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Why is Site Assessment so Important?

First Steps in Ecological Restoration

At the beginning of any restoration project, we have our boots on the ground assessing a site’s existing conditions in order to inform decisions that are responsive to the unique opportunities and constraints posed by a site.

Why is Site Assessment so important?

Every site is different; they have different soils, different slopes, different vegetation, and different wildlife, all of which are interconnected and collectively contribute to the unique ecological value of a site. In order to determine what elements of a site could be improved to enhance the ecological value of a site, we first need to conduct a thorough assessment. That means putting on our work boots and getting our hands dirty in the field.

How do we Conduct a Site Assessment?

When we first begin an assessment, we look at the overall character of a site: is it in an exposed location that encounters harsh wind and salt spray, a steep bank that is less able to retain water in the soil, or a heavily shaded woodland where the understory is adapted to less exposure to sunlight? The overall condition can be highly variable, but even a very general observation of the character of a site is incredibly useful for informing a more detailed restoration strategy.

After determining the overall character, we begin a detailed inventory of the existing conditions of a site. This includes an inventory of existing vegetation, including both invasive and native species that are present, an assessment of the soil composition, and documentation of other notable features, such as water sources, tree cavities, or man-made structures. Ultimately, we are trying to determine what features on a site offer value and should be protected and preserved, and what features require intervention in order to improve the overall synergy of a site.

What Comes After the Assessment?

After we’ve evaluated the existing conditions of a site, we use that information to develop a restoration strategy. One component of the strategy often involves removal of invasive species, which may otherwise outcompete native species to dominate a site. A site dominated by invasive species no longer supports the benefits offered by native species, such as soil stabilization, wildlife forage and cover, and species diversity. This means that a restoration strategy also usually involves re-establishment of a native plant community. Many of our projects restore a site to a native maritime shrubland or maritime dune community, although some are more unique, such as a maritime erosional cliff community or sandplain heathland community.

While invasive species removal and native plant community establishment are fairly common, other components of a restoration strategy may be more unique. These might include preservation of trees with cavities that offer nesting habitat, restoration of salt marsh, or creation of habitat for a rare or endangered species. It might also involve compliance with local and state regulatory agencies, such as the Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program (NHESP) which protects highly valuable species and natural communities. In any case, restoration is a highly individualized practice, and a successful restoration project always begins with a thorough assessment.

To work with Crawford Land Management in restoring your property, please contact us at 508.477.1346 or email us at


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