Photo by Kelly Herrenkohl of Natural Lands.

Natural Lands was honored with the 2023 Governor’s Award for Environmental Excellence, presented by the PA Department of Environmental Protection at a celebratory dinner in Harrisburg. The award honors Pennsylvania businesses, nonprofits, and individuals that have promoted environmental stewardship in the Keystone State.  

Natural Lands was selected for the Governor’s Award for Environmental Excellence for the preservation of Bryn Coed Farms in Chester Springs, Chester County.  

In 2017, Natural Lands acquired a 1,505-acre mosaic of forest and farmland known as Bryn Coed—which means “wooded hill” in Welsh. In doing so, the nonprofit organization launched an ambitious project to conserve and restore one of the largest remaining unprotected swaths of land in the greater Philadelphia region. The permanent protection of this essential open space was completed in March of 2022, when the last acres of the project became subject to a conservation easement.  

The conservation plan included Natural Lands’ 520-acre Bryn Coed Preserve, West Vincent Township’s 72-acre Opalanie Park, and approximately 900 acres purchased by conservation buyers who have agreed to strictly limit the number of homes or buildings that can be constructed on their property. As a result, the full 1,505 acres, which under township zoning could have been developed with up to 700 homes, remain contiguous open space.  

Bryn Coed drone photo by Mark Williams

The preserve includes a Pennsylvania Champion white oak, the headwaters of the Pickering Creek, and several Bald Eagle nesting spots. Miles of hiking trails meander past 19th century stone farmhouses, historical ruins, and other remnants of the land’s agricultural past.  

In addition to offering recreation and enjoyment to 60,000 visitors annually to Bryn Coed Preserve, the preserved open space helps mitigate the effects of climate change, reduces stormwater runoff, and improves air and water quality. In fact, Bryn Coed encompasses 17 percent of the undeveloped land within the high-quality Pickering Creek Watershed. Pickering Creek serves as a public drinking water source for several southeast Pennsylvania communities, including Philadelphia. Protecting this important resource has been a goal of municipalities and conservancies for half a century.  

Natural Lands has worked actively to restore and protect the creek’s five headwater streams that are present at Bryn Coed Preserve. The conservation and restoration of the lands around these waterways have significantly reduced stream impairment from agriculture and improved water quality downstream. Recently, Natural Lands planted 12,500 trees along several miles of streambank, creating a 64-acre riparian buffer to help trap and filter runoff to protect the stream. 

“Preservation of Bryn Coed Farms was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but it required a tremendous amount of work—and a tireless community of supporters,” said Oliver Bass, president of Natural Lands. “The fate of this property had been the subject of much speculation over the years as development pressures have increased in the region. We’re forever grateful to our generous funders, forward-thinking elected officials, and talented land protection team.  We went out on a limb on this one, and it was so worth it.” 

Generosity from public partners at the state, county, and municipal levels; the William Penn Foundation; and more than 650 households from the Chester Springs area and beyond combined to make the Bryn Coed Farm conservation project possible. 


Natural Lands is dedicated to preserving and nurturing nature’s wonders while creating opportunities for joy and discovery in the outdoors for everyone.  As the Greater Philadelphia region’s oldest and largest land conservation organization, Natural Lands—which is member supported—has preserved more than 125,000 acres, including 42 nature preserves and one public garden totaling more than 23,000 acres. Nearly five million people live within five miles of land under the organization’s protection. Land for life, nature for all.