What is a Buffer Zone?
Buffer Zones are the areas directly adjacent watercourses and wetlands. As of 2008, buffer zone regulations changed to 15 metres ‘across the board’; previously, buffer zone width was determined by slope of the land. Since 1999, legislation was in place to govern these important parts of the watershed, and have been an important tool that both Islanders and the government have relied on to ensure the protection of buffer zones.
How are 15 metre buffer zones measured? For freshwater streams, they are measured from the edge of the sediment bed:
Buffer zones in tidal areas are measured from the top of the bank; tidal regions include salt water portion of rivers, bays and outer coastline. Wetland buffer zones begin at the edge of the wetland vegetation:
Cutting of live trees and shrubs, buffer zone alterations, and the building or renovations of any structure will require a permit. Agricultural crops are not allowed in the buffer; however, equipment can be turned within the 15 metres. Interestingly, crops ARE allowed within the buffer zones of wetlands classified as shrub swamps, bogs, wooded swamps, seasonally flooded flats or meadows. Trees and shrubs may be pruned within the buffer zones, and grass, and trees can be planted using manual means. Livestock are also not allowed to enter any watercourse/wetland on PEI.
Why are Buffer Zones Important?
There are numerable benefits to buffer zones, some of which include:
- Reduction of runoff by helping to increase water infiltration into soil; less runoff means less nutrients and pollution entering the water – too many nutrients create algal blooms and decreased oxygen in ponds and wetlands
- Stabilization of soils with plant root systems
- Erosion reduction along streams and coastlines
- Cleaning and purification of water using aquatic vegetation. One way of looking at this is thinking of buffers and wetlands as natural Brita filters
- Improved habitat for wildlife by providing food, shade and shelter for birds, fish, mammals, amphibians and reptiles
- Increased biodiversity
What if I Have More Questions on Buffer Zones?
Please contact the Prince Edward Island Department of Environment, Labour and Justice at 368-5052 if you have questions about any of the regulation details; you can also click on Buffer Zone Fact Sheet.
Lovell,S.T. and Sullivan, W.C. (2006). Environmental benefits of conservation buffers in the United States: Evidence, promise, and open questions. Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment. 112-249-260. Retrieved from http://willsull.net/William_Sullivan/Publications_files/Lovell%20%26%20Sullivan%20buffers.pdf
Province of Prince Edward Island. (2008). Buffer Zone Fact Sheet. Retrieved from http://www.gov.pe.ca/photos/original/buffer-fact.pdf
University of Minnesota. (no date). Vegetative Buffer Zones. Retrieved from http://www.sustland.umn.edu/related/water2.html