Feature

Conservation fencing provides hope for threatened wildlife

22 Mar. 2022
Wayne Lawler/AWC

A critical strategy for reducing the impact of foxes and cats on native wildlife is the establishment of large feral predator-free areas, surrounded by conservation fences.

AWC is Australia’s leading proponent of conservation fencing and is building a network of feral predator-free areas across mainland Australia.

Wildlife translocation and reintroduction programs conducted inside these fenced reserves are proven to be the most effective way of keeping native fauna safe and ecosystems intact.

A fence to keep feral predators out

The fence design is something that is of critical importance. It needs to act as a deterrent for predators, but also not stop species inside the fence from moving out should they choose to. The complicated design was one of trial and error, as well as collaboration and years of research.

Standing at 1.8m tall, the steel fences initially look unfinished – but it is all part of the purpose.
Bruce Summerfield, Operations Manager at our Mallee Cliffs Wildlife Sanctuary explains, “the top of the fence is deliberately floppy. It’s designed this way to stop cats from getting in. If one was to climb the fence, the floppy top is unstable, and their body weight is enough to make the floppy top sag down and they will strike the two energized wires.”

It is not just this floppy top however that is important to the design. The fence also includes a 50cm skirting horizontally under the soil, on both sides of the fence, preventing predators such as foxes from digging under to gain entry.

The non-standard 30 mm hexagonal netting is made from long life netting and has different size aperture openings which stops predators from squeezing through, and electric wires offset from the netting at heights of 120 and 150 cm provide a shock to animals attempting to scale the fence.

Running parallel to the fence on both sides is a 5.5 metre clearing – wide enough to get a maintenance vehicle and trailer down both sides. These roads are used as a monitoring and controlling platform for feral predators, as well as a fire buffer and access for fence maintenance.

 

Timelapse footage of fence construction at The Western River Refuge in South Australia. This fence was constructed to protect suite of endemic and endangered wildlife after extensive wildfires during the summer of 2019/2020. Video: Brad Leue

Border Patrol

A fence will only continue to be effective if it is regularly monitored and well maintained. Constant vigilance is needed to ensure that weaknesses in a fence that develop over time are detected and repaired as quickly as possible.

For our Operations team at our Mallee Cliffs, this means reviews of the 42km long perimeter – the largest feral predator-proof fence in the Southern hemisphere – three times a week.

The checks are generally done by one person and they look for any holes, rips or tears that are repaired immediately, as well as clearing away any weeds and checking the energised wires are still operational.

It was during one of these checks in the early stages of fence construction that it was noted there were some foxes that had learnt to dig under the fence from what was assumed was the adjoining neighbour’s fence.

“The reason why we came up with this conclusion was it was only happening on one side of the fence, being the western side,” says Bruce. “I looked into different ways we could address this and concluded that we needed to bury a skirt into the ground and commence a dedicated intensive control program in the area of concern.”

This resulted in the team extending the existing skirt an additional 40cm vertically into the ground. This acts as a deterrent to dig any further for larger animals, but smaller digging animals, an example would be an echidna, on the inside could dig out.

 

Bruce Summerfield explains the recent skirt extension at Mallee Cliffs. Video: Brad Leue

The construction of conservation fences is just one way we are creating large-scale solutions for the effective conservation of all Australian animal species and the habitats in which they live. Find out more about the work we do across our sanctuaries and partnership areas here.

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