Summary To a large extent, the condition of riparian areas in Australia is determined by the management actions of private landholders. In this study, we discuss findings from our research in the Goulburn Broken Catchment comparing landholder and scientist assessments of the condition of riparian areas. We interviewed 33 landholders and undertook ecological condition assessments at 38 sites on privately managed river frontages. Using mail survey data that included landholder assessments of riparian condition, we were then able to compare landholder and scientist assessments. Despite substantial effort in this catchment to improve riparian condition, the riparian zones sampled were generally in poor condition. Landholder and scientist assessments of ecological condition showed a significant positive correlation. This indicated broad agreement, despite some substantial differences in assessment of some components of the condition score. Disparities between scientist and landholder assessments were related to the estimation of native ground cover, leaf litter cover and tree canopy continuity within riparian zones. The capacity of this simple assessment tool to differentiate varying levels of riparian zone degradation demonstrates the potential utility of mailed, self-assessment surveys to inform management programs and decisions about the allocation of resources for restoration efforts.