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Riparian Planting

What are Riparian Woodlands?

Riparian woodlands are woodlands that are found within the region of water bodies, offering environmental benefits to the surrounding area. The size of area varies with slope and size of the waterbody, however, generally they run along the riverbank or within the floodplain.

Benefits of Riparian Planting within water margin management

Riparian planting can be utilised as a management tool to enhance watercourses in and around the farm. Many riverbanks can be exposed and more vulnerable to poaching and erosion from the river itself. These attributes can weaken the riverbank and lead to further erosion and loss of valuable land. Introducing riparian planting can help alleviate some of the impact on the land.

Riparian woodland - established pine trees planted on the bank of a river.

To maximise the environmental benefits:

  • Use native broadleaved species for riparian planting.
  • Plant at variable spacing with areas of open ground. This allows a diverse ground flora to develop, which will help with water infiltration.  The dappled shade produced helps maintain suitable water temperatures for fish and the mixed leaf litter provides a good source of food for invertebrates.
  • Too much shade can lead to bare eroding banks and result in wider shallow channels.
  • Too little shade can result in a lack of shelter and more extreme water temperatures.
  • Plant some native trees on, rather than away from, the bank in treeless rivers so that eventually the tree roots will create physical structures, which may be used by wildlife
  • Do not plant in areas that are already important for wildlife such as certain wetlands, species-rich grassland, reedbed and tall herb communities.
  • Link new native broadleaves planting with existing fragments of riparian woodland.

The planting of trees can help bind the soil together, holding it in place between the root system. The roots themselves can absorb water and slow down the flow of water coming off the land into the waterways. This can lead to the trees acting like a sponge, reducing and slowing the water entering the watercourse. This can strengthen the riverbank and offer protection from severe weather.

What should you consider when planning Riparian Planting?

Target Areas

In order to get the higher area payment for native woodland, the planting needs to be in areas that have been identified as ‘woodland for water areas’.  These are where there are clear benefits to be gained from the planting in terms of both natural flood management and water quality.

Grant for capital items

Be aware that the grant for capital items are nearly always capped at 150% of the initial planting grant.  This is very significant for riparian planting with its high protection costs.  If tree shelters are used then there is usually no capital grant left to cover fencing.  For long narrow stretches of riparian planting the fencing grant alone is often greater than 150% of the initial planting grant.

Minimum Block Size

The minimum block size for a native woodland planting grant is 0.25ha with a minimum width of 15m.  However, to score enough points to be eligible for the grant, larger planting blocks may be necessary depending on the location.

Scale of Planting

For small areas of riparian planting the grant will rarely cover much more than 50% of the costs involved unless you undertake a lot of the work yourself.  If the scale of planting is increased by including significant areas of floodplain woodland or larger areas of catchment woodland then the grant becomes much more attractive and can cover most of the costs involved in establishing the woodland.

Set up and Maintenance

Riparian woodland can be problematic to establish for two main reasons: protection and weed competition. Riparian woodlands, as they run along water courses, tend to be long and thin, therefore have a high fencing cost per area planted. The terrain for fencing can also be difficult with lots of bends and uneven terrain so the fence line needs to be carefully planned to ensure a robust and effective fence.  Deer will use riparian strips to feed and shelter, so protection from deer browsing is essential.  Due to the high length of fence required it is rarely cost effective to use deer fencing unless it can be combined with other areas of planting beyond the riverbank.  Individual tree shelters are often the best form of protection in this situation although stock fences will still be needed.

Riparian zones are usually fertile areas with strong weed growth and so weed control is essential. Any ground preparation within the riparian zone should be limited to hinge mounding. This can help reduce the initial weed competition and provide a suitable environment for the young trees’ growth.  Spot spraying with suitable herbicide for the first two to three years will also help get the trees established but it is important to follow all the guidelines for using herbicides close to watercourses.  Mulching and hand clearance are alternatives, however, are likely to be more expensive and with hand clearance, less effective.  Clearing weeds from within the tree shelters may also be needed to help prevent them chocking the trees.  The tree shelters will then need to be removed and disposed of correctly once the trees are established, which is usually in about 5 years.

Riparian Planting Estimated costs/Funding options:

Under the current Forestry Grant Scheme, planting grants for native broadleaved woodland planting are:


Grant Scheme Non-Target Area (per ha)* Target Area (per ha)*
Initial Planting Grant 1840 2070
Annual Maintenance Payment (for 5 years) 272 306

Sample capital grants:

  • new stock fence              £4.40/m
  • new deer fence               £7.60/m
  • 1.2m tree shelter            £2 each

These figures are subject to change. Currently you can apply for a £1000 grant for specialise woodland advice through FAS, this can ensure that you can try and get the best deal and plan for your farm.

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