The word “buffer” may evoke a safety net, a filter or an area of shrubs and trees. In the landscape context, that’s pretty much what it is.

A buffer, when referred to by a conservationist at the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, is a small strip of land with planted or naturally occurring trees, shrubs and other plants. This strip provides protection from wind or pollutants entering waterways and plays a crucial role as a safety net for the environment.

Conservation buffers trap sediment, fertilizers, pesticides, pathogens and heavy metals. Sediments and nutrients from soil erosion are the number one pollutant in Maine waterways. Buffers act like natural filters, removing nutrients or sediment from water that runs off fields or roads, keeping them from entering lakes, streams, wetlands or coastal waters.

If properly used, buffers remove more than 50 percent of nutrients and pesticides, 60 percent of some pathogens and 75 percent of sediment.

In addition to trapping pollutants, buffers slow water runoff and increase the amount of water that enters the ground, recharging aquifers and protecting downstream communities from flooding.

During the winter buffers help trap snow and protect livestock and wildlife from harsh weather, shield buildings from wind damage, provide a visual screen between neighbors, and reduce noise and odor coming from a farm.

Buffers also benefit local wildlife. They provide food and shelter for many species including our state bird, the black-capped chickadee, game birds, migrating songbirds, as well as rabbits, deer and other fun-to-watch species. In addition, buffers serve as corridor connectors that enable wildlife to move safely from one habitat area to another.

A conservation buffer’s trees and shrubs shade streams and keep the water cool, making for better habitat for plants and critters. Without trees and shade, streams become warmer, reducing populations of fish and other aquatic species. Buffer trees and shrubs stabilize streams by holding the earth in place with their roots. In addition to their vital services, buffers simply beautify the landscape, enhancing the natural aesthetics of a farm, home, lakeshore, streambank or coastal property.

The NRCS helps private landowners create buffers on their land, along waterways and between fields. If used as part of a comprehensive conservation system, buffers make good use of areas that are not ideal for growing crops or other uses.

But buffers aren’t just for rural areas — they’re helpful in towns and densely developed areas, too. Buffers in these areas can yield the same benefits, especially along waterways and other ecologically sensitive areas.


Learn more at or contact the local USDA NRCS Service Center: Autumn Birt, District Conservationist, Belfast, 338-1964 ext. 3. or go to