Master Naturalists do it all

Published 9:45 pm Tuesday, June 19, 2018

As members of the Historic Southside Chapter of the Virginia Master Naturalist organization, we are concerned about our environment and work to conserve and improve it. Our group fights invasive species and encourages native ones. We support species like monarch butterflies and bluebirds, monitor water cleanliness — both fresh and salt — establish and maintain nature areas and trails, etc. Some recent posts from our members show them doing good works like:

Clearing and cleaning at Fort Boykins in Isle of Wight County (one Saturday a month). Others pull English ivy at Windsor Castle Trail.

Establishing pollinator gardens at the Windsor Library and Isle of Wight Courthouse. These also served as education tools for school kids.

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Attacking invasive alligator grass in the Suffolk lakes with information campaigns, brochures, neighborhood outreach and by physically pulling it from the lakes and sending it to the dump.

Building and maintaining nature trails at the Wakefield Airport 4H Center.

Maintaining dozens and dozens of bluebird boxes — and monitoring birth rates and occupancy. A recent check of the boxes found a family of flying squirrels living in one.

Installing and maintaining fishing line collection points at area piers, ramps and shoreline fishing spots. It is boxed and sent to the Midwest for recycling.

Working with the Nansemond River Preservation Alliance and Isaak Walton League to monitor bacteria counts and clean waterfront shorelines.

Collecting longleaf pine cones and black walnuts for seed purposes at the request of the Virginia Department of Forestry.

And us? We work on all of these projects as time and schedule permit. We try to educate the public about the birds, bees, flowers and trees around us. Our project is outreach.

Last week, members worked marking several miles of a road in the Nature Conservancy’s Piney Grove Preserve (home of the longleaf pine and red-cockaded woodpecker restoration project). Bobby Clontz, the Preserve’s manager, educates our newcomers in class and with a tour of the preserve. Our members, in return, help him by marking areas of invasive Japanese stilt grass to be sprayed. As always, it was a learning experience. One of our expert members pointed out something interesting — an Adder’s Tongue Fern. It consists of one leaf (not a frond) and a stalk — that’s it. But that’s another article.

Speaking of articles, we’ll be cutting back on them for the summer, but not slowing down. We will have our two granddaughters along for another season of “Camp Andrews,” where the travel and activities will consume our time. We will report notable sights and experiences from our adventures every now and then and be back full time in the fall.

The Historic Southside Chapter of the Virginia Master Naturalists will start a new cohort of members in January. All are welcome, and no special skills are required. So start thinking about what projects might be of interest to you. Mother nature needs all the help she can get!

Susan and Bradford “Biff” Andrews are retired teachers and master naturalists who have been outdoor people all their lives, exploring and enjoying the woods, swamps, rivers and beaches throughout the region for many years. Email them at