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!