The importance of natural shorelines

The importance of natural shorelines

Our lakes’ natural shorelines are a wonderful example of form meeting function: they are perfectly designed to filter the waters that flow through them before they reach our lakes. They are the perfect habitat for the wildlife that lives among them. And, at the same time, they are a stunning natural backdrop for our own lives at the lake.

A 30-metre natural shoreline, rich in native vegetation, requires minimal maintenance, offers the best defence against damaging nutrient run-off and lakeside erosion, and keeps the whole local ecosystem healthy and working as Nature intended.

Natural shoreline vs. disturbed shoreline

Graphic showing natural shoreline
Graphic showing disturbed shoreline

Natural shorelines protect lakewater by filtering out the runoff that contains pollutants such as:

  • Phosphorous and Nitrogen: the lead causes of increases in toxic algal blooms
  • Fertilizers & pesticides
  • Soil particles (sediments)
  • Road salt
  • Vehicle fluids (gasoline, oils etc)
  • Pet waste
  • Overflow from poorly maintained septics

These pollutants result in:

  • Toxic algal blooms
  • Excessive weed growth
  • The prevention of recreational activities such as swimming, fishing and boating
  • The loss of fish and wildlife habitats
  • Contaminated water sources
  • Reduction in local tourism and property values

Natural shorelines improve wildlife habitat

  • Fallen trees and over-hanging branches and vegetation are a natural occurrence and provide excellent habitat and refuges for fish
  • Native vegetation along waterways provides shelter, food and safe travel corridors for wildlife
  • The berries of many shoreline shrubs provide a critical winter food source for birds and other animals
  • Shade provided by vegetation can significantly reduce water temperatures creating a more favourable environment for many fish species

Natural shorelines prevent land erosion

Without the presence of a healthy, naturally- vegetated buffer, shorelines have reduced resistance against erosion, resulting in a loss of habitat, soil stability and land.

Excess sediment in the water caused by erosion can be problematic for aquatic wildlife by reducing clarity, burying fish spawning grounds, clogging gills and limiting plant growth.


Healthy fish habitat and communities contribute significantly to the economic and social interests of many Ontario communities. Angling is a $2.4 billion industry (annually) in Ontario.

Ministry of Natural Resources

Studies and Resources

Buffers Protect the Environment. Extension Notes. OMNR, 2000:

Preserving and Restoring Natural Shorelines. Extension Notes. OMNR, 2000:

Riparian Buffer Width, Vegetative Cover, and Nitrogen Removal Effectiveness: Review of Current Science and Regulations. EPA, October 2005:

THE BUFFER HANDBOOK "A Guide to Creating Vegetated Buffers for Lakefront Properties", U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Boston Regional Office and Maine Department of Environmental Protection, 1998: