Evaluation of the Nottingham Park Serpentine Barrens

Exposed serpentine rock showing classic veined patterning.The National Natural Landmark (NNL) Program, which was established in 1962, recognizes and encourages the conservation of outstanding examples of the United States' natural history. It is the only natural areas program of national scope that identifies and recognizes the best examples of biological and geological features in both public and private ownership. The program aims to encourage and support voluntary preservation of sites that illustrate the geological and ecological history of the United States, and to strengthen the public's appreciation of the country's natural heritage. As of June 2005, 587 sites have been added to the National Registry of National Landmarks. The registry includes nationally significant geological and ecological features in 48 states, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

The Nottingham Park Serpentine Barrens contains one of the largest populations of serpentine aster in the world.Serpentine barrens are a unique ecosystem found in certain areas of the United States, including small but widely distributed areas within the Appalachian mountains of eastern North America. Serpentine soils are geologically unique because they contain high concentrations of iron, chromium, nickel and cobalt that are toxic to many plant species. This toxicity, in combination with low nutrient concentrations and shallow soils, contributes to the development of unique vegetation communities containing many rare and endemic plant species. These serpentine communities are unusual in the Piedmont province of the Mid-Atlantic and therefore contribute significantly to the natural history of the province. As such, consideration of a serpentine barren in the Mid-Atlantic region is warranted to encourage the preservation of the region’s unique natural features.

 

For this project, we evaluated whether the resources at Nottingham Park Serpentine Barrens in Chester County, Pennsylvania are intact, nationally significant, and deserving of NNL designation. Our evaluation included a characterization of Serpentine Barren Ecosystems as they occur within the Piedmont, a site description of Nottingham Park Serpentine Barrens Potential NNL, a comparative assessment of other serpentine sites in the region, a final recommendation for designation, and a map of the recommended boundary.

Serpentine grassland with Pitch Pine in the background.Nottingham Park has one of the few intact Pitch Pine (Pinus rigida) populations.After careful evaluation of both primary and secondary features of the serpentine barrens found at Nottingham Park, it is our recommendation that Nottingham PNNL meets the national significance criteria required for the NNL Program. The proposed site supports shallow serpentine rock outcrops and unique vegetation communities, especially serpentine grassland and open savanna communities. Historic mine sites provide glimpses of the underlying geology, illustrate the history of human use of the area, and also serve as good habitat for rare species. Prescribed burns and mechanical removal will need to be continued on an annual basis to maintain open grasslands and prevent invasion by invasive species, especially greenbriar (Smilax rotundifolia). Nottingham PNNL supports several rare and endemic species, maintains a well-designed trail system to provide access to the site, and is actively engaged in research and education. A comparison with other serpentine barrens in the region identified Soldiers Delight Serpentine Barrens in Maryland as equal in many significance criteria. Soldiers Delight is larger than Nottingham PNNL and is in the midst of an ambitious restoration program. However, Nottingham supports an intact pitch pine (Pinus rigida) population, which is uniquely illustrative and occurs on few other barrens in the region. Nottingham is also centrally located with regards to other Mid-Atlantic serpentine sites.

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Project PI's:

  • Dr. Katia Engelhardt
  • Dr. Todd Lookingbill