Wasted Ot­ter Fenc­ing!

Chris Burt on be­half of PAG Com­mit­tee


We are hear­ing re­ports that ot­ter fenc­ing is not al­ways pro­tect­ing wa­ters as it should, and that ot­ters are find­ing their way into fenced fish­eries. Per­son­ally, I am very sur­prised that this can hap­pen pro­vid­ing the fence has been prop­erly in­stalled, un­less storm or other dam­age has bro­ken part of the de­fences.

How­ever, hav­ing re­cently seen one ot­ter fence I can now un­der­stand how this can hap­pen. Trag­i­cally a club has in­stalled a pro­fes­sion­ally-built fence around a 10-acre wa­ter but the in­stal­la­tion of the fence has bro­ken so many of the fun­da­men­tal es­sen­tial rules that are needed to get ef­fec­tive pro­tec­tion, that a leaky bucket stands up well by com­par­i­son! To make this plain, the er­rors on in­stal­la­tion mean that the fence might as well not be there, and they have wasted the £20,000 or so that this must have cost to in­stall.

So what ‘er­rors’ am I talk­ing of? Let’s go back to March 2005 when Spe­cial­ist An­glers Al­liance first pub­lished fenc­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion re­sults in a re­port:

The use of fenc­ing to pre­vent ac­cess by ot­ters to fish­eries

The re­port was com­mis­sioned by the Spe­cial­ist An­glers Al­liance, us­ing EA fund­ing to pay for the work, and it set out to de­fine the fenc­ing needed to keep ot­ters out of fish­eries. Our bench­mark was a wa­ter in Suf­folk which had what we be­lieved was the first ef­fec­tive fenc­ing any­where in the UK. So we toured the site with ot­ter ex­pert, Ge­off Liles, and oth­ers, to see this nine-acre wa­ter, which had put up the fenc­ing a few years back, and which had suc­cess­fully ex­cluded all ot­ter in­cur­sions since.

It was just as well that the ot­ters had given up try­ing, though. Hinged fenc­ing didn’t ex­ist then, so chicken wire was used for the 18” an­gled out­turn at the top and wired to the up­right main fence, at six-inch in­ter­vals. Ge­off no­ticed two of th­ese small se­cur­ing wires had come off, and we were told in no un­cer­tain terms that: “Any ot­ter fol­low­ing this fence round the fish­ery will find that break, even though it’s not im­me­di­ately ob­vi­ous to the eye, and they will get in. The fence might as well not be here”.

We chal­lenged that – one tiny break in a fence cov­er­ing nine-acres; could a sin­gle ot­ter re­ally find that? Well, he had no mo­tive for high­light­ing this other than a de­sire to help an­glers, and avoid con­flict be­tween us and the con­ser­va­tion lobby (of which he was part) who were en­thu­si­as­ti­cally wel­com­ing the re­turn of the pro­tected ot­ter.

Just think on that, one tiny gap in that huge

length of fenc­ing, ren­der­ing the whole thing use­less. In the years lead­ing up to the re­port I had many oc­ca­sions to use Ge­off’s fund of knowl­edge on ot­ter be­hav­iour, and he was never proved even slightly wrong on any of it, so I trusted his judge­ment im­plic­itly. He was the key mem­ber of the team that then used cap­tive an­i­mals at an ot­ter sanc­tu­ary to ex­haus­tively test some pro­tec­tive fenc­ing he had seen, along with many vari­ants, on those ot­ters. Ba­si­cally the sanc­tu­ary had an ot­ter on one side, and food on the other side, sep­a­rated by the fence they wanted to try. The de­sign we now use of 18-inches buried un­der­ground (or laid out flat away from the wa­ter and well pegged down for rocky or soggy ground), an up­right fence with an 18-inch out-turn, and close fit­ting gates over sub­stan­tial lin­tels to stop bur­row­ing un­der­neath, has stood the test of time. Re­fine­ments have been made of course, in­te­gral hinged out-turn of the wire be­ing the best, but there are now so­lu­tions, too, for streams en­ter­ing and leav­ing a fish­ery and many oth­ers.

But the ba­sic ‘golden rules’ of in­stalling th­ese fences still ap­ply. The tini­est er­rors like the one I out­lined giv­ing a nar­row gap in the wire, will al­low an ot­ter to gain ac­cess to your fish­ery, and turn your fence into an ex­pen­sive waste of time and ef­fort.

So what mis­takes, lack of at­ten­tion per­haps, are be­ing made? I have seen the fol­low­ing, as il­lus­trated, on just one venue:

1. Whole stretches of fence, where for ease of con­struc­tion, the fence had not been buried, but laid on the sur­face of the ground fac­ing out, but not pegged down. It would take sec­onds for an ot­ter to get un­der.

2. In places the fence runs very close to trees, in some cases ac­tu­ally laid against the tree trunk. An ot­ter can climb the up­right tree trunk and be over the fence in no time at all. Even when the out-turn from the posts is only close to a tree, re­mem­ber an ot­ter can jump the gap, again very eas­ily.

3. Pur­pose-made holes in the gates so the ac­cess bolts are easy to op­er­ate are prob­a­bly big enough for a young ot­ter to get through.

4. As if that wasn’t enough, the gap be­tween the gate and the main fence is large and a clear run-through.

So all those er­rors were made in one fence in­stal­la­tion? Ba­sics fol­lowed? Not here, and pos­si­bly on many other wa­ters, too. How of­ten are clubs wast­ing all their time, money, and ef­fort – plus then hav­ing the sight of a fence all round them – for noth­ing? Watch the fine de­tails both of how your fence is in­stalled and the ever-es­sen­tial main­te­nance, or you will lose out when ot­ters come your way. There will then be car­cases on the bank and pos­si­bly a bill of £500 a day to em­ploy a li­censed ot­ter trap­per.

If you know ex­am­ples of where this has hap­pened, or can ex­pand on the slip-ups out­lined here, please share them with the PAG to help oth­ers avoid mak­ing the same mis­takes.

Chris Burt, po­lit­i­cally in­volved on be­half of carp and spe­cial­ist an­glers since the late 80s ABOVE

ABOVE When you go to the trou­ble of erect­ing a fence, or hav­ing one erected, make sure it is ot­ter-proof!

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