Repairing the Riparian

Monette RebeccaBlog Archives

a creek bank and riparian habitat
Riparian corridors are critical for maintaining a thriving waterway and healthy ecosystem. Riparian renewal to the rescue!

The riparian corridor

The word "riparian" came to English from the source that gave us "river" - the Latin riparius, a noun deriving from ripa, meaning "bank" or "shore.” "Riparian” refers to things existing alongside a river, such as riparian wetlands, habitats and trees.

Nowadays, we just call them the river or stream bank—the land and plant ecology next to waterways. The size and quality of these waterway banks, how it’s used or if is its left undisturbed, defines how well the natural purpose and functionality of these specialized lands are preserved.

With the growing amount of hard surfaces by more development recently, more stormwater is quickly being drained into our waterways, with less going in the ground to recharge our springs. We’ve observed erosion, sedimentation and tree loss becoming a rapidly worsening problem on Richland Creek the last few years.

A riparian area along Richland Creek in Nashville.

A riparian area along Richland Creek in Nashville.

Wildlife habitat

Riparian corridors naturally support stream habitats and provide food, shelter and movement for many species of wildlife. These land and water habitats support numerous critters, big and small. The tree canopy next to a stream helps maintain a cool temperature for fish and aquatic life, supporting heatlthy dissolved oxygen levels for them.

Riparian land is naturally a biodiverse landscape, where many kinds of plants exist to support the food web—aquatic, subaquatic, terrestrial and avian life. The specialized corridor provides wildlife the ability to move up and downstream, and travel between water and land. Wildlife uses riparian lands to nest, forage and hunt for food, complete their life cycle, or as a stopover during migration cycles.

This special land is beautiful, purposeful and an asset to our community, providing flood control measures and clean water. We get a more pleasant experience, walking or running by these habitats too. We want to protect the riparian land by saving the old trees remaining and plant native trees for the future.

Erosion control and more

The roots of trees and other riparian vegetation stabilize stream banks, and the water drains through bottomland soil, filtering out pollution. The riparian area is not only a habitat, but the roots of the plants in the corridor also serve to reduce erosion and sedimentation. Altogether, it maintains a defined, free-flowing channel, while providing mitigation for stormwater and flash flooding.

Why do we need riparian renewal?

Renewal means to support and improve the natural beauty, quality, and function. Our intent for renewing riparian habitats is to support a friendlier environment to water, wildlife, trees and the community.

We've been invaded

Our riparian habitats have been taken over by invasive plants, diminishing the natural function, health, quality of the riparian habitat. Very few native species are able to live or even sprout with these three, mostly evergreen invasive plants dominating the habitat. wintercreeper (a variety of vines known as euonymus), bush honeysuckle and Chinese privet have thrived in our riparian habitats and left little chance for native trees and plants to have space, sunshine or nutrients.

The most intensive of these invasives is appropriately called wintercreeper. It begins as a groundcover then grows to become a large, woody vine, climbing up the bark of the old trees, infesting its canopy. This causes disease and weakening of the old trees. We’ve observed many have fallen, succumbing to the creeper takeover. We needed to step in and try to reverse this invasive pattern.

Because of the overwhelming challenge caused by these invasive plants, RCWA engaged a specialized contractor, Invasive Plant Control, Inc (IPC) to help us out. We brought a team in to drag out the invasive plants that IPC cuts and treats. Our partner, Metro Parks, graciously takes the cut brush off to recycle! After that, we implement several more volunteer projects to complete the invasive plant control process, like removing groundcover, and planting native trees in the renewed habitats.

Before and after RCWA's riparian renewal effort.

Before and after RCWA's riparian renewal effort.

Since our efforts began, we’ve noticed several positive changes in the habitats where renewal work has been conducted. The old trees are now freed from the choking winter creeper vine, and can offer birds a perch with a view to hunt the forest floor. Better air circulation is detected, and the sun now dapples through and provides energy to the trees and soil below. We have a view of the creek now, and can feel a fresh breeze as we walk by. We can easily observe how the renewal work is improving the experience and the environment for people, wildlife, trees and Richland Creek.

Replacing invasive species with native trees as part of the riparian renewal process.

Our most recent Riparian Renewal project on Richland Creek is a glimpse of the transforming effect this work is having on the habitat. Look for our upcoming volunteer opportunities to remove the winter creeper remaining on the ground, so trees are not infested all over again, and help us plant native trees back where old ones once lived. We plant species that naturally occur in Middle Tennessee riparian habitats, with some that produce berries, in order to replace wildlife food lost by invasive removal. Collectively, we are rebuilding the natural biodiversity and resilience in the habitat.

How you can help

You can help by volunteering for one of our projects and being proactive by removing invasive plants from your yard. You can learn how to do this work at our volunteer events, taking the knowledge home with you to combat them in your yard. Invasive plants have also permeated our urban area. While volunteering, you’ll get a hands-on experience on how to recognize and eradicate these invasive plants. To solve the problem, we need everyone involved to overcome the invasion of these aggressive plants.

Volunteer with RCWA

To volunteer with RCWA, simply fill out the volunteer form on our website, and we’ll send you notices by email. You’ll be helping waterway habitats become healthier and more biodiverse for future generations to come.

A healthy riparian habitat supports clean water, wildlife and trees, and people. With citizens helping to remove them, we may very well overcome this challenging problem. Together we make a difference!

Alien creature covered in winter creeper vine

About the author

Monette Rebecca is the founding director for the Richland Creek Watershed Alliance and developer of the Riparian Renewal Program to address the invasive plant issue along our waterways. In her free time, she enjoys gardening at home and spending time outdoors hiking and observing nature.

To learn more about Richland Creek Watershed Alliance or to learn about volunteer opportunities, visit the RCWA website:

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