Mersey Tobeatic Research Institute

Old Forest Project

Why are Old Forests important? 

Over the past four centuries, little of Nova Scotia’s forested areas have escaped human influences. The outcome has been a proliferation of relatively young, even-aged, early successional forest types across an increasingly fragmented landscape. Less than 1% of Nova Scotia’s forest cover remains as old forest, which makes it increasingly difficult to maintain ecological connectivity between them. Old forests are a vital component of the forest ecosystem and biodiversity; they are important habitat for wildlife including mosses, lichens, cavity nesting birds and mammals. Most of Nova Scotia’s forest land (70%) is privately owned with almost half in small private holdings. Small private landowners must be included in collaborative work to maintain landscape connectivity, conserve biodiversity and restore old forests in western Nova Scotia. The development of private landowner stewardship requires an understanding of landowner knowledge and values about managing old forests and their active participation in research and management activities.



Accoding to the Forest Stewardship Council's (FSC) ninth principle, an assessment to determine the presence of the high conservation value forests must be completed. After obtaining the FSC certification in early 2010, the Bowater Mersey Paper Company contracted MTRI to locate and score old growth forests in their Medway District. This information will be used for the purpose of certification, for preserving such conservation value forests, and for use in future management operations in this Medway District.



Project Objectives

The Southwest Nova Biosphere Reserve includes small amounts of old forests on private and public woodlands. While other projects have investigated old forests on large private woodlands, public crown lands and in protected areas, MTRI has been working with landowners of small private woodlands to achieve the following objectives:

  • Assess as many potential old growth stands as possible using Nova Scotia Department of Natural Resources (NSDNR) Old forest scoring methodology, with guidance from previous maps and past timber cruising groundwork conducted by Bowater. 

  • Collect information pertinent to high conservation value forests such as tree species and age, wildlife and rare species. 

  • Gather basic information for sites of other unstudied old growth forests observed on the ground and reported by community members. 

  • Analyze data to determine typical old growth forest attributes for this district. 




Check out a video showing some of the techniques
used by our researchers in the field! 

  • Locations of previously examined potential old growth stands in the Medway District were provided by Bowater.

  • At each site, sample points were selected where tree species, age, hight and coarse woody debris volumes were measured using NSDNR's Old Forest Score sheet.

  • The NSDNR Old forest score ranks age by measuring three trees per site, or plot, and averaging nine trees per stand. All trees are tallied with a prism sweep, divided into three groups according to diameter size, and the smallest tree among the trees in the largest third was chosen.

  • All data were analysed using NSDNR's Old forest scoring system to determine a score out of 100 which can be compared to other old forest sites measured using the same protocol.  



  • 68 sites were scored representing 22 old forest stands totaling 216 hectares.

  • 71 stands were hemlock dominated, one was black spruce dominated.

  • Average score for all sites was 81%, the lowest component score being deadwood which averaged 5.75 of a possible 15 for the 22 sites.

  • Average age for all sites was 215 years.

  • Approximately 40% of all stands had Tessellated rattlesnake plantain, a plant indicating thin-soiled coniferous forests; these plants were often nestled in a thick moss cover.

  • Eight sites remain unverified, with approximatly 12 new sites identified for further research.



Years of Data

  • Ongoing project since 2006



  • Mersey Tobeatic Research Institute

  • Private Landowners

  • Environment Canada EcoAction Program

  • Sage Environment Fund

  • Nova Scotia Department of Natural Resources

  • Nova Forest Alliance

  • Bowater Mersey Paper Company

  • Dalhousie University

  • Nova Scotia Community College

  • Nova Scotia Department of Environment and Labour

  • Natural Resources Canada

  • Nova Scotia Nature Trust

  • Parks Canada

  • Mountain Equipment Co-op

  • Esri


  Additional Resources