Homeowner's Guide to Wetlands

You are the most important part of protecting Virginia's tidal and non-tidal wetlands.

Most of Virginia’s tidal shoreline is privately owned: one estimate says 85% of the Chesapeake Bay shoreline is in private hands.  Virginia’s non-tidal wetlands are threatened by development pressure from private land owners.   This means that private land owners - farmers, business owners, and homeowners - have a critical role to play in keeping Virginia’s wetlands healthy.  Some simple steps are outlined in this Homeowners Guide to Wetland Stewardship.  If everyone followed them, Virginia’s wetlands would be healthier and more productive. We have long worked to educate homeowners about these issues, starting in 2005 with our mailings to waterfront homeowners.

Access the Homeowner's Guide by selecting a topic below

Why Should I Care About Wetlands?

Wetlands are the most productive slice of land in North America – they rival tropical rainforests in their richness and production.  If you are lucky enough to live near a wetland, you enjoy diverse wildlife, flood protection, cleaner water (wetlands remove nutrient pollution and many toxics), and a host of other benefits – all for free!

How do I Care for Wetlands?

The only thing you need to do in return for all the services wetlands provide is to be mindful of the wetlands and take some simple steps:

Know where your wetlands are – for most properties the wetlands are shown on individual property maps.  If you are uncertain, ask your local planning department.

Locate your buildings, pool decks, sheds, and land disturbing activity well away from the edge of the wetlands.  Runoff from these structures carry pollutants that will harm wetlands.

Landscape around wetlands with native plants and non-invasive species.  Keep your lawn well back from the edge of the wetlands and let attractive native plants thrive – lists and sources for attractive foliage and flowering natives is in this guide.  Most importantly, don’t mow the wetlands or cut the shrubs to improve water views!

If you have to build or dig in or near the wetlands, you need to get a permit from the state prior to doing any work.  For properties on tidal waters – along the Chesapeake Bay and its tidal rivers and creeks – if you are working within 100 feet of the shoreline or the upper edge of the tidal wetlands, you also have to check with local regulators under the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act.

What if I Have Waterfront Property?

Homeowners along the waterfront face a challenge from shoreline erosion.  Dealing with erosion control is a major source of confusion for the homeowner and places pressure on wetlands and the shoreline environment.  There are many alternatives to “hard” rock and bulkhead erosion control approaches – in fact in Virginia, state law declares living shorelines as the preferred approaches where they are suited to the landscape.

If you are along the shoreline in a locality east of interstate 95, you have to comply with the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act, a program designed to protect the shoreline buffers behind wetlands.  If your planned shoreline activities are within 100 feet of the upland edge of the tidal wetlands, you will have to include this area in your plans and check with your local government.

If you don’t own wetlands in your backyard, chances are there are wetlands near you.  You can adopt those wetlands and help out, using this guide.  Access the Homeowner's Guide by selecting a topic above.