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These 2,250 Acres

Field, forest, salt marsh, beach natural resources and their management

The coastal lands comprising the Wells Reserve include upland fields and forests, freshwater and estuarine wetlands, and a beach-and-dune system. Our protected area reaches from the Little River (at the Kennebunk line) to the Ogunquit River.

Watershed Boundaries 2009
This map shows the Wells Reserve protected area (#1, yellow) in the context of three watersheds that drain to the estuaries of Wells, Maine: Merriland River / Branch Brook / Little River (#2, blue), Webhannet River (#3, green), and Ogunquit River (#4, magenta).

Who Owns the Land?

The 2,250 acres managed by the Wells Reserve are held by:

  • Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry / Bureau of Parks and Lands (533 acres)
  • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service / Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge (1,428 acres)
  • Town of Wells (249 acres)
  • Wells Reserve Management Authority (40 acres)

Occasionally, the reserve is able to conserve additional land that will enhance its protected area. Priority properties are usually in and around salt marshes and adjacent to uplands already under protection.

Managing Habitats

In the upland habitats of the reserve, we emphasize the following management activities:

  • control invasive plants
  • maintain and create shrublands (early succession habitat) for wildlife
  • manage woodlot for high value timber
  • protect rare plants and endangered animals
  • maintain fields for grassland nesting birds
  • survey wildlife populations

Our stewardship activities are guided in part by a Natural Resource Advisory Committee, whose members hold expertise in land and wildlife management. Together, our staff and volunteers plan and implement best management practices on reserve lands.

Habitat Management Documents

Vegetation and Habitats of the Wells Reserve

This information is adapted from the Wells Reserve Management Plan.

Botanical surveys completed at the Wells Reserve in the 1980s identified three major terrestrial habitat types: upland fields and forests, wetlands, and beach and dune. These types, along with specific habitat features, are described here.

Upland Fields and Forests

As with most New England landscapes, the southern coast of Maine has experienced dramatic shifts in land cover over the past 400 years.

Prior to European settlement, oak-pine forest covered lands now encompassed by the Wells Reserve. Beginning in the mid 17th century, forests were cleared for timber, farming and fuel. As farms were abandoned in the 19th and 20th centuries, fields were largely supplanted by forests through natural succession. The Wells Reserve displays this land-use evolution with four upland habitats: mowed fields, old fields, oak-pine forest and mixed second-growth forest.

Mowed Fields

With the decline of farming and maturation of forests in New England, the Reserves open fields and grasslands are valuable from a regional landscape perspective. About 90 acres are mowed annually to provide habitat for species requiring grassland, early successional vegetative stages and large areas of open space. Keeping fields mowed also maintains a tie to the agricultural history of Laudholm Farm.

Old Fields

Adjacent to the Reserves mowed fields, two old fields are succeeding to shrubs such as barberry, honeysuckle, and bayberry. Apple and hawthorn trees line the field edges and hedge rows. White pine and poplar forests overtaking these sites contain herbs and grasses typically associated with old fields.

OakPine Forest

An oak and pine community occurs adjacent to mowed fields on the northern upland portion of the Reserve. Red maple is a major component of most of the oak-pine forest stands. Other tree species occur in the canopy or sub-canopy but do not attain dominance. At most sites, heath shrubs dominate the understory, with blueberries being most abundant.

Mixed Second-growth Forests

These woods have been disturbed through harvesting or some other form of manipulation and lack strong characteristics of a particular forest type.


Four types of major wetlands have been identified on the reserve: red maple swamp and floodplain, shrub swamp, brackish marsh, and salt marsh

Salt Marsh

This is the dominant sub-habitat of the Wells Reserve. Salt marshes of the Little River and Webhannet River estuaries have formed behind double barrier spits over the past 3,000 to 4,000 years. The marshes appear flat, but contain intricate drainage channels (both natural and man-made) and creeks lined by small scarps or ridges. The salt marshes are dotted with pools and salt marsh pannes. Plant associations in this habitat are complex.

Red Maple Swamp and Floodplain

These are found along the banks of the Merriland River and Branch Brook, as well as the lowlands between the Wells Reserve campus and adjacent salt marshes. Red maple is the dominant overstory tree, and alder and winterberry holly are the dominant shrubs. A well-developed herbaceous layer contains various sedges, ferns, and wetland herbs.

Shrub Swamp

These are found in the upper reaches of the Little River and in areas where flow is impeded and water lies stagnant. Close to the open salt marsh of the Little River, north of Route 9, is an intermingling of freshwater and saltwater flora.

Brackish Marsh

As one travels up river from the estuaries of the Wells Reserve, marshes continue to occur in the intertidal environments, changing from salt marsh to brackish marsh to tidal freshwater marsh. The largest and most visible brackish marsh at the Reserve occurs on the north side of Drakes Island Road. Tidal flow was once restricted to this marsh by a tide gate, allowing freshwater plants to invade. The gate fell off in the late 1980s and was left unrepaired, partially restoring tidal flow. In 2005, a larger culvert and a self-regulating tide gate were installed. This has increased tidal flow even more, furthering salt marsh restoration.

Beach and Dune

Laudholm Beach and its associated dune is among the few undeveloped sand beaches remaining in Maine.

Laudholm Beach and Crescent Surf Beach form a double-spit barrier beach that protects the Little River estuary. A low, partially vegetated foredune exists near the river mouth. Landward of the foredune are stable backdunes and heavily vegetated washover areas.

Shorelands between Laudholm Beach and the mouth of the Webhannet River are known as Drakes Island Beach. A seawall extends along this beach. Behind it is single family residential development with few undeveloped lots, which continues south from the Webhannet River mouth to Moody Point.


Intertidal habitats include portions of the salt marsh, high energy dynamic beach areas (inlets and tidal deltas) at the mouths of the rivers, and retreating barrier beach areas bordering developed areas. Sediment in these areas reflects diverse geologic history and forces that continue to sort and shape these intertidal habitats. Mud flats, coarse to fine grained sands, cobbles and boulder beaches contribute to the diversity of habitat and associated flora and fauna in each area. Intertidal invertebrates provide an important food source for resident and migrating birds and fish.

Plants and Animals

The varied habitats of the reserve support a great variety of plants and animals. Find out what you might discover while walking along the trails.

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