PORTFOLIO: Belmead

Belmead – Powhatan County, Va (2004 – present)

Historic “Belmead” is a 2,265 acre farm of Piedmont woodland, pasture and bottomland on approximately two miles of the James River. In 1897, the old plantation was opened as St. Emma's Industrial and Agricultural School for African American children. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1969.

Though much of this land was probably open farmland in the past 60-70 years, the only areas that remain open today occur on the fertile floodplain of the James River, on grounds immediately surrounding various buildings and old playing fields and on fertile, easily accessible farmland. The bulk of the land contains mixed hardwood stands, plantations of loblolly pine and old abandoned fields. In 2004, A Forest Stewardship Management Plan was prepared for the property with financial assistance from The Nature Conservancy. The primary objectives of this plan included forest stand management to improve the health and quality of the woodlands, maintaining scenic viewsheds around the mansions and open fields, preserving sites of cultural or ecological significance, protecting rare and unique natural areas, conserving soil and water quality, and generating income (from harvesting) where it does not conflict with the other objectives.

Since most of the hardwood stands are either immature or too poorly stocked (due to previous high-grading) to manage and clearcutting is not a viable option, the management focus has been on the 500+ acres of loblolly pine. Thus far, most of the pine has been thinned one time to reinvigorate growth by creating more sunlight and growing space for the largest and best “crop” trees. More recently, VFWG has conducted a series of second thinnings in some of the larger plantations that are now almost 30 years old. Here, the harvest operation has included both traditional thinning (to improve the growth response while leaving the stands suitably stocked) and pine savannah cuts where stands are thinned to a lower residual stocking density of 50-60 ft2 of basal area/acre to create an open stand or “savannah” where native grasses and forbs will thrive in a sun-filled understory. Though creation of an open loblolly pine savannah will require maintenance through periodic burning (to eliminate woody vegetation), it should develop into a beautiful woodland and excellent habitat for the northern bobwhite quail.

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