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Natural Protection: How a Simple Strip of Plants Can Reduce Water Pollution

By Nicole Lloyd

Nature is so much more than a beautiful backdrop to our lives. Plants and wildlife perform vital processes that contribute to ecological harmony. Trees and shrubs release the oxygen we breathe. Bacteria in the soil break down waste. Bees pollinate flowers and help them repopulate. And in many cases, natural processes can even reverse damage done by humans. Buffer plantings provide the perfect example of how plants can reduce the pollution that we have caused — thus protecting other natural organisms as well as ourselves.

A buffer planting, true to its name, serves as a “buffer” between harmful human activities and our streams and rivers. It’s a strip of land beside a waterway where native shrubs, grasses, and perennials are planted. The strip creates a protective wall of humble plants which blocks pollution from entering waterways.

Humans produce many pollutants like pesticides, herbicides, and pet waste. Stormwater picks up and carries these substances into our streams and rivers. And when there is mowed lawn up to the very edge of a stream, these substances slip right over it and into the water. This can harm and kill the wildlife living there and can even end up in our water resources.

How can plants block this pollution? Because their biology makes them natural filters. With a buffer planting the harmful substances instead soak into the roots of the plant. Through biological processes, the plant cleans out the chemicals and releases clean water into the ground. And thus the waterway can remain clean, the wildlife healthy, and our water safe.

But buffer plantings do more than reduce pollution. They also prevent erosion, flooding, and provide habitats. They replace a bland patch of mowed grass with a vibrant strip of flowers and grasses. Bees hum around the pink coneflowers, Monarch butterflies rest upon stalky milkweeds, and rabbits nuzzle up under lush shrubs. The once quiet and static swath of lawn becomes a verdant strip of greenery that buzzes with life.

Buffer plantings provide a fairly simple way to protect our water resources. All we have to do is put some plants in the ground and let them do their thing.

South Jersey Land and Water Trust is installing a buffer planting on Elmer Harvest Day on October 6th. But we need help! Come help us plant native plants along Muddy Run so we can protect and keep it clean and healthy. It’s a family-friendly event, and people of all ages are encouraged to come out and help!

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The land trust accreditation program recognizes land conservation organizations that meet national quality standards for protecting important natural places and working lands forever. South Jersey Lan


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