Rivers are important to all New Zealanders. They provide valuable habitat for trout, eels and other fish species, drinking water for people and animals, as well as recreational opportunities such as swimming and boating for humans.

It is vital that we care for our waterways and one of the most important ways to do this is to protect the riparian or riverbank zone.

The riparian zone

The riparian zone is the strip of land along riverbanks. It can be as narrow as a few metres or as wide as several hundred metres depending on the geology, soils, water levels and adjacent land use.

The riparian zone protects the waterway and the surrounding land in several ways. Firstly it filters run-off from the land helping remove sediment and nutrients so they don’t enter the water. It also contributes to the overall quality of the waterway by reducing erosion and providing habitat for animals and birds.

Effective riparian zones consist of healthy vegetation cover including ground covering plants and larger trees. When this is combined with good land management, flooding and erosion decreases.

The importance of riverbank management

It is important that we care for the riparian zone. Excessive riverbank erosion leads to loss of riverbanks, farmland, water quality and habitat. As a result there is a rapid decline in the ecological, recreational and scenic values of the waterway.

Benefits of a healthy riparian zone:

  • Reduced erosion of river banks and farm land
  • Improved water quality
  • Creates quality habitat for plants, animals and fish
  • Provides shelter and shade for stock and the stream

How we can improve the riverbank?

There are several ways riverbanks can be improved in order to protect and maintain our waterways:

  • Manage the existing vegetation at a level that provides protection for fish and bird life but also allows natural flooding to occur without causing great damage
  • Improve stock management to reduce over-stocking along waterways
  • Stock water can be provided away from the waterway so stock do not wander through the river
  • Quality fencing will keep stock away from vulnerable areas and will allow vegetation to regenerate
  • Riverbank planting

Your local Fish and Game New Zealand office can provide practical information on effective riverbank management. For more information please contact them or the New Zealand Council on (04) 499-4767 or email nzcouncil@fishandgame.org.nz