3 Safer Fencing

This page has ‘Crane-friendly Fencing’ suggestions from landowners, agricultural advisers and wildlife carers. For background see the Intro, Issues and Risks, and Decision Guide. Little actual research has been done on safer fencing methods for Australian conditions and feedback is especially welcome from landowners who have tried using these or other modified fencing styles. More field trials are needed so ideally all grants for environmental fencing can mandate wildlife-friendly methods and materials, suitable for the site and production setting.

Plain top wire

Using High Tensile plain wire for the top, or two top, wires in an otherwise standard barb fence is often proposed for wildlife safety but costs more, and there is a perception that it degrades fences unacceptably. Owners stress that fences must work.

  1. They may be liable for damage if cattle stray onto roads.
  2. Breeding management requires herd separation, including large-scale properties with little active day-to-day supervision.
  3. Smaller dams and waterholes are under major pressure after long dry spells. Stock, feral and wild animals can become bogged and the water source degraded.

Working examples: Wildlife Friendly Fencing reports on some grazing properties successfully using HT plain wire in wildlife ‘trouble spots’ along their fences. Upper Johnstone Catchment Landcare (Wet Tropics, far north Queensland) have used plain top wire with dairy cattle and quieter Brahmins (no on-line link available).

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Fence markers

When fencing must be done, and it must use barb wire, markers could be used on the top barb to alert or repel low-flying cranes and other wildlife at key risk points eg near water. Markers could be mandated now for public-funded environmental fences, with markers factored into the grant application and bought using grant funds. Markers must be safe for stock as well as wildlife.

Weather/UV resistant rigid plastic tags, beer cans, CDs are safe and can give an audible signal to wildlife, as well as visual, in windy weather. Discarded electric fence tape strung between posts is safe if there are no loose ends to tempt grazing livestock.

Working examples: Rigid yellow plastic tags, CDs and used electric tape used on 4-barb fences for a range of livestock types on flat or hilly terrain (courtesy Wildlife Friendly Fencing). Beer cans (Northern Territory) from Free Aussie Stock (see licence details in Sidebar)

fence with beer cans
fence with CDs fence with used electric tape fence with CDs

Camel exclusion fences using beer cans, at Newhaven, an Australian Wildlife Conservancy property in the Northern Territory, are described in: Demonstration of ecologically sustainable management of camels on aboriginal and pastoral land, 2003, by Dr B Dorges & Dr J Heucke.

A standard cattle fence (3 lines barbed wire) is extended in height to at least 1.6 metres. The additional top wire is made visible by adding light reflecting objects (ie. empty beer cans). These are put on small pieces of plain wire (like pearls on a string) which are then tied onto the top barbed wire. The result is a higher, much more visible and on windy days even audible fence.

Other recycled metal objects that are bright and rattle in the wind could also give a visual and aural warning. Another option is brightly-coloured plastic balls threaded on the fence, or clipped to it, like airstrip powerline markers (see Sidebar). These markers work well to prevent powerline strike, a serious problem for cranes in some parts of Europe and the U.S. Plastic ribbon or second-hand car yard bunting/flags could be used but only IF (1) there are no cattle, OR (2) the top wire is too high for cattle to reach. Cattle eat stray plastic, suffer digestive problems and may die.

Sight WiresAnother option could be sight-wires, as used for horses. These wires are covered with UV resistant white plastic, some is luminous (night-visible). More at WFF.

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↓ Long Guinea Grass Megathyrsus maximus is higher than this 4-barb cattle fence near a dam in a periodically-grazed paddock (Wet season, NQ Wet Tropics: cranesnorth). The same fence is exposed in the Dry season, especially the late Dry when grazing pressure increases

fence with long grass

Vegetation height along fencelines is worth considering for safer fencing in some situations. This idea arose from experience from revegetation sites, where birds and bats are not caught on surrounding barb wire once closely-planted trees grow to fence height.

Also, wildlife carers in north Queensland report fewer bats trapped when fenceline grass stays long (non-tropical readers: please note that ‘long’ grass in the tropics is easily >800mm high). Whether allowing longer growth along fencelines is a viable safety measure for wetland fencing depends very much on property management considerations including grazing pressure, fire risk and access for maintenance. Long grass or other dense vegetation growing around a wetland will ultimately exclude cranes, and techniques used to keep the wetland surrounds suitable for cranes (burning, crash or moderate grazing, sprays etc) would regularly expose the fence again.


Labour costs: Catchment, Landcare or bird watching groups may be willing to help property owners install fence markers. Use-by: is important, markers should not be too easily damaged by water or UV or they will need regular replacement. Secondhand materials: (if use-by OK) may be available in long lengths, e.g. used tape

Next: 4 | The Whiteboard»

«Fencing Intro .. «1 | Issues and Risks .. «2 | Decision Guide


Comments and suggestions on Crane-friendly Fencing are welcome, contact details here». More safe fencing ideas are on the Wildlife Friendly Fencing site.

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