Across Australia, fencing is used to mark the perimeter of properties and control the movement of animals, including wildlife.
Simple wire fencing that marks property boundaries has typically allowed at least some, if not most, movement of wildlife between different properties and environments.
Now, farmers are increasingly opting for taller and stronger fences that cover enormous distances and stop the movement of all animals entirely. This is called exclusion fencing. Exclusion fencing saves farmers money, but it costs the lives of an untold number of native wildlife, like kangaroos, as well as other free-living animals.
What is exclusion fencing?
Exclusion fencing is any kind of sturdy, meshed fencing – typically around 1.5 metres high but sometimes up to 2.4 metres (8 feet) – that prevents the movement of animals from one area to another. Exclusion fences also have barbed wire strands along their top and bottom skirting so that any animal that attempts to dig under will be injured or become entangled.
Because exclusion fences often surround large agricultural properties or conservation areas, they are typically dozens or hundreds of kilometres in length, and sometimes thousands of kilometres in length. The largest exclusion fence in Australia is The Dingo Fence, which stretches more than 5,600km across South Australia, along the north-western border of NSW, and east through southern Queensland.
What is cluster fencing?
Cluster fencing is the grouping of multiple exclusion fences by multiple neighbouring property owners in order to control the movement of specific animals. For example, three neighbouring farms may erect exclusion fences around the perimeter of each of their properties, as well as between their properties.
Why is exclusion fencing used?
Exclusion fencing is used to control the movement and/or grazing of so-called agricultural “pests”, such as dingoes, kangaroos, goats, pigs, deer, and rabbits. Fencing is used in short-term conservation efforts across NSW and Australia, but the most dangerous fences are those used by private landholders. Farmers use exclusion fencing to protect their farmed animals from predators, but most often it is to reduce the total grazing pressure (TPG) on their land. In other words, because farmers want the grass on their property to be eaten only by the animals (stock) that will make them money, they use exclusion fencing to keep other herbivorous animals off their land, even if they’re native.
Kangaroos are often targeted by the use of exclusion fencing. In fact, the NSW Government considers exclusion fencing as a form of kangaroo “management” that “gives landholders complete control of grazing pressures” and “provides opportunities for coordinated management of kangaroos and pests across neighbouring properties… to maintain a stable managed kangaroo population across a large area.”
How exclusion fencing kills wildlife
Which animals are impacted by exclusion fencing depends on the height of the fence and the size of the mesh used. As one of the largest native animals in Australia, kangaroos are particularly prone to being trapped or injured by fences. According to the NSW Government, exclusion fencing provides “total control of kangaroo movement”. In other words, kangaroos can’t move from one side of the fence to another.
The fences don’t only stop the movement, they contain the animals, particularly when it comes to cluster fencing.
Trapped in a specific area, or trapped within the fence itself, animals also die from exposure, dehydration, starvation, stress, and predation. Trapped within barbed wire fences, animals can also suffer painful wounds and die of exposure. Animals prone to entrapment include emus and kangaroos, but also smaller animals like wallabies, echidnas and goannas. Exclusion fencing is an even greater risk to animals fleeing stressful environments, as they are more likely to injure themselves if the attempt to move through a fence when being chased, desperately seeking food and water, or trying to escape from bushfires or human threats.
The suffering of animals trapped in and around exclusion fencing is of increasing concern given exclusion fences are sturdier and longer than ever, meaning fence boundary checks are far and few between and the animal is rarely found and assisted.
The killing is intentional
It is important to know that animals being restricted from food, water and shelter is not always an accidental side-effect of the use of exclusion fencing; it’s often intentional, particularly with the use of cluster fencing. In fact, to “control” (kill) kangaroos, the NSW Government even encourages “water point closure” as a “supplementary control” option (along with exclusion fencing).
Even worse, they admit while exclusion fencing provides a perimeter, its use still “requires culling to manage internal populations”.
This means the NSW Government is actively encouraging landowners to trap, starve, and kill contained kangaroos.
Agricultural industry groups also encourage the use of exclusion fencing as well as other lethal “control activities” like trapping and baiting in order to kill “pest” animals and therefore “increase productivity gains”. For example, exclusion fencing is used by sheep farmers (to kill dingoes).
How does the government support the use of exclusion fencing?
As well as providing information on how landholders should trap, starve and kill animals like kangaroos with exclusion fencing, the NSW and federal governments also fund the use of exclusion fencing. In 2016, the NSW Government opened applications for a program that provided landholders with exclusion fencing grants of up to $1200 per km. Further details of this program, such as total funds distributed and total fencing erected, has not been published. Perhaps not surprisingly, questions of animal welfare concerns (or target or non-target species) were not included in the application form Local Land Services required of landholders for the grant.
The Gilgunnia Cluster fence project is the biggest exclusion fence project in NSW which benefited from government funding. The cluster fencing project includes 22 properties south of Nymagee, located 100km west of Condobolin in western NSW. The group of 26 landholders were successful in gaining approximately $560,000 in funding to assist with erecting 210km of Total Pest Exclusion fencing, encompassing an area of around 500,000 acres. By the project’s public open day, around 500 pigs had already been found trapped against the fence, unable to get through.
Where is exclusion fencing used and how common is it?
There is no national data on the use of exclusion fencing across Australia, though industry professionals state its adoption has been widespread across mainland Australia, particularly among sheep, cattle, and goat farmers. One current study is assessing the impact of exclusion fencing and notes high uptake of cluster fencing in western Queensland, and proposed uptake in the southern rangelands of Western Australia. In NSW, the use of exclusion fencing is also increasing, with one western NSW farmer stating its use will “become the norm, not the exception” in 10 to 15 years.
Even the kangaroo industry is speaking out
Exclusion fencing is having such a devastating impact on wildlife, particularly kangaroos, that the kangaroo industry is beginning to speak out about the ethics and sustainability of their use.
In 2017, Kangaroo Industry Association of Australia chief executive officer John Kelly said “no one can seriously argue these fences are being constructed just to stop wild dogs”, and that their greatest impact is on kangaroos.
Kangaroo meat processor Ray Borda of Macro Meats has also said exclusion fencing is reducing the “quality” of kangaroo meat, as stressed animals are suffering from post-capture myopathy and having a noticeable increase in the amount of shrapnel being detected in their bodies.
Though the NSW Government has denied that kangaroo population declines are a result of exclusion fencing, instead citing migration as the cause, by their own admission in exclusion fencing information material, they state “eastern grey kangaroos are sedentary and will be most affected by control of access”.
Lack of consultation with Indigenous communities
It is also concerning that many millions of dollars are being spent with evidently little if no consultation with Indigenous Elders and communities, who are unable to freely move between and on country, and also have animal welfare concerns about totemic animals including kangaroos and emus.
What can we do to stop this?
As an MP for the Animal Justice in NSW Parliament, I have been campaigning against the killing of kangaroos for a number of years. In the past my focus has been on the commercial and non-commercial killing of kangaroos. In the last year, I have been working with veteran kangaroo carers, farmers, and industry shooters, and have been made aware of the devastating and increasing impact of exclusion fencing in NSW and beyond. I continue to work with relevant ears and eyes on the ground in regional, rural, and agricultural areas, and am reaching out to relevant government departments and ministers to discuss the issue of exclusion and cluster fencing and their impact on wildlife and other free-living animals.
It has become increasingly clear that exclusion and cluster fencing is just another reason we need a parliamentary inquiry into kangaroos and a moratorium on all kangaroo killing now, and this is something I will continue to push for. Further roll-outs of exclusion fencing for conservation purposes, along with extra funding for exclusion fencing in agricultural areas, is something we expect and are also prepared to challenge the government on.
Join me in calling for urgent action by the NSW Government by adding your name to the petition here.
WATCH THE VIDEO OF ME EXPLAINING HOW EXCLUSION FENCES WORK HERE.