have increased protected frontage along the beautiful Old Sheldon Church State Scenic Byway from approximately 67% to 80%. Conserving the entire 752 acres of Sheldon Plantation connects protected private and public lands, adding to the ACE Basin’s remarkable mosaic. Doing so in two successive years reinforces the ACE Basin Task Force’s commitment to maintaining the pristine character of the region and demonstrates the pace needed to meet Governor McMaster’s conservation agenda to double the amount of protected land in South Carolina by the year 2050. This latest grant of a conservation easement is a clear demonstration of the private landowner ethic seen in landscapes like the ACE Basin. The permanent conservation and stewardship of the land is a gift not only to Lowcountry Land Trust but to the entire state of South Carolina. As coastal South Carolina continues to be one of the fastest growing regions in the country, it is imperative that land is set aside to provide undeveloped open space that preserves wildlife habitat, mitigates flooding, enhances water quality, and buffers historic resources.

Summer House: South of Highway 17 near Green Pond, South Carolina, is a cluster of private and public protected lands bounded by the Ashepoo and Chehaw Rivers totaling approximately 17,400 acres. The 406-acre Summer House property sits in the middle of these lands and, like a hole in a doughnut, was the largest unprotected parcel in that cluster. Thanks to the donation of a conservation easement by the Maybank family in December of 2022, the integrity of this conservation landscape has been preserved. The Summer House property is directly adjacent to the beloved Donnelley Wildlife Management Area, sharing approximately 1.2 miles of boundary. In addition, approximately 1.5 miles of scenery are preserved by this conservation easement at Donnelley’s eastern gateway along Bennetts Point and Blocker Run Roads. The property features a diverse range of habitats, including mixed pine/hardwood upland forests, wetlands, loblolly pine savannas, open fields, and wildlife food plots. It also supports sustainable agriculture and forestry, protects natural habitats and biodiversity, and preserves downstream water quality. The cluster of protected lands surrounding Summer House is adjacent to a larger corridor of nationally significant contiguous protected lands totaling more than 100,000 acres.