Catchment News

SMARTER_BufferZ – better buffer zones, with the right measure in the right place

SMARTER_BufferZ is a project that aims to ensure optimal targeting and management of riparian buffers for the effective management of Irish rivers, and ensure the right measure is in the right place. The project team has launched a new video of potential measures to benefit water quality.

Riparian Buffer Zones (RBZ) are patches of land adjacent to rivers, streams and drains, removed from intensive production and containing permanent vegetation. Properly designed and targeted buffer zones can have significant multiple benefits for water quality, biodiversity and climate.

RBZ can provide a variety of environmental and ecological services, including a habitat for biodiversity, enhancing connectivity, alleviating flood threat, enhancing carbon storage and improving water quality.

Targeting riparian buffer zones to key locations (right place) may be more cost-effective than a one size fits all approach. The design and management of riparian buffers (right measure) are linked to factors that inform the identification of ‘right place’.

This video presents a synopsis of potential measures to support water quality. The measures presented highlight the principles of how and what could be achieved by focusing on the right measure in the right place. The dimensions included in the figures are for illustrative purposes.

Key messages for SMARTER_BufferZ

  • Targeting riparian buffer zones to key locations (right place) may be more cost-effective than a one size fits all approach
  • The design and management of riparian buffers (right measure) are linked to factors that inform the identification of ‘right place’
  • Whilst it is important to develop new approaches in relation to the right measure in the right place, it is also important to recognise the value of existing landscape features and the role these features play in maintaining and enhancing water quality and delivering multiple ecosystems benefits 

Right place

Riparian buffer zones are typically designed such that vegetation in the RBZ increases roughness and infiltration, thus slowing flows and reducing sediment, nutrients and pesticides loads.

Numerous factors influence runoff dynamics and the efficacy of RBZ, including soil-type, land management/vegetation and topography/slope. Topography of the surrounding landscape can channel flow into areas of converging or diverging flow.

This can result in large areas of a traditional linear buffer strips rarely experiencing significant overland flow, rendering them obsolete in their buffering effectiveness, whereas smaller areas can be subjected to significant overland flow and become overwhelmed.

Targeting RBZ to key locations may be more cost-effective than a one size fits all approach.

SMARTER_BufferZ is working closely with the EPA funded DIFFUSE_Tools to improve the targeting of riparian buffer zones to Hydrologically Sensitive Areas (i.e. delivery routes and stream interception points). Lessons learned from appropriate targeting can also help inform the optimal design and management of RBZs.

Right measure

Although riparian buffer zones have been established in Ireland for over 25 years, variables such optimal establishment and management of buffer zone have often been overlooked.

Riparian vegetation type plays a key role in how RBZ function. Trees favour uptake of nitrogen and phosphorus, whereas the dense grass cover favour sediment trapping, whilst combining grass and trees may reduce sediment trapping.

Management can also influence effectiveness, close cut/grazed vegetation increases vegetation density and increase runoff trapping. Management of vegetation also facilitates removal of phosphorus from the riparian zone.

Nitrogen and most pesticides undergo biogeochemical transformations that reduce the quantities present over time, this does not occur for P. There is a danger that phosphorus accumulation in the buffer may occur, such that over time the buffer becomes a source of P. Thus establishment and management of riparian vegetation is critical.

Learn more:–events/daily/environment/smarterbufferz–right-measureright-place.php

Smarter_BufferZ is a collaborative project involving Teagasc and the James Hutton Institute and is funded by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Who is involved?

Quite simply, everyone in Ireland has a role to play. This can be from something as simple as making sure you don’t pollute your local stream, or a local community working together to establish a Rivers Trust to enhance the rivers and lakes in their area, to a Government Department or Agency helping a Minister implement a new policy to help protect and enhance all our water bodies.

This website has been developed and is maintained by the Environmental Protection Agency, and is a collaboration between the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Local Authority Waters Programme.


Local Authority Waters Programme

The Local Authority Waters Programme coordinates the efforts of local authorities and other public bodies in the implementation of the River Basin Management Plan, and supports local community and stakeholder involvement in managing our natural waters, for everyone’s benefit.


Environmental Protection Agency

The EPA is responsible for coordinating the monitoring, assessment and reporting on the status of our 4,842 water bodies, looking at trends and changes, determining which waterbodies are at risk and what could be causing this, and drafting environmental objectives for each.


Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage

The Department is responsible for making sure that the right policies, regulations and resources are in place to implement the Water Framework Directive, and developing a River Basin Management Plan and Programme of Measures to protect and restore our waters.