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Rapid Appraisal of Riparian Condition (RARC) v2

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Land and Water Australia

Latest documentation


Designed for use in




Assessment purpose

Condition, Management effectiveness, Prioritisation, Processes and components

Assessment criteria


Method type



Rapid term – This is a rapid assessment technique, and should typically take 20-60 minutes per site. All sites should be surveyed at a similar time of year.



Wetland system


Description and method logic

Method purpose

The Rapid Appraisal of Riparian Condition assesses the ecological condition of riparian habitats using indicators that reflect functional aspects of the physical, community and landscape features of the riparian zone.

Riparian condition refers to the degree to which human-altered ecosystems diverge from local semi-natural ecosystems in their ability to support a community of organisms and perform ecological functions.


The Rapid Appraisal of Riparian Condition (RARC) approach is a rapid assessment approach developed for stream systems in south-eastern Australia. RARC incorporates indicators of geophysical and biological properties and processes as estimates of ecological condition in riverine ecosystems. Some of the indicators chosen reflect a variety of functions, e.g. different aspects of vegetation cover can play a role in reducing bank erosion, providing organic matter and habitat for fauna, and providing connections in the landscape.

The Rapid Appraisal of Riparian Condition (RARC) index is made up of five sub-indices, each with a number of indicator variables including Habitat continuity and extent (HABITAT); Vegetation cover and structural complexity (COVER); Dominance of natives versus exotics (NATIVES); Standing dead trees and fallen logs and leaf litter (DEBRIS); Indicative features (FEATURES).

This Technical Guideline Update is the second version of the Rapid Appraisal of Riparian Condition, and incorporates a simplified scoring system. 

The method can be tailored to a particular area.

Method logic

The RARC assesses the ecological condition of riparian habitats using indicators that reflect functional aspects of the physical, community and landscape features of the riparian zone.

The RARC was tested in three areas in south eastern  Australia: on the Murrumbidgee River, in Gippsland, and in the Goulburn-Broken catchment. In all three areas, there was a strong negative relationship between grazing intensity and riparian condition.

Testing of the RARC index confirms that it is a good indicator of the biodiversity and functioning of riparian zones.

Criteria groupings of the method

The methodology uses five sub-indices to assess riparian zones:
  • habitat continuity and extent (HABITAT)
  • vegetation cover and structural complexity (COVER)
  • dominance of native versus exotic vegetation (NATIVES)
  • standing dead, fallen logs and leaf litter (DEBRIS)
  • indicative features (FEATURES).

Data required

Site surveys of: Habitat continuity and extent, vegetation cover and structural complexity, dominance of natives versus exotics, standing dead trees, fallen logs and leaf litter, and indicative features.

Resources required

Expertise required

Observers should be consistent and conduct all assessments. They may need to undertake some training beforehand, to ensure consistency of data collection. The observer will need to have some experience in discriminating native and exotic plant species, and may benefit from previous experience in habitat surveys.

Materials required

Rapid Appraisal of Riparian Condition data sheet. Access to supporting maps and information and land access. General survey equipment is required, as well as provisions for measuring vegetation, soil and hydrology attributes.

Method outputs


  • An index for each site based on five sub-indices.


  • Determining relationship between riparian condition and land management practices
  • Determining priorities for rehabilitation works in the catchment
  • To determine the impacts of grazing management practices on riparian condition
  • To identify practices which have minimal impacts.

Criteria by category


    • COVER
      • Canopy
      • Ground
      • Number of layers
      • Understorey
    • DEBRIS
      • Fallen logs
      • Hollow-bearing trees
      • Leaf litter
      • Native leaf litter
      • Standing dead tress
      • Large native tussock grasses
      • Native canopy species regeneration
      • Native understorey regeneration
      • Reeds
      • Longitudinal continuity of riparian vegetation
      • Proximity to nearest patch of intact native vegetation
      • Width of riparian vegetation
      • Canopy
      • Ground
      • Understorey


Recommended user

The method and outputs can be used for a variety of applications by Government, NRM Groups and Non Government Organisations. Examples include determining relationships between riparian condition and management practices, or surveying overall condition within a catchment to determine priorities for future rehabilitation works in the catchment.

Whatever the method is to be used for broader landscape assessments, care should be taken to clearly define the question to be answered, determine the sampling design and select sites appropriately to answer the question.


  • Shows clear relationships with more detailed measures of biodiversity and function where it has been tested
  • Simple to use, easily taught and shows good inter-observer reliability
  • Can be tailored to a particular region.


  • Limited to creeks and rivers in south-eastern Australia
  • Limited to riparian zones dominated by trees
  • Designed for bodies of permanent water
  • Only measures current condition
  • Largely qualitative with low-resolution criteria rating.

Case studies

See link below for case studies for the Murrumbidgee River, in Gippsland, and in the Goulburn-Broken catchment.



  1. Jansen, A, Robertson, A, Thompson, L & Wilson, A., (2005), Rapid appraisal of riparian condition, version 2’, River Management Technical Guideline No. 4A. [online], Land & Water Australia, Canberra.. Available at:

Last updated: 18 January 2021

This page should be cited as:

Department of Environment and Science, Queensland (2021) Rapid Appraisal of Riparian Condition (RARC) v2, WetlandInfo website, accessed 27 October 2023. Available at:

Queensland Government
WetlandInfo   —   Department of Environment and Science