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Healthy Shorelines for Healthy Lakes

Shoreline Buffers

Cottage built back from the shoreline

A buffer is a permanent strip of trees, shrubs, grasses and ground cover alongside a watercourse that helps to protect or buffer the water body from impacts, both natural and human-induced. The proper size for the buffer strip is unique to each property and is dependent on the property owner’s preferences. In wilderness areas, logging companies are required to leave a buffer of at least 30 metres around lakes and rivers. A buffer strip of this size is not feasible on most private properties, but any width of shoreline buffer is better than none at all.  

Without buffers a shoreline can experience accelerated runoff, increased erosion and a greater quantity of nutrients entering the water, particularly nitrates and phosphates. Large amounts of these nutrients are harmful to aquatic environments, triggering a process known as eutrophication. Eutrophication stimulates algal blooms, which can result in a water body that is depleted of oxygen and unable to support many types of plants and animals.

How to Improve Your Shoreline Buffer

Before beginning a buffer strip, consider how the lot is laid out, how the property is used (e.g., as a pathway or for recreation), how large your budget is, how much time you want to spend on it, what you want it to look like and how much privacy you would like. There are three available buffer options:

1.    Natural
•    Decide what size buffer you would like – the bigger, the better 
•    Stop mowing and let nature take over. Dormant seeds, as well as seeds brought by birds and other wildlife species, will start to grow
•    Leave natural debris such as fallen trees, stumps and boulders in place (if they are not hazardous)
•    Weed out competing and invasive species, especially in highly developed areas

2.    Enhanced
•    Help nature along by actively planting a few plants or shrubs. This will allow the buffer to be established more quickly than by natural processes alone.

3.    Landscaped
•    Combine the important functions of a natural shoreline with the visual appeal of plants, well-defined and curving edges and other accents like benches and stepping stones.

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