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...
Reduce surface runoff and control erosion along streams and coastlines. Healthy vegetation and soil helps stabilize soil via. plant root systems and water infiltration.
Prevent heavy nutrient loading into streams and coastlines.
Mitigates adjacent waterbodies water quality.
Offer habitat for wildlife by providing food, shade and shelter for birds, fish, mammals, amphibians and reptiles.
Increase species biodiversity.
Control pollution uptake into adjacent waterways.
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 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; however, equipment (ex. tractors) can 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 grass, and trees can be hand-planted.
Livestock are also 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