Farming and Watercourse Management Handbook


Key points

  • Observe river flow patterns, including when in flood, to help decide where fences are best located.
  • Locate fences parallel to the flow of water as far back from the watercourse as possible so as not to cause too great an obstruction at times of flooding - most damage occurs when fences form a barrier to debris being washed down rivers that are in flood.
  • Straight lines of fencing which do not attempt to follow each meander in the course of the river will minimise costs and create the most useful buffer area.

Locate fences as far back from the watercourse as possible, and above flood level

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  • The more stable the ground on which the fence is located, the longer it will last.
  • Remember to include provision to maintain drinking water supply for livestock - install troughs or limit stock access to just one or two points within the riparian zone, preferably at locations with a solid river bed and bank, to prevent excess puddling by livestock.
  • Include occasional gates to enable easy removal of stock that have got into the fenced area.

Include sections of under-railing if the terrain is sharply undulating to stop sheep getting underneath

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  • Take account of wildlife needs and potential to improve the area for conservation benefit without detriment to farming.
  • Watergates will prevent livestock straying along burns. Careful siting can provide watering points and access between fields on either side of a watercourse.
  • Type of fencing will depend largely on livestock whose movement is to be controlled, but will also depend on risk of flooding. As many farmers know only too well, stock netting can be washed away on floodplain meadows, or equally serious, becomes clogged with debris when the watercourse is in spate, subsequently restricting drainage. Temporary fencing, possibly attached to permanent strainer posts, may be preferable on sites prone to flooding, or alternatively consider sections of breakaway fencing to reduce costs of replacing long lengths of strained netting or wire.
  • Careful thought regarding siting is the key to reducing visual impact, but using the lowest possible gauge of wire/ rylock can also help, provided there is no compromise on effectiveness at controlling livestock movement and cost-effectiveness of the fence, particularly in the longer-term.
  • Include and clearly mark stiles and/or bridle gates for anglers, walkers, cyclists and riders where appropriate to prevent damage by people climbing over fences. Alternatively, explore option for realigning paths.
  • Sensitive planting of native tree and shrub species (e.g. willows and alders) in the fenced area can increase habitat diversity and help to further stabilise river banks. Trees may provide shade and shelter to livestock, firewood or even timber if well-managed. Aim to leave half the watercourse in open sunlight, the other half in dappled shade. Avoid planting large areas of trees on or around wetland habitats where curlew, oystercatcher, redshank and lapwing breed.
  • Fencing off an area may lead to an invasion of aggressive species such as willow herb and ragwort. Control of undesirable species by cutting/hand removal will increase the diversity of other ground flora.
  • Fencing off significant areas may affect livestock subsidy eligibility including forage hectare and extensification payments.

Benefits of fencing

  • Prevention of further bankside erosion means no further loss of grazing area.
  • Fencing is generally a much cheaper option than any engineering work.
  • If regularly checked and maintained, fences can be expected to have a twenty year life-span.
  • Prevention of further erosion means reduction of further unwanted sediment deposition in other areas.
  • Creates buffer strips which can reduce risk of direct and diffuse pollution.
  • Better control of stock movement.
  • Reduced risk of loss of stock during floods.
  • Better riverside vegetation creates nesting and cover for game species.
  • Fencing even small lengths of watercourse can yield worthwhile returns by reducing farm costs such as stock injury and lameness and time wasted rounding up stock who have strayed onto neighbouring land when river levels are low.
  • Stable banks reduce erosion and downstream deposition, so spawning and invertebrate habitats are safeguarded.
  • Bankside vegetation provides leaf-litter and insects for in-stream organisms, and stable habitat on the bank for many types of flora and fauna.
  • Payments under one of a range of environmental schemes may be available.
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