Riparian vegetation and forestry

How may forestry activities impact riparian vegetation around a waterway?

How may forestry activities impact riparian vegetation around a waterway?

The vegetation around a waterway increases soil stability because the plant roots bind and hold the soil together. When trees are cut down, soil stability decreases and erosion increases. Waterways in the area then become prone to higher inputs of sediment and nutrients associated with the soil, especially when riparian vegetation immediately next to the water is cleared. Maintaining a riparian buffer when cutting down trees can significantly decrease the amount of sediment entering streams from surface water runoff from the surrounding catchment. Riparian vegetation is also important for providing shade that maintains cool stream temperatures and sheltered conditions that stream invertebrates and mahinga kai are adapted to.

Potential impacts of reducing or removing riparian vegetation on water quality and mahinga kai

  • Increased bank erosion - the loss of roots decreases the stability of the bank, increasing its vulnerability at times of flooding.
  • Increased water temperature - loss of shading from trees or overhanging streamside vegetation means waterways become more exposed and are more liable to fluctuate in temperature. (New Zealand native fish generally cannot tolerate temperatures over 25ºC and trout need temperatures to be less than 19ºC for growth.)
  • Decreased dissolved oxygen through increased aquatic plant growth - plants and weeds growing within the waterway are more likely to thrive in unshaded waterways, potentially clogging and stemming flow, which can decrease oxygen levels.
  • Modified channel form - erosion through loss of vegetation can lead to scouring and breakdown of stream and river banks, eventually changing the form of the channel.
  • Loss of species habitat - many mahinga kai species need the protection and habitat provided by riparian vegetation growing around streams and rivers. (Trees provide wood and roots to the stream that are habitat for fish and kōura, and loss of cover can result in loss of breeding and feeding habitat.)
  • Decreased water clarity - erosion and increased sediment from bank erosion may contribute to decreased water clarity and reduced visibility for fish to find food.
  • Increased nutrients in streams - riparian vegetation filters contaminants and sediment from the land. (Loss of riparian vegetation may also be associated with changes in land use (e.g., farming, forestry) that increase the amount of contaminants that are present in surface water runoff.)

Learn more about the potential environmental impacts of reducing or removing riparian vegetation from around waterways