Hedgerows and Streamside buffers

Riparian zone buffers, conservation buffers, buffer zones – anyone with a curiosity about the outdoors or about agricultural stewardship understands that it is sensible to intentionally create a barrier where industrial or agricultural zones interact with a sensitive ecosystem.

Traditionally, a hedgerow (a tall, wide, dense hedge) is a type of buffer built as a dividing mechanism between animals, areas of land, or different ecosystems.  Unlike a typical hedge, a hedgerow is a linear strip of mixed plantings, rather than a dense row of a single species. The root variety offered by diverse plants is crucial to stabilizing different levels of soil.

On farmland hedgerows are particularly useful to border roads or fields. However, they act as more than an aesthetically pleasing, low-maintenance fence. Hedgerows intercept pollutants and manage environmental concerns associated with agricultural waterways. Near waterways, hedgerows can act as buffers, stabilizing soil along the water and filtering water that travels from the farmland to a stream or river.

Ideally, a hedgerow has an appropriately diverse collection of native shrubs and trees. Such hedgerows not only stabilize soil; they are able to host wildlife and effectively capture carbon. West Coast Seeds provides a brief overview of what to plant in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia when it comes to hedgerows. The most effective hedgerows consist of tall trees, short trees, and a variety of native shrubs. The greater the biodiversity, the greater the carbon sequestration as well.

Hedgerows can vary in width; the wider, the better.

Additionally, Delta Farmland & Wildlife Trust offers incentives and resources for farmers and landowners to set aside natural spaces for wildlife. They point out that the biodiversity supplied by a well-managed hedgerow supports crop pollination, pest control, disease regulation, soil fertility, and nutrient cycling.

A streamside buffer placed downslope from agricultural land slows runoff, trapping sediments and pollutants thanks to a dense root system that increases infiltration and takes up excess nutrients. While a hedgerow is a wide, linear delineation between lands, a riparian buffer achieves a similar purpose of establishing an ecological boundary.

Without a buffer, pollution such as off-target pesticides, fecal bacteria and eroding soil particles find their way, unhindered, into local waterways.

A hedgerow planted along the border of farmland, or a riparian buffer established along the waterway can reduce the risk of erosion and water contamination.

By Britney Birkenstock


More resources:

The Value of Buffers: For Pesticide Stewardship and Much More https://www.syngenta.ca/docs/Buffer_Brochure_EngCanada_2013.pdf

Hedgerow Management: Best Practice Guidelines https://www.farmingfornature.ie/resources/best-practice-guides/hedgerow-management/

Government of British Columbia Riparian Area Resources https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/industry/agriculture-seafood/agricultural-land-and-environment/water/riparian-areas/resources

Hedgerow Stewardship Program https://bcfoodweb.ca/policies-and-programs/hedgerow-stewardship-program


A Hedgerow as Low Maintenance “Fencing”.  Source: growingwithnature.org

Streamside buffer.  Source: www.riverfriends.org

Soil Erosion by water.  Source: nrdc.org