Buffer Zones

What is a Buffer Zone?

A buffer zone (also known as strip or riparian buffer zone) is the area directly adjacent to a stream or a wetland. This transitional habitat acts as a vegetative barrier for waterways against sedimentation, erosion, and nonpoint source pollution.

Legislation has been in place since 1999 to protect the buffer zones of island watersheds. As of 2008, buffer zone regulations require a 15 meter buffer zone for waterways ‘across the board’, whereas buffer zone width was previously determined by the slope of the land.

Buffer Zones on P.E.I. (photo: Province of Prince Edward Island) 

Why are Buffer Zones Important?

There are many benefits to buffer zones:

Pondside Park, Stratford

How are 15 meter buffer zones measured? 

All wetland buffer zones begin at the edge of the wetland vegetation. For freshwater streams, they are measured from the edge of the sediment bed. In tidal areas, buffer zones are measured from the top of the bank; tidal regions include the salt water portion of rivers, bays and coastlines.

Significant buffer zone alterations such as cutting trees or shrubs, landscaping, or building/renovating any structure will require an activity permit

Agricultural crops are NOT allowed in the buffer zone; however, equipment (ex. tractors) are permitted to turn within the 15 meter zone.

Interestingly, crops ARE allowed within the buffer zones of wetlands if classified as bogs, shrub swamps, wooded swamps, seasonally flooded flats or meadows. Trees and shrubs may be pruned within the buffer zones, and grasses and trees can be hand-planted. 

Livestock are NOT allowed to enter any watercourse/wetland on PEI, and thus shouldn't inhabit buffer zones. 


Lovell, S. T. and Sullivan, W.C. (2006). Environmental benefits of conservation buffers in the United States: Evidence, promise, and open questions. Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment. 112-249-260. Retrieved from http://willsull.net/William_Sullivan/Publications_files/Lovell%20%26%20Sullivan%20buffers.pdf

Province of Prince Edward Island. (2008). Buffer Zone Fact Sheet. Retrieved from http://www.gov.pe.ca/photos/original/buffer-fact.pdf

University of Minnesota. (no date). Vegetative Buffer Zones. Retrieved from http://www.sustland.umn.edu/related/water2.html