Published on June 18, 2022

Restored Grassland at Ashumet Holly Ready for Rare Wildlife

Butterfly Weed planting_Upper Cape Tech_resized

After three years of clearing more than 8 acres of old farmland overrun by aggressive vines and woody shrubs, a grassland restoration project at Ashumet Holly Wildlife Sanctuary in East Falmouth is nearing completion.

Reclaiming Habitat for Rare Species

Long Pasture sanctuary director Ian Ives, who’s been managing the project, says ridding the invasives, such as Porcelain Berry and Asian Bittersweet, required the use of heavy equipment and regular mowing over two years to remove vegetation that had run rampant since the property stopped being used for agriculture in the 1950’s. The result, he says, is a return to sandplain grassland that features native plants like Little Bluestem, Indian Grass, Virginia Wild Rye, Butterfly Weed, and Wild Indigo.

Sandplain grasslands were more common on the Cape before the 20th century, along with the animals that depended on them for breeding and foraging, such as Frosted Elfin and Monarch butterflies, various moths and beetles, and birds like Grasshopper Sparrows and Northern Harriers. As open grasslands were lost to reforestation and development, these species have steadily declined and are now of conservation concern in Massachusetts.

Enhancing a Wildlife Corridor

Frosted Alphin © Gene Albanese
Frosted Alphin © Gene Albanese

The new grassland at Ashumet Holly received finishing touches this spring when students from Upper Cape Tech helped plant 200 butterfly weed plants, which are both butterfly and bee magnets. How soon will the target species respond to the newly created habitat? Ian says he’s hopeful.

 “Insects and birds can travel pretty quickly!” He also notes there are larger established grasslands at nearby Crane Wildlife Management Area and Joint Base Cape Cod. The additional habitat at Ashumet Holly will build on these important resources. “It’s exciting to have reclaimed the landscape for these rare species. We’ll be monitoring to see how they use it.”


Mass Audubon Cape Cod wishes to thank the following agencies and organizations for underwriting the grassland restoration at Ashumet Holly: US Fish & Wildlife Partners Program; USDA National Resources Conservation Service EQIP Program; and the Beech Tree Trust.

We’re also grateful for the help we received from Upper Cape Cod Regional Technical School for this project and so many others at our sanctuaries.