What is a riparian zone?
A riparian zone is land alongside creeks, streams, gullies, rivers and wetlands. The importance of managing riparian land well is becoming more recognised. Protection, rehabilitation, and restoration work is being undertaken across the Peel Harvey Catchment area. Fencing waterways and controlling stock access is often considered the first stage to improving the overall health of waterways.
Riparian zones are often unique and diverse, and are usually the most fertile parts of the landscape. In a natural or well managed state, riparian areas are extremely important for many reasons. They can support diverse vegetation, help to maintain bank stability and increase ecological and economic productivity. Riparian areas that are well managed support clearer water, retain nutrients and soil health and reduce disease and pests. Healthy land supports healthy waterways!
Waterways and riparian land are also valuable agricultural assets. Riparian areas are the most productive parts of some farms due to their deeper soils and retained moisture. They may provide good, green feed when other paddocks have dried off. Unfortunately they can be very easily damaged, especially by uncontrolled stock. This damage can include the loss of soil, land, stock, and water quality, all of which can contribute to financial loss and be detrimental to our valuable waterways.
Managing stock access, reduces the amount of dung and urine entering the waterway this restricts the spread of disease microorganisms and algae that flourish in nutrient rich water. Keeping stock out, also protects the riparian vegetation that “filters” soil, water and nutrients that would otherwise be washed into the water.
Increased vegetation cover that results from excluding stock will contribute over time to the reduction of erosion, improved water quality, valuable shelter belts and biodiversity. This means healthier stock, more efficient use of nutrients and rainfall and improved pasture cover.
Many farmers in our catchment are aware of the negative effects of uncontrolled stock and have implemented stock exclusion and management practises that have improved the overall health of their stock and farms as well riparian health.
Farmers have also noted other benefits of excluding stock from riparian zones including less animal injuries and death from getting stuck in the waterway or muddy banks. This is of particular concern for weak or young animals. Sick or injured stock will also try to find refuge in the riparian zone. Preventing access minimises the time farmers spend looking for their stock.
Off stream watering points also have benefits for the health of stock such as improved digestion, less pathogens, viruses, parasites and bacteria present. This is extremely important for lactating animals.
Farmers are encouraged to assess the health of their riparian areas. Being able to measure riparian health is a useful management tool. Poor riparian health indicators include a lack of layered vegetation, plant debris and regeneration. Whilst a healthy riparian zone will have a good canopy of native trees, standing dead trees and fallen logs, native shrubs, understory reeds and natural regeneration.
Peel-Harvey Catchment Council can assist farmers and landholders in assessing and managing their riparian zones. Grants are available to landholders to fence waterways on their properties and to undertake revegetation. These grants are funded through the Healthy Estuaries WA Program which builds on the earlier work of the Regional Estuaries Initiative to drive action in our catchments to improve water quality in the estuary.
For more information download the flyer here.
This project is a part of Healthy Estuaries WA – a State Government Royalties for Regions program that aims to improve the health of our South West estuaries.