We have measured and fenced off our pond Riparian Habitat Area recently. In the past, the wet areas on our property were off-limits during the rainy season and we’ve kept the livestock away from the pond when grazing this area. However we decided to set posts and mark the area more permanently this year. This will bring a variety of benefits.
What is a riparian area? Simply stated it is the banks of a creek, pond, river, or other water way. This area is prime habitat for the animals that live in or at the water, the insects and birds, and there are specific plants that thrive in the areas closest to the waterways.
Why is the riparian habitat area important? Ensuring that the riparian areas under our management are healthy and thriving brings not only benefit to the land and all of the life that lives on that land, but it is good stewardship for those who live nearby and downstream. A healthy and well-managed riparian area increases the biodiversity on the land by growing the numbers of various insects (most of which are beneficial), birds, robust aquatic life, and cleaner water (compared to water ways that are not managed with riparian habitat in mind).
Insects are pollinators but they are also food – food for the aquatic life and for birds. Beneficial insects outnumber insect pests by great odds and they are nature’s solution to insect damage because they consume the bugs that want to eat our crops, harass our livestock, and drive us crazy. Chemistry has given us pesticides, but nature gave us beneficial insects and when we promote their habitat and ability to live they will do their jobs much more effectively thus keeping our crops and livestock in better shape which makes us happier.
Aquatic life is pleasurable but also necessary. The jobs of certain fish in ponds is to help keep the water clean and free from vegetative overgrowth and algae in the water. Fish also like to eat the insects that spend time on the water’s surface and lay their eggs on the water’s edge. Frogs and fish eat the larvae as part of nature’s cycle of life.
Birds are an important part of the biodiversity on a farm. Birds will hunt insects, particularly the ones that bite and harass our livestock. Whether it’s a sparrow or a goose, they are a necessary part of the riparian habitat because they help keep certain populations in check and they spread their fertilizer around as they fly which spreads seeds and nutrients to new areas. We often see small birds perched on the backs of our livestock as they have a very symbiotic relationship, just like photos of wildlife you may have seen.
Water quality is much improved when a riparian area is maintained properly. Runoff water that flows into any waterway is filtered by the soil it passes through, but sometimes that water arrives carrying fertile soil from up the hill or other pollution. As the water passes through a riparian area it is filtered by the plants, roots, soil, and even the tree litter that is laying on the ground, but it is also slowed down so it arrives in the waterway at a more gentle pace. The water that arrives in the water way is cleaner after passing through the riparian area than if it were to go straight from field or road into the water way. Nature has a fantastic way of filtering water through soil and vegetation so providing a designated area around the banks of the water really helps keep our water cleaner.
Riparian habitat areas sometimes feel like “a waste of pasture space” but when we can see past the grass that isn’t being consumed by our livestock and spy the biological diversity that is dwelling in that tall grass, and when we understand how it benefits the whole, we probably won’t view those areas as “wasted space” anymore. It can take time for our perspectives to adjust and for my friends and neighbors who are irritated with the forced and regulated “set backs”, let’s call them Riparian Habitat Areas and learn about how they bring benefit to us in the long run. Besides, when nature was put into place by our Creator He called all things good in the beginning. There is much yet to learn from what was called good and we can work toward recreating that natural balance for the good of our land, our livestock, our neighbors, and our selves. This is one step in that journey.