This letter is in support of funding to ensure continued maintenance of the Oxford Conservation Park.
The Oxford Conservation Park has rapidly grown in popularity. It is being used not only by our local citizens but also by an increasing number of visitors from outside of Talbot County, all of whom find it a unique and attractive location to view and enjoy wildlife. The Talbot County Bird Club (TCBC) always includes the Park in its seasonal schedule of bird walks. It is also a popular venue for first-hand outdoor education, including birding classes offered by Talbot County’s own Chesapeake Forum. Its significance as one of our County’s most outstanding public parks alone would justify funding for its maintenance.
However, we want to address the Park’s importance from a different perspective. Recent research (Rosenberg et al., 2019) has shown that North America has lost one-third of its bird population in the past 50 years. That is approximately three billion birds gone since 1970. The species in the group with the second-most serious decline (49% loss) are the grassland birds. The song of the Eastern Meadowlark is rapidly becoming only a memory; the call of the Northern Bobwhite, once the voice of the countryside, has become unfamiliar to our school children at all grade levels. But grassland birds like Field Sparrow, Grasshopper Sparrow, Eastern Towhee, and Bobolink are also affected. Some of these birds breed locally, some are winter residents, and some use grasslands as important stopover locations on their northern and southern migrations. The documented decline in these bird species is largely due to the loss of their grassland habitat.
Our point is this: Oxford Conservation Park is not only a poplar public venue; it is also an ecologically significant resource to address the decline of grassland birds. But grasslands are transient habitats. Yes, some are lost to agriculture and development. Still, even if they are conserved and left alone, in a few years they will become scrub and then young forests — grasslands no more. This is the inevitable process of ecological succession. Grassland habitats require periodic maintenance to set them back to the earlier successional stages where they began. They need to be mowed and woody growth removed on a periodic basis according to a carefully constructed maintenance plan. If done correctly, they become a habitat resource not only for birds but also for butterflies, insect pollinators, other wildlife and, ultimately the people who come to enjoy a piece of the natural world in their own backyard.
The beneficiaries will be the grassland species that are in serious decline. But the benefits will also be reaped by the people who will enjoy the birds and other wildlife that are being conserved through the long-term preservation of this wonderful Talbot County resource.
The Talbot Bird Club Board of Directors
A chapter of the Maryland Ornithological Society