Riparian lands and water courses have multiple uses and values. Riparian vegetation protects streams by slowing surface runoff, absorbing nutrients and trapping sediment and other contaminants before they reach the water. It stabilizes stream banks and protects them from different types of erosion. It also provides shade, reducing light levels and water temperatures and preventing the excessive growth of nuisance plants and algae. Riparian vegetation is an essential source of the food that underpins native aquatic ecosystems in the form of leaves, twigs, fruit and insects. The large pieces of wood that fall into streams and undercut banks protected by plant roots are crucial aquatic habitat.

Riparian benefits

Riparian vegetation can also protect and enhance adjacent agricultural production. It buffers crops and pastures from the wind and windborne materials, and provides habitat for beneficial animals such as insect pollinators and predators of pests. Livestock can shelter from harsh weather and graze understorey grasses and shrubs in riparian land: gain shade during hot seasons and shelter from wind during cold weather, are vital for survival and for optimal growth and production of domestic stock in many parts of Australia. Riparian vegetation itself can form part of the farm’s production system, supplying wood products like timber, poles, posts, firewood and charcoal, or non-wood products like seeds, essential oils, foliage, honey, bushfoods and pharmaceuticals. In addition, some of the natural functions of riparian vegetation, like carbon storage, water filtration and salinity control may in future form part of the farm’s production system, and be valued and traded as part of an ecosystem services market.

Riparian areas and their streams and creeks are also special places for people, and are often highly valued for recreation, their beauty, and as a place to relax and enjoy nature. These are important values and benefits in both rural and urban settings.