Riparian buffer zones can improve water quality and enhance habitat, but a comprehensive yet rapid method that can assist the resource manager in assessing the effectiveness of buffers is not available. The aim of this paper is to describe and illustrate the use of a newly developed field-based evaluation tool for riparian buffer zones in agricultural catchments. The Buffer Zone Inventory and Evaluation Form (BZIEF) incorporates criteria-based scoring systems developed from literature review, subsequent peer-review, and then a pilot field study. Use of the BZIEF is demonstrated by comparing buffer zones in three catchments established for water quality and habitat improvement under the Water Fringe Option agrienvironment scheme in England in order to assess whether the buffers were likely to provide environmental enhancement. Results among the three catchments were generally similar; buffer zones scored highly for their abundant vegetation cover, lack of erosion, stream habitat quality, and sufficient width. Furthermore, previous grassland or arable land use did not substantially affect buffer zone ratings. However, the BZIEF indicated that inappropriate soil characteristics in one catchment were likely to constrain buffer zone effectiveness for improving water quality. In another catchment, poor riparian vegetation diversity and structure may yield ineffective habitat enhancement, according to the BZIEF. It was concluded that the BZIEF might be a useful tool for buffer zone comparison and monitoring, even though more work is needed to test and validate the method. For example, the BZIEF could be used to target appropriate locations for buffer zones and is flexible, so could be adapted for different policies, objectives and regions.
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|Published - Sept 2003