Cain's Mountain (Photo by Mike Dembeck)

Cain's Mountain (Photo by Mike Dembeck)

Nature Conservancy of Canada conserves old Acadian forest and gypsum landscapes in Cape Breton

October 20, 2020
Cape Breton, Nova Scotia


The Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) has announced its purchase of two new sites in central Cape Breton, totalling 251 hectares (620 acres). The projects protect old Acadian forest, unique karst (gypsum-based) landscapes and freshwater wetlands that support rare plants.  

The new conservation areas, which include shoreline on the Bras d’Or Lakes, are located near Little Narrows. They feature an old Acadian forest of sugar maple, yellow birch, beech and eastern hemlock, extensive wetlands and ponds, and sinkholes created by the erosion of gypsum.

The projects are:

  • 231 hectares (570 acres) at Cain’s Mountain. Includes old Acadian forest, karst landscapes; 24 hectares (60 acres) of wetland habitat, including brackish marsh and freshwater bogs, fens and beaver ponds. Additionally, there are at least 10 ponds (gypsum sinkholes) of small to moderate size scattered throughout the property; 2.4 kilometres of Bras d’Or Lakes shoreline.
  • 20 hectares (50 acres) at Cain’s Mountain near Estmere. Includes mature Acadian forest with gypsum (karst) landscapes, featuring numerous karst ponds (sinkholes filled with water) and freshwater wetland habitat dominated by alders.

Central Cape Breton is home to some of the few intact gypsum-based ecosystems remaining in North America. Gypsum is easily eroded, providing a source of calcium that enriches soils and water and provides habitats that are uncommon in Nova Scotia. Along with its rare geology, the properties will protect mature Acadian forest, the diverse native forest of the Maritimes. This forest type is also rare, with less than five per cent remaining intact. Old forests provide habitat for wildlife that is sensitive to disturbance, including northern goshawk, pileated woodpecker and flying squirrel.

The area’s rich forest habitats support large mammals, including black bear and bobcat. There are 18 federally listed species at risk in central Cape Breton. Rusty blackbird, listed under the federal Species at Risk Act, has been identified near NCC’s new Cape Breton conservation areas.

NCC has now conserved 402 hectares (994 acres) here, with the goal to connect these and other sites with the nearby Cain’s Mountain Wilderness Area. Protecting larger, connected areas of wilderness habitat, rather than isolated pockets, is one of the most important ways to protect at-risk plant and animal species.

Conservation of these Cape Breton properties was made possible with the generous funding contributions of John Bourinot and the Bourinot family. The projects were also supported by the Government of Canada, through the Natural Heritage Conservation Program and through the Target 1 Challenge Fund component of Canada’s Nature Fund, the Nova Scotia Department of Environment, the Nova Scotia Crown Share Land Legacy Trust, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, through the North American Wetlands Conservation Act.


“The properties we have conserved near the Bras d’Or Lakes include some of the best remaining gypsum-based landscapes in Nova Scotia and perhaps North America. We are thrilled to have protected them for the benefit of wildlife, the protection of rare species and the enjoyment of residents and visitors.” - Doug van Hemessen, stewardship coordinator with the Nature Conservancy of Canada

"It is a privilege for our family to assist in the conservation of the lands on Cain's Mountain, home to multiple cultures, species and geological deposits. The MacLeod branch of our family arrived in Cape Breton after being displaced in the Scottish clearances and eventually established a farm backing on Cain's Mountain in Little Narrows on the Bras D'or Lakes. Our family's roots are deeply connected to Cape Breton and we are excited by the initiatives taken to preserve these lands for future generations." - ­JoAnne Bourinot and the Bourinot family, donors

“The conservation of these two important areas, comprised of old growth Acadian forest and wetlands, in Cape Breton is a step in the right direction for Nova Scotians and wildlife alike. This land will help provide habitat for wildlife sensitive to disturbance such as the northern goshawk, pileated woodpecker and flying squirrel for generations to come. By working together on projects like these, with partners like the Nature Conservancy of Canada, we are making progress toward Canada’s goal of protecting a quarter of land and a quarter of oceans in Canada by 2025.” - The Honourable Jonathan Wilkinson, Minister of Environment and Climate Change

“Nova Scotia has beautiful lands, with rare species and old forest stands that are so important to protect for future generations. Thank you to the Nature Conservancy of Canada for stepping in to preserve these two important Cape Breton properties. We were pleased to be part of it.” - Gordon Wilson, Minister of Environment, Nova Scotia


  • Acadian forests are diverse and comprise 40 to 50 species of trees, including sugar maple, red maple, American beech, eastern hemlock, white pine, yellow birch, white birch, trembling aspen, tamarack, balsam fir and black spruce.
  • The unique landscape and communities of central Cape Breton were recognized by UNESCO in 2011 when it designated the Bras d’Or Lake Biosphere Reserve. There are only 18 biosphere reserves in Canada, deemed to demonstrate a balanced relationship between humans and the natural world.
  • Gypsum-based habitats are valuable to conserve due to their rarity within Nova Scotia, and because they support many rare plant species that thrive in the high-pH, calcium-rich environment.
  • Gypsum and limestone are soluble and erode easily due to the effects of rain and snow, resulting in sinkholes and underground networks of caves and tunnels.
  • Karst habitat is found almost entirely on private land in Nova Scotia and is therefore largely unprotected.


The Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) is the nation's leading not-for-profit, private land conservation organization, working to protect our most important natural areas and the species they sustain. Since 1962, NCC and its partners have helped to protect 14 million hectares (35 million acres), coast to coast to coast, with more than 31,500 hectares (78,000 acres) of ecologically significant land in Atlantic Canada. To learn more, visit

The Government of Canada’s Natural Heritage Conservation Program (NHCP) is a unique public-private partnership to support new protected and conserved areas by securing private lands and private interests in lands. The program is managed by the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC). Federal funds invested in the program are matched with contributions raised by NCC and its partners, Ducks Unlimited Canada and the country’s land trust community.

The Nova Scotia Crown Share Land Legacy Trust is a fund established by the Province of Nova Scotia to support efforts of private land trusts, such as the Nature Conservancy of Canada, to protect ecologically significant sites on private land. The Land Legacy Trust is administered at arm’s length from government by three independent trustees.

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