The bustling college town of Newark is the last place you’d expect a rich ecosystem of plants and animals to persist. The UD farm is located in the south campus of the University of Delaware and has over 370 acres for learning and conservation. The city of Newark and the farm itself produce a large amount of runoff, all of which flows to south campus. In order to deal with the polluted water, 5 wetland areas have been erected all across the UD farm. Many of these areas appear to the public as “overgrown” and “messy” compared to the maintained landscapes that most people strive to obtain. These areas though provide important habitat for a diverse group of organisms as well as keeping our watershed clean.
The most notable of these is the front wetland, which can be seen from South College Avenue. This plot of land was an unsuccessful cow pasture for a time. So it was repurposed in 2008 with the help of DNREC into a wetland habitat, sporting a variety of native vegetation. To an untrained eye it may look like a mess next to the manicured landscape of south campus, yet every effort was taken to make it into a diverse ecosystem. The ground was carved with microtopography in mind, creating several ponds at varying depths to provide habitat for different organisms to utilize. The ponds allow the water to come to a rest which helps slow and filter runoff before entering the nearby storm drain which flows from the Cool Run watershed all the way to the Delaware Bay.
The Central wetland is located near the current cow pasture that holds over 100 cows. It is rich with plant life that provides needed shade to the stream which passes through it. Having plant coverage allows the water to remain cool, which is optimal for most aquatic life. Jenny McDermott, the Facilities Manager for the College, informed us that although the area provides a nice aquatic habitat for mosquitos, its diversity also allows for a variety of mosquito predators to thrive so it is rare to be bitten by any in the area.
The North Wetland is the smallest wetland at about ½ an acre. It is a stream corridor that runs into the Gore Wetland. The Gore wetland is filled with both native and hard-to-control invasive species cattails which trickle their way into the north wetlands. Little has been done in the controlling of invasive plants for these areas but they still provide plenty of habitat for wildlife such as deer, foxes and birds. A City-owned trash transfer station is located north of the Gore wetland, yet there is talk of it being converted for yard waste composting in the near future.
Each of these wetland areas are along the Cool Run stream which flows under a railroad track, then through Field Z. At the south end of this corn field is a one acre wetland that sits next to Rt. 72. It was overrun horribly by invasive plants for a time, but in 2011 management was enhanced to improve habitat quality. Herbicides were used for several years to help manage invasives, then it was planted with native species that thrive in wetland settings. The area servs as a natural habitat as well as a filtering and storage area for stormwater. There are many other habitats that the UD farm possesses such as grasslands, forests and of course cropland. However all of these require a clean watershed in order to thrive. These wetland habitats are not always perfect but they provide an excellent resource as a filter for nutrient runoff and pollutants, as well as habitat for many organisms. So next time you see an “overgrown” area such as the wetlands on the farm, appreciate it for its natural beauty and important role in preserving local flora and fauna.
Article written by student Rebecca Moore