What is Cluster Fencing in Queensland?

Wildlife Posted Dec 15, 2020
The terms cluster fencing is used to describe when a number of farmers with adjacent properties form a cooperative group and decide to fence around the group of properties.
As a cooperative, if they abide by certain rules, they can apply for government financial support to build the fence. Basically they receive about half the cost of the external fence from the government and the rest they have to fund themselves. Within the group, the cost is divided up according to percentage of the external fence belonging to each property. Internal fencing remains the responsibility of the individual property owners. The financial support comes from both federal and state governments.

The fence erected must meet certain criteria to be eligible for financial support. Basically the minimum height is stipulated along with the need to have a skirt at the bottom. Other than that not much more is laid down.
Why is it used?

Historically, much of western Queensland was sheep country but now most farmers no longer have sheep because of the havoc wreaked by wild dogs. Wild dogs include dingoes, but the majority of animals that cause the damage is dog/dingo hybrids. The hybrids are usually bigger and stronger than dingoes and can therefore cause a lot more damage to animals. Whole swathes of Queensland are now free of sheep.

It is important to remember that sheep and lambs attacked by wild dogs suffer extreme pain. They are either killed in very inhumane ways or are left to die in the paddock having had parts of them eaten.

What are the concerns about fencing?

The main concern is in relation to the effect the fencing has on wild animals who share the country. The fence is a barrier to larger wildlife such as macropods and it is poorly understood whether fences disrupt macropod normal movement through the landscape. Access to waterholes has also been raised as a concern.

Farmers report:

  • Seeing sheep ripped to pieces is soul destroying. The sheep may have been bred on the property for generations.
  • Wild dogs are seen regularly moving through the landscape. Some hunt in packs and will bring down a calf but others are lone hunters and won’t tackle a calf.
  • The dogs usually follow regular routes through the country and therefore successful baiting and trapping can occur on these routes at the same time as fencing to further reduce numbers of dogs.
  • Any dog seen inside a cluster is hunted and shot.
  • Kangaroos and emus are also seen inside and outside the fence. Kangaroo numbers inside the fence are controlled through culling.
  • Dogs and kangaroos will not normally attempt to jump the fence unless chased or otherwise harassed. If a dog learns to jump a fence it will continue to do so.
  • Dogs and kangaroos are seen walking along fence lines.
  • Foxes and cats are also present. Foxes are killed with the 1080 baiting.
  • Farmers report that kangaroos graze paddocks that are lying fallow such that it is not worth leaving them fallow.
  • Fencing is described as one tool out of the many used in the fight against wild dogs.
  • Water holes are sometimes fenced off to allow for recovery but farmers report that there is always another water hole not too far away. They acknowledge that fencing off all water holes would be cruel and shouldn’t occur.
  • Some farmers are keen to see some of the smaller wildlife species come back. Wild dogs prey on wildlife as well. They think wild dogs are a worst threat to wildlife than cats.
  • Small wild animals should be able to move through the fence.
Farmers, wildlife and community expectations

Farmers see fences as one of the tools that can be used in the fight against wild dogs. Baiting, shooting and trapping must continue as well. They view fences as life-savers as they allow sheep to be farmed again.

Much of the Queensland landscape is huge, flat and dry. The clusters take up a tiny part of it. Therefore, the impact on wildlife is potentially minimal although insufficient research examining this aspect of fencing has been conducted. If farmers use cluster fencing as a tool and do not treat pest animals poorly (i.e. they shoot kangaroos and dogs inside the fence humanely; don’t harass kangaroos or emus to run at fences) the fencing adds minimal negative welfare to a situation where the land has already been cleared and farming has been occurring for over a hundred years. 

The biggest threat to wildlife is land clearing and we need to work to reduce the amount of Queensland that is being cleared annually. The latest figures suggest that just under 95% of land clearing is for pasture and millions of Queensland animals are being killed every year - read more on land clearing in Australia and how it is affecting wildlife.

Dr Mandy Paterson
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