Good practice management of riparian vegetation

Description of measure

Good practice management of riparian vegetation involves sensitively managing existing riparian vegetation in order to achieve management aims such as bank protection or flood control. When carried out sensitively, the ecological value of the riparian zone can be greatly enhanced. Riparian vegetation occurs on the top or face of the riverbank, and marginal vegetation refers to emergent aquatic macrophytes. More information on good practise management of in-channel aquatic macrophytes can be found in Good practice management of in-channel vegetation. Information about restoring riparian vegetation can be found in Rehabilitation of banks and riparian zone.


Within our watercourses there are many different types of marginal and riparian vegetation which can be managed in a wide range of ways for a range of different reasons. The purpose for management should be clearly defined so that unnecessary action to remove or reduce vegetation is avoided (excepting where this is necessary to control invasive species, see Dealing with invasive species). If some intervention is needed, then the benefits of the activity should be clearly identified in objectives of undertaking the work. A management plan may be of use.

Benefits for Water Framework Directive

Good practice management of riparian vegetation can help deliver objectives of the Water Framework Directive, by:

  • Preventing dominant species from out-competing other species, thereby increasing plant diversity and habitat diversity.
  • Encouraging the development of native plant assemblage which provides more suitable habitat for native invertebrates.
  • Improving water quality by increasing the buffer between land and channel, allowing sensitive species of macrophyte and invertebrate to survive.
  • Providing fish with shelter and spawning habitat, through the creation of diverse and well structured marginal vegetation.
  • Reducing bank erosion through the stabilising effect of the root structure and protecting the channel from the direct force of flow by plant biomass. Marginal vegetation can encourage the deposition of sediments and the formation of side bars which can help to restore the natural functioning of the channel (provided excessive sedimentation is not an issue). Such processes increase channel and flow diversity, giving rise to greater habitat and species diversity.

Good practice management of riparian vegetation also provided a number of other benefits. For example, well managed bankside vegetation provides cover and foraging habitat for water voles, otters (a European Protected Species), terrestrial invertebrates and waterbirds. The riparian zone tends to be continuous and so can provide a valuable wildlife corridor linking fragmented or isolated habitats. Vegetation management is also likely to result in an improvement in visual amenity and public enjoyment of watercourses. Banks protected by well structured vegetation are likely to require less maintenance and repair, and so an economic benefit may also be conferred. In addition, the presence of well established native vegetation helps to reduce the opportunities for undesirable invasive species to become dominant. In addition, the increased hydraulic roughness provided by bankside vegetation can help to slow flood flows thereby reducing flood risk downstream.

To read more about the effectiveness of the measure within academic literature please click here: Effectiveness for Biological Quality Elements 

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