The edges of our wetlands and waterways are called riparian zones. These range from narrow strips of sparse vegetation to wide bands of green growth. They buffer watery areas against influences like sun, wind, pollution, and noisy vehicle traffic.
Plants that grow in these zones are called riparian vegetation. They include species of aquatic plants, sedges, grasses, shrubs, and trees that thrive in soggy soils. They prevent erosion by strengthening banks and shores with strong, extensive root systems.
Riparian zones store moisture when water levels are high. During dry spells, this moisture is released into streams and rivers. Riparian areas also provide space, shelter, food, and travelling lanes for an abundance of wildlife, from mink to moose and from salamanders to snakes.
If you have one of these important wildlife habitats in your backyard or community it could probably use some tender loving care.
Here's what you can do to help repair a riparian zone near you:
- Plant native grass on the bank - seed an eroded riparian zone with a permanent grassy cover.
- Grow streamside vegetation: Plant a mixture of tough, fast-growing grains and legumes along a stream bank. Scatter shrub and tree seedlings close to the stream, and further away from the edge as well.
- Stabilize a drainage area: Try seeding the banks of creeks and drainage ditches with a mixture of grass and legumes. This will help to stabilize the banks and slow down erosion.
- Save a wetland: Spread the word in your community about the importance of marshy spots. Encourage neighbours to protect these areas. Provide steps they can follow.
- Post signs: Put up weatherproof "No Dumping" signs around wetlands and alongside streams.
- Build nesting boxes: Mammals and birds that depend on watery spots need accommodations too. See "Build and Maintain Nesting Boxes" for more information.
- Build brush and rock piles: Wildlife can make good use of these handy hiding places in damaged riparian areas. See "Build Brush and Rock Piles" for more information.
Patrol your riparian zone regularly for signs of damage. Check, for example, if nesting boxes or brush and rock piles need maintenance. Also determine how often a garbage cleanup must be done.
Here's a handy checklist to use in maintaining your projects:
- Keep riparian areas intact. Removing vegetation will destroy a natural buffer zone and wildlife travelling lanes.
- Don't mow riparian areas. Unmown plants provide good shelter for ground-nesting mammals and birds.
- Make sure lawns and gardens don't go right to the water's edge. If they do, poisonous fertilizers and chemicals can wash into lakes and rivers.
- Minimize road and trail construction to stop erosion and reduce human disturbances.
- Plan and develop surrounding areas carefully. If a retaining wall or development project is built too close to the water it will destroy riparian habitat.
- Never use wetlands as junkyards or dumping sites for old cars and other debris.