What is a Riparian Buffer?

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum

Sometimes referred to as waterside buffer strips, riparian buffers are sections of strategically placed vegetation along the banks of a waterway, such as a river or stream. A buffer of this type serves several purposes, including helping to protect the waterway from pollution originating from various building projects or other land uses taking place in the area. A riparian buffer also helps to preserve the natural beauty of the area, a factor that many people find just as important as the ecological benefits connected with the plant life.

Sediment containing heavy metals such as lead or mercury, can contaminate rivers and streams.
Sediment containing heavy metals such as lead or mercury, can contaminate rivers and streams.

A riparian buffer may be composed of a number of natural elements. Trees, various types of shrubs, and a selection of grasses native to the area are often the elements of choice. Strategic placement of these elements helps to reduce the amount of sediment that runs off the land and into the stream or river. Since pesticides and other contaminants may be present in the runoff, the buffer effectively helps to keep the water quality from being negatively impacted.

The preservation of the river or stream banks is also an important function of these types of buffers. A well-planned riparian buffer will hold the soil along the bank in place with relative ease. This helps to minimize erosion that could eventually cause the loss of farmland situated near the river. From this perspective, the buffer not only protects water quality but also helps to ensure that the surrounding land is available for cultivation.

In many places around the world, the riparian buffer is also seen as a means of helping to preserve wildlife in the vicinity. The trees, shrubs, and grasses that are used to create the buffers help to serve as feeding grounds and homes for a number of different wild animals. Buffers of this type can be constructed in a manner that makes it possible for species who had left the area to slowly return and repopulate the land, thus restoring a balanced ecology to the region.

While sometimes overlooked, the role of the riparian buffer in cooling the water as it flows down the stream or river is also very important. The shade provided by tall shrubs and trees that hug the riverbank help to make the water more inviting for local aquatic species, which in turn help to keep the water quality higher, and promote thriving schools of fish and other forms of aquatic life in the area. As with the haven created for animals on the land, the shade trees help to make the water more habitable for a number of species.

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum

After many years in the teleconferencing industry, Michael decided to embrace his passion for trivia, research, and writing by becoming a full-time freelance writer. Since then, he has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including wiseGEEK, and his work has also appeared in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and several newspapers. Malcolm’s other interests include collecting vinyl records, minor league baseball, and cycling.

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