Shoreline protection for cottages

Photo: istockphoto.com/Olga Lyubkina
Many cottage waterfronts have been stripped of the native shrubs, grasses, trees and other plants that usually grow along the natural shoreline. That's a big loss because shoreline vegetation is a buffer zone crucial to the health of the lake. Vegetation is important Natural shoreline plants provide shelter and food for birds and aquatic life, support spawning beds for fish, enhance water quality, prevent soil erosion, and trap harmful runoff containing nutrients that feed algae and milfoil, two invasive organisms. Shoreline vegetation also muffles noise from watercraft, provides privacy, and enhances your property values. Restore your zone One of the best things you can do to protect your shoreline is to replant the buffer if it's been cleared, with species native to your cottage area. Ideally, the buffer zone should be as wide as your waterfront with a small natural path to the lake and as long as you can make it. The easiest approach is to mark off an area extending 4 to 8 metres (13 to 26 feet) from the shoreline and simply stop mowing the lawn there. Over time, native plants will regenerate, including wildflowers like blue flag iris and buttercups. Plants for restoration In a more active approach, some cottagers have had success replanting the buffer with native plants like elderberry, meadowsweet, willows, red osler dogwood, Virginia creeper, sweetgale, honeysuckle, nannyberry, high bush cranberry and serviceberry. When you find a dead or fallen tree at your shoreline, leave it in place, unless it is a danger. Fallen trees provide feeding ground for aquatic life. Cottagers should never create an artificial beach by trucking in sand. And aquatic plants are to be left undisturbed, even though the kids squeal about the weedy tentacles touching their feet in the shallows. These plants hold sediment in place and provide food and shelter to aquatic creatures. The popular publication called The Shore Primer: A Cottager's Guide to a Healthy Waterfront suggests using your dock as a bridge over the weedy shallows and mooring a floating raft for swimmers in deeper water. Get rid of the green cement Increasingly, cottagers are doing without lawns, replacing them with natural gardens and beautiful groundcovers like creeping thyme that need no maintenance. But if you must have turf grass, be sure to lessen its impact on the shoreline by providing that large buffer zone between it and the lake, using no fertilizers or pesticides, and keeping the grass at least 8 cm. tall. Manicured lawns act as a hard surface that increases runoff, while lawn fertilizers contain phosphates that promote unhealthy algae growth. Instead of using asphalt or concrete surfaces for paths or driveways, use material like wood chips, pebbles, permeable paving stone, pea gravel, or wooden slats to decrease runoff. For the fifth year in a row, TD Bank is sponsoring The Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup, during Sept. 15-23. Register your designated shoreline in advance at and check out their list of steps to keep our shorelines pristine. September 15th is also the Ocean Conservancy's International Coastal Cleanup. Last year they collected 4 metric tons (100 million pounds) of trash from shorelines. Joyce Nelson is a freelance environmental journalist based in Toronto.