Giving Back to Your Freshwater

Using the Natural Edge Program to create a resilient and beautiful shoreline.

With summer just a few months away, you may find yourself already planning for upcoming adventures on the lake. Paddling, swimming, wildlife viewing, and fishing are some of the activities you may be looking forward to. Lakes provide many benefits to people: memory-building with family and friends, a connection to culture and traditions, or economic and recreation opportunities. And all of these benefits and activities depend on healthy shorelines. 

What do you value?

Healthy shorelines are important to Canadians—53% said natural shorelines are an element that affected their personal enjoyment of being by the lake, and 68% said the same for scenery/view (Love Your Lake, 2021). Healthy lake ecosystems also provide important environmental services that protect water quality, provide homes for wildlife, and shield against erosion and flooding. If these are the things waterfront property owners value, how do their actions support these values?

Out of 44,274 shoreline assessments Watersheds Canada has completed on 187 developed lakes, only 22% of properties met the minimum criteria for sustaining wildlife and lake health. Our surveys show that there is a huge disconnect between people’s values and their actions.

Modern waterfront landscaping practices have come to favour hardscapes like retaining and armour walls that remove vegetation adjacent to water bodies. Oftentimes, native vegetation is sacrificed to achieve the aesthetic desires of property owners, all to the detriment of wildlife health and water quality. Within the perceived conflict between private property owners and freshwater ecosystems, there is an opportunity to benefit wildlife and lake health through habitat creation that fits the needs and desires of private property owners. Watersheds Canada, a national charitable organization, developed the Natural Edge Program to meet this opportunity, utilizing our twenty years of experience with conservation programming and outreach pertaining to illustrate the importance of shoreline habitat restoration.

The Natural Edge Program

Different native plants are overlaid on a section of shoreline property in the Natural Edge iOS App to help a property owner visualize their soon-to-be restored property.

The Natural Edge Program focuses on shoreline renaturalization by using native plants and the custom-made Natural Edge iOS App, Canada-wide Native Plant Database, and self-guided resources. Our one-of-a-kind planting design software tool is the platform in which field staff work with waterfront property owners to develop their restoration plan. It uses site photographs taken with the App and incorporates graphic overlays of borders and plants selected from our integrated and geographic-specific Native Plant Database. This allows landowners to see what their restored shoreline will look like before planting actually takes place.

Water quality routinely ranks as the predominant issue among lake association members (Dennison, 2020; Love Your Lake, 2021; Natural Edge, 2020). One study found that a 30-metre buffer removed more than 85% of all studied pollutants including suspended sediment, nutrients, and pesticides (Zhang, et al., 2010)! Compared to turf grass, deep rooted plants like silver maple, black chokeberry, and nannyberry have extensive root systems, making them valuable for filtering runoff and stabilizing loose soils that may be vulnerable to erosion, ice push, and boat wakes. Any sized buffer is better than no buffer at all! Remember that your buffer can be completely customized based on your preferences and budget.

Naturalized shorelines are also good at keeping away the one wildlife species you may not want visiting your property: Canada Goose. By creating a native plant buffer in and along the shoreline and transforming part or all of a manicured lawn area to a more natural state with a “no-mow” zone, you will prevent Canada Goose from coming up on your property as they prefer open visibility and easy access to water to escape predators. The planting of native vegetative buffers along shorelines therefore creates wildlife habitat, shade, provides aesthetic beauty, and protects from erosion.

How to Take Action

Cost and lack of time are two predominant barriers property owners face to naturalize their shoreline. Our survey of 246 Natural Edge Program participants showed that a lack of time also creates a knowledge barrier as people do not know how or what to plant (Natural Edge, 2020). Eighty-four percent of landowners said they are not confident in knowing what to plant on their shoreline, and 98% of landowners said the guidance and education from the Natural Edge Program was critical to their participation in shoreline naturalization (Natural Edge, 2020).

Lack of education and awareness are issues often cited in discussions regarding riparian zone issues. Effectively changing or mitigating the continuation of shoreline degradation will necessitate reducing these barriers. The Natural Edge Program reduces financial, knowledge-based, and experiential barriers for all Canadians to participate in shoreline restoration. We do this by designing shoreline restoration plans easily on-site with a landowner in less than an hour. Individual property conditions and personal preferences are easily incorporated into each custom restoration plan.

There is no other program that pools all of these resources together as a ready-to-go program, and it is available right now for you! There are many trained community organizations across Canada who deliver the Natural Edge Program; find the closest one to you here.

Because of the Natural Edge Program, over 104,000 native plants have restored 216,000 square metres of shoreline since 2013! You can join hundreds of other Canadians who are taking action right now to protect what they love. Click here to book your Natural Edge site visit for 2023. By doing so, you will help you protect your local lake for generations of wildlife and people to come.


Dennison, C. (2020). The Future of our Shores. Watersheds Canada. Retrieved from:

Kipp, S. and Callway, C. (2003). On the Living Edge: Your Handbook for Waterfront Living. Rideau Valley Conservation Authority.

Love Your Lake. (2021). 2013-2021 summary report. Watersheds Canada. Retrieved from:

Natural Edge. (2022). Participating landowner evaluation results report (2017-2022). Watersheds Canada. Retrieved from:

Zhang, X., Liu, X., Zhang, M., Dahlgren, R.A. and M. Eitzel. (2010). A Review of Vegetated Buffers and a Meta-analysis of Their Mitigation Efficacy in Reducing Nonpoint Source Pollution. J. Environ. Qual., 39: 76–84.