The trees, shrubs and other plants that grow next to streams and rivers are called forest buffers, or sometimes riparian or streamside buffers. They are critical to stream health. They prevent pollution from entering waterways, stabilize stream banks, provide food and habitat to wildlife, and keep streams cool during hot weather.
Without forest buffers, polluted runoff from farms and developed areas would flow directly into rivers and streams. Forest buffers are a waterway’s last line of defense against pollution that washes off the land. Trees and shrubs slow the flow of stormwater runoff, trapping sediment and allowing polluted water to soak into the forest floor’s sponge-like soil. There, plant roots absorb nutrient pollution and store it in plant leaves and limbs.
The deep root systems of streamside trees and shrubs hold soil in place, stabilizing stream banks and reducing the amount of sand, silt and sediment that can wash into waterways.
More than half of the Chesapeake Bay region’s native species—including wood ducks, bald eagles, turtles and amphibians—depend on forest buffers for food, shelter and access to water at some point in their lives. Forest buffers also offer safe migration paths for wildlife, creating forest “corridors” that are critical to many species.
For landowners along Sleepy Creek and its tributaries, plantings trees is one of the easiest and effective ways to help restore the watershed. With partners like the Eastern Panhandle Conservation District and Cacapon Institute, SWCA helps landowners connect with trees and volunteers.