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Virginia CZM Program 2007 Coastal Grant Project Description and Final Summary

Project Task:



Virginia Department of Environmental Quality - Virginia Coastal Zone Management Program Office

Project Title:

Plant ES Natives Social Marketing Campaign

Project Description as Proposed:

Concern about how new residential and other development will affect the Shore's critical natural resources is growing.  Particularly threatened are the Shore's bird migration corridors and stopover habitats, water quality and quantity, and prime agricultural land.  Furthermore, because the local economy is dependent on agriculture, seafood industries and increasingly ecotourism, protection of these unique resources is a high priority.  Privately-owned tracts of forest and field habitats on the Bayside and Seaside are being converted by out-of-state buyers into second or retirement homes.  Although there are pockets of valuable habitats protected as natural area, and great strides have been made to acquire key habitats particularly on the "southern tip," the majority of the mainland peninsula is in private ownership.  Where acquisition of land to prevent further habitat fragmentation is not an option, encouraging landowners to increase and maintain native vegetation for its water quality and habitat benefits is a key strategy of the Virginia CZM's Seaside Heritage Program and its partners.

This project will fund the assessment and design phases of a social marketing campaign on Virginia's Eastern Shore to increase use of native plants and increase native vegetation.  The goal of this behavior change campaign is to remove the barriers residential landowners perceive to increasing native vegetation on their property.  An increase in native vegetation will provide water quality benefits of critical importance to maintaining a potable water supply on the Shore, help maintain optimal water quality for Virginia's shellfish aquaculture industry (which is critically dependent on high seaside water quality) and provide critical habitat for the millions of migratory birds that rely on Virginia's Eastern Shore - particularly the Southern Tip and the Seaside. Native understory plants provide the greatest diversity and volume of fall fruits that are critical to songbirds during fall migration.  The single greatest contribution the Eastern Shore landowner - residential and agricultural - can make to migrating songbirds is to conserve or enhance native plants, particularly understory shrubs, on their property.  Even the smallest lot could provide critical migratory stopover habitat for a few migrants.  Research by the Center of Conservation Biology at William and Mary has shown that a 50% increase in the density of understory vegetation results in a 50% increase in the number of migrants supported.

This behavior change campaign is rooted in previous Virginia CZM Program policy and education efforts, including a vegetative ordinance nearly adopted in Northampton County through the Northampton SAMP (and now being reconsidered by the current County Planning Commission) and educational pieces such as "Migratory Birds of the Lower Delmarva - A Landowners Guide" and "Virginia Hospitality."  This campaign was agreed upon by the Seaside Heritage Program partners as a top priority and integral to the upcoming and ongoing Seaside Special Area Management Plan (FY 2007 through 2010).  An ultimate goal of this campaign would be passage and implementation of policy to protect and maintain native vegetation.

Federal Funding:


Project Contact:

Virginia Witmer, Virginia CZM Program - (804) 698-4320;

Project Status:

10/1/07-9/30/09; Project Completed

Final Product Received:

Plant ES Natives Social Marketing Campaign Design and Implementation Plan and Status - (PDF) 

Project Summary Provided by Grantee:

Research and Design of "Plant ES Natives" Community-Based Social Marketing Campaign
When Eastern Shore residents visited their local garden centers to buy plants in the spring 2009, a new marketing campaign encouraged them to buy Eastern Shore natives.  Under this grant, the Virginia Coastal Zone Management Program worked with a multi-partner Eastern Shore Plant Natives Team to develop a multi-year community-based social marketing campaign to increase the use of plants native to Accomack and Northampton counties.  An increase in native vegetation will provide water quality benefits critical to maintaining a potable water supply on the Shore, help maintain optimal water quality for Virginia's shellfish aquaculture industry and provide critical habitat for millions of migratory birds that rely on Virginia's Eastern Shore.
This grant funded pre-campaign qualitative and quantitative research on the Shore in late 2008 to guide design of a new community-based social marketing campaign.  Research methods used included interviews, focus groups and a written survey of private and public landowners, garden centers, nurseries, landscapers, and others.  Seven focus groups were convened with individual homeowners and representatives of community organizations, schools, and local government.  A written survey was distributed through the Eastern Shore News in November 2008.  This research identified barriers that have inhibited planting of natives, benefits landowners perceived they would get if they increased their use of natives, and what multi-media approach would be most effective in reaching an Eastern Shore audience.  The major barriers discovered were a misperception that native plants are scraggly, weedy and unattractive; a lack of understanding about which species are native to the Shore; and a lack of availability of natives at local garden centers due to limited demand. 

Based on this research, the Eastern Shore Plant Natives Team created a design plan for a community-based social marketing campaign.  The "Plant ES Natives" campaign messaging will initially focus on the beauty of natives (the slogan is "They're Shore Beautiful!") as well as the habitat value of natives (the hugely significant role the Shore plays as a rest stop to migratory birds each spring and fall). 

Implementation of the campaign, including development of a multi-media campaign package, under FY 08 Task 1.03, FY09 Task 1.03 and FY06 Task 10.20.   The first phase of campaign was conducted April - June, 2009. 

The campaign website address is
Publication of Guide - "Native Plants of Accomack and Northampton Counties"

This grant also funded publication of a new guide to plants native native to Accomack and Northampton counties, an important education and marketing piece in the Plant ES Natives campaign's multi-media package. 

Early on in campaign planning discussions, resource managers noted that a new guide to Eastern Shore (ES) native plants did not exist,and would be instrumental in educating residents. 

Pre-campaign research validated that a guide would be very well received by residents interested and engaged in landscaping, and could recruit new gardeners interested in beautifying their property.  The need for a guide was again mentioned during focus groups sessions in August and October 2008.  85% of respondents to the written survey in December 2008 indicated that they would be more likely to use natives if they were clearly identified.  Over 96% of written survey respondents requested a copy of an ES native plant guide.  It was clear that a full color guide would help highlight that ES native plants truly are a "Shore Beautiful!" alternative to non-native plants. 

During the spring and summer of 2009, the Virginia CZM Program Outreach Coordinator, in consultation with a workgroup of education and natural resource professionals, produced the guide, "Native Plants of Accomack and Northampton." 

The guide, 44 pages containing color photos of 88 species, was printed in December 2009.  Over 2,000 of the 2,500 copies of the guide printed have been distributed to partner agencies, community organizations and select public venues for further distribution to gardeners throughout Accomack and Northampton counties.  The guide is also downloadable from the Plant ES Natives campaign website at

Disclaimer: This project summary provides the federal dollars initially awarded to the grantee. Due to underexpenditure or reprogramming of grant funds, this figure may change. For more information on the allocation of coastal grant funds, please contact Laura McKay, Virginia Coastal Program Manager, at 804.698.4323 or email:

A more detailed Scope of Work for this project is available. Please direct your request for a copy to Grants Coordinator,

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Virginia Department of
Environmental Quality
P.O. Box 1105
Richmond, VA 23218
(804) 698-4000

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