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A fence for the ages

 
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I want to install my zone 1 garden and after some trial and error, I have just one spot remaining in my garden, that makes sense. This zone 1 garden will be my fourth attempt and installing a veggie plot in as many years; I have tried various unfenced options, preferring not to create ugly boundaries, but the rabbit /pigeon pressure is just too great. I live with a woodland on my boundary and the critters come in in large numbers. I've written on these forums about both subjects before, but have not come up with a fencing solution that is viable.

I am trying to find a solution for my fencing needs, that balances robustness, with beauty and yield. However, this is an unusual spot; on two sides is a steep bank, making up part of an earth bank flood defence - I have attached a representative image. I cannot remove the bank, I cannot tamper with the bank - local government requires it as part of the local flood defence system. I can however plant shrubs (but not trees), or other smaller plants into the bank, so a hedge of some description would be OK

My most recent idea was to install a agricultural style fence, with rabbitproof wire, which would be tall enough to bury all around the perimeter. This would create an unsightly fence (this area is very visible from the house), but I anticipated planting the hedge all around to 'lose' the fence - servicing a yield, as well as a more visibly pleasing boundary, not to mention a wildlife corridor of sorts.

However, advice from a pro fence installer tells me this is destined to fail, at least by my metrics - the fence will have a lifespan of 10-15 years, before the fence posts rot out. Additionally, because the ground is often moist here (hence the flood defence), I have also been told to expect the rabbit wire that would be buried, to be prone to the same issue of rotting away, over maybe 5-10 years. Even if I got 20 years out of the fence and wire, to pull it all out, would be an enormous and disruptive job down the road, not to mention that the hedge would also require completely starting again. This seems like excessive work and to have to keep wholesale replacing every 10-15 years, feels very expensive and resource intensive.

However, I am having little luck in finding another solution. The primary issue is the flood defence that surrounds the proposed fence on two sides. If it were not there, I could install the fence, plant a hedge on the inside, and simply deal with the fence when necessary. I could also maintain the ground all around the outside of the fence with a weed whacker or similar. Not ideal but markedly easier  The steepness of the bank will make that very difficult in the proposed plan.

At the moment, this earth bank is strimmed/weed whacked as required, but installing fence at its base will make that nigh on impossible (at the moment my access to strim the bottom half of the bank, is by standing at the fulcrum point with the strimmer). The base of the fence, over time, will also act as a gathering point for leaves, weeds, grass etc.

With my permit hat on, that problem was the solution; planting a hedge and removing the grass might mean a self mulching (and potentially watering) area to plant a hedge, at least on the sides with the earth bank. That would hide the fence and deal with both issues at the same time, however, every fencing option I explore, seems to have a lifespan of 10-15 years max, before either the fence posts rot out, or the rabbit wire that has been buried, also rots, meaning a full replacement.

Even installing something using a rot 'proof' timber such as chestnut (I'm in the UK), doesn't solve the problem of the rabbit wire rotting out.

I've toyed with moving the fence location, either creating an alleyway between the veggie garden and the bank, or massively expanding the fenced area, meaning the fence would ride over the flood defence and end at a more accessible point (another simple drawing is attached). Reducing the area makes a garden that is unworkably skinny in places, not to mention would look extremely odd from an aesthetic perspective. Expanding the area would work, but would again, be extremely unsightly, and be creating unnecessarily large area that would be fenced in.

In summary, the fence position at the base of the bank feels right, so I am hoping there is some wise experience here that I can lean on, to help me put together a workable way of maintaining this area, over the coming years.

I really hope this makes sense and sincerely appreciate anyone's input and ideas. Attached should be a view of what the area looks like now, as well as a couple of simple drawings illustrating some of the ideas I have had.

PS: rabbit / critter control is a requirement of my plan too - probably with an air rifle. I expect that to ease, but not eradicate the pressure and regardless, it will not do away with my need for a protected area. I cannot control them entirely as predominantly, they live outside my property boundaries.
Rabbit-Fence-1.jpeg
a view of the earth bank on two sides
a view of the earth bank on two sides
Zone-1-Fence.jpg
Simple drawing of the proposed fence location
Simple drawing of the proposed fence location
Zone-1-Expanded-Fence.jpg
A simple drawing of the expanded fence idea. It would be really odd from the other side, not to mention create a strange barrier across the top of the fence.
A simple drawing of the expanded fence idea. It would be really odd from the other side, not to mention create a strange barrier across the top of the earth bank.
 
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Nice garden and nice illustrations - they make it very easy to understand your problem and requirements.

It sounds as though your main objective is to exclude rabbits, is that correct? Do you also have deer that come into your garden to eat your veggies? What about badgers? They have been known to cause havok too.

You could consider planting a hedge and then fencing alone one side of it. If you fenced along the inside this would lessen the visual impact of the fence significantly. The downside of this approach is that the fence doesn't serve to protect the sapling hedge and you might need to use tree guards (I don't recommend these unless absolutely necessary) or another, temporary fence on the outside.

The separate hedge and fence would allow you to repair or replace the fence without affecting the hedge planting. The hedge becomes a wildlife habitat and a potential yield (damsons, sloes, blackberries, crab apples, rose, wood for crafting and fuel) and the fence a barrier to keep it away from your tender plants. You could also consider laying the hedge eventually, once it reaches 6-8' high, which would thicken it up (and possibly act as some deer protection*, though they might just jump it) and reduce the height to let in more light. I personally love the look of a laid hedge.

Good-quality chestnut fence posts are a good idea. You will have to replace them eventually - from what I've heard 20 years sounds like an accurate guess - but they will last much longer than the horrible, pressure-treated softwood posts. Old, oak heartwood fence posts seem to last much longer than that but I suspect that they are cripplingly expensive, if available at all. Another option would be to scorch the ends of your posts and soak them in oil (nasty old engine oil is supposed to be very effective but I don't think this is environmentally sound, nor a good idea near an edible garden).

To make life easier, you could lay the fencing along the ground for 2' before it becomes the vertical fence. This is often used when fencing chicken enclosures and foxes can't dig underneath it. I suspect that it would stop most other critters too.

* I've heard that parallel hedges, fences, or a mixture of both will prevent deer from crossing a boundary as they don't like landing in narrow places.
 
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Admittedly I am in a dry climate, but we replaced the wood in our fence right as covid was starting. I won't tell you how long the wood will last, but we reused the existing posts.  Thick galvanized pipes cemented into the ground.  I am fairly sure they were put in place in the 1970's.  Even in a wet climate I  don't see these degrading as fast as 10 years.  A very basic fence style here is to use old steelpipes from oil fields to frame out cheaper wire.  The wire is cheaply and easily replaced if necessary and a coat of paint helps stop rust.  Choose the right color and it disappears in the landscape, especially as the wire is nearly invisible from a distance
 
Casie Becker
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Actually, here's a link to a texas fencing company just so you can see a few versions of what I am talking about.   I see the second one most often but I suspect the third one is most to your tastes.

https://farmandranchfences.com/pipe_fence/

Forgot to post the link.
 
Casie Becker
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Actually I do have a question about the digging abilities of the rabbits.  If you dug a trench and filled it with large rubble (I'd have enough limestone for the purpose but old broken cement, bricks, tiles and such would probably also fit my question) would a rabbit dig through that if there wasn't a wire?  If not maybe you could put a French drain style rabbit barrier that would also help drain water away from your fence faster at the same time.

Sorry about the flood of posts.  For some reason your problem caught my imagination this morning.
 
Mj Lacey
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Luke Mitchell wrote:Nice garden and nice illustrations - they make it very easy to understand your problem and requirements.

It sounds as though your main objective is to exclude rabbits, is that correct? Do you also have deer that come into your garden to eat your veggies? What about badgers? They have been known to cause havok too.

You could consider planting a hedge and then fencing alone one side of it. If you fenced along the inside this would lessen the visual impact of the fence significantly. The downside of this approach is that the fence doesn't serve to protect the sapling hedge and you might need to use tree guards (I don't recommend these unless absolutely necessary) or another, temporary fence on the outside.

The separate hedge and fence would allow you to repair or replace the fence without affecting the hedge planting. The hedge becomes a wildlife habitat and a potential yield (damsons, sloes, blackberries, crab apples, rose, wood for crafting and fuel) and the fence a barrier to keep it away from your tender plants. You could also consider laying the hedge eventually, once it reaches 6-8' high, which would thicken it up (and possibly act as some deer protection*, though they might just jump it) and reduce the height to let in more light. I personally love the look of a laid hedge.

Good-quality chestnut fence posts are a good idea. You will have to replace them eventually - from what I've heard 20 years sounds like an accurate guess - but they will last much longer than the horrible, pressure-treated softwood posts. Old, oak heartwood fence posts seem to last much longer than that but I suspect that they are cripplingly expensive, if available at all. Another option would be to scorch the ends of your posts and soak them in oil (nasty old engine oil is supposed to be very effective but I don't think this is environmentally sound, nor a good idea near an edible garden).

To make life easier, you could lay the fencing along the ground for 2' before it becomes the vertical fence. This is often used when fencing chicken enclosures and foxes can't dig underneath it. I suspect that it would stop most other critters too.

* I've heard that parallel hedges, fences, or a mixture of both will prevent deer from crossing a boundary as they don't like landing in narrow places.



Thanks, Luke; you can see the work in progress...!

Deer do not come into our garden currently; the woodland on our boundary is not massive and I don't think significant enough to support deer. Rabbits and rats are the only issues I've been aware of; the former significant, the latter a small amount because I am also near a body of water.

I have thought of planting a hedge on one side of the fence only - that's my only option right now. Installing a chestnut fence also seems to be my robust option. To make it work, though, I would need to plant the hedge 1/3 - 1/2 way up the earth bank in order that it has the room to 'bush out', but also so the fence is sufficiently far away as to be replaceable as the time came. I also have to consider the difference between bush and tree, with the restriction mentioned above from the local authority that has some say over the maintenance of the bank. We've laid a hedge elsewhere on the property, removing a physical fence. I love that a laid hedge is worst on its first day, the inverse of a fence.

Laying the fencing across the ground rather than digging in is an idea I had thought of too - Martin Crawford and the Agroforestry Research Trust advocates that idea. I suppose I am asking for the moon on a stick; I want to be careful not to install an unsustainable solution and know that I have considered all my options.

 
Mj Lacey
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Casie Becker wrote:Actually I do have a question about the digging abilities of the rabbits.  If you dug a trench and filled it with large rubble (I'd have enough limestone for the purpose but old broken cement, bricks, tiles and such would probably also fit my question) would a rabbit dig through that if there wasn't a wire?  If not maybe you could put a French drain style rabbit barrier that would also help drain water away from your fence faster at the same time.

Sorry about the flood of posts.  For some reason your problem caught my imagination this morning.



Thank you, Cassie - privileged to grab your attention! I hadn't considered a metal fence. That seems very industrial, but no doubt would last an age.

The rubble-filled trench is an idea worthy of exploration, for sure. I discussed the idea with the fence installer I know - he thought it wouldn't work, but I wonder if that's just because he's never seen it done. Much of the difficulty here is I have little to no room for error. The cost of this installation is likely to be significant. As I say, it's my fourth attempt at a veg garden; you can see in one of the images, the remnants of another. I feel like I am ruining the garden, trying to come up with a solution. I have somehow found myself on such a complex piece of land! On precisely zero occasions have I run into a problem that someone else has some experience with, at least not that I've found. Even the neighbours - who have been here for over 40 years - have never had a rabbit issue. I think that our garden is acting as a barrier for them, but who knows; even local knowledge is not helping me!
 
Casie Becker
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Around here it's pretty all purpose if you're not building a privacy fence.  My fence only has the metal posts to support a privacy fence.  A lot of people with children or small dogs use short versions of these in the front yard because there's usually height limitations on front yard fences.  Mostly it's farm fencing, but I think that is part of the charm.  
 
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I have built a lot of fences and may be able to help.
- Any fence built in the flood zone may be pushed over by flood waters.
- Fences are only unsightly if you dont realise the benefits.
- I use only steel posts, usually from 2 inch water pipe or second hand parking sign posts.
- special boltable fittings are available to easily connect pipes, instead of welding them.
- Then I would instal a traditional farm fence mesh of a suitable size, ensuring the corners are stayed to prevent 'pull over'.
- Any rabbit fencing needs to work, so ask around.
T2540.jpg
one part of a 2 part pipe clamp fitting
one part of a 2 part pipe clamp fitting
 
Luke Mitchell
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I'm curious to know whether steel fencing outlasts durable timber by enough of a margin to be worth the extra costs? I'm talking about financial and environmental. I confess that I have no idea how long a decent metal fence would last but I do know that I've seen my fair share of rusty farm gates.

The modern, galvanised ones seem to fail much more quickly than the old, wrought iron fences and gates that you sometimes see. Perhaps they were treated more kindly, given a coat of enamel paint every so often. I imagine modern equivalents would be very costly, if available.

My other thought is that the embodied energy in a metal fence far exceeds that of a timber one. Chestnut posts will have been coppiced, likely in Kent (at least for UK stock), and so represent a sustainable carbon sink. The processing is minimal, just sawing to length and pointing. Some posts will have been split/cleft too. The list of processes required to extract, produce and transport a galvanised fence post are too long to bother listing but they require a lot of oil products, coal for smelting and heavy metals for the galvanising process.

Have you got a quote for the various options you are considering, Mj? I have costed up sheep mesh + chestnut post fences for our land and it isn't cheap. Your site looks fairly small though and I'd be surprised if the materials ran to more than £300. Each 1.8m post will cost you about £5.50, plus delivery. You can space these every 3m or so, with a larger post for the corners.

I do like the idea of a rubble-filled trench as a bunny barrier. I'm sure you could obtain rubble/hardcore for free if you spent a bit of time searching. Alternatively, natural stone is pretty cheap (I have paid £10/1000kg incl. delivery). An extension of this idea, which would surely be the most expensive option of the lot, is to build a stone wall that sits a foot or more down into the ground. You may be able to source wall stone for free too - in South Wales, where I used to live, it was often available as people pulled down outside toilets or old walls, free for the collector. Depending on your local climate and availability of clay you could also consider a limed cob wall (with an overhanging eave) - but this wouldn't last in a flood event.
 
Mj Lacey
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Luke Mitchell wrote:I'm curious to know whether steel fencing outlasts durable timber by enough of a margin to be worth the extra costs? I'm talking about financial and environmental. I confess that I have no idea how long a decent metal fence would last but I do know that I've seen my fair share of rusty farm gates.

The modern, galvanised ones seem to fail much more quickly than the old, wrought iron fences and gates that you sometimes see. Perhaps they were treated more kindly, given a coat of enamel paint every so often. I imagine modern equivalents would be very costly, if available.

My other thought is that the embodied energy in a metal fence far exceeds that of a timber one. Chestnut posts will have been coppiced, likely in Kent (at least for UK stock), and so represent a sustainable carbon sink. The processing is minimal, just sawing to length and pointing. Some posts will have been split/cleft too. The list of processes required to extract, produce and transport a galvanised fence post are too long to bother listing but they require a lot of oil products, coal for smelting and heavy metals for the galvanising process.

Have you got a quote for the various options you are considering, Mj? I have costed up sheep mesh + chestnut post fences for our land and it isn't cheap. Your site looks fairly small though and I'd be surprised if the materials ran to more than £300. Each 1.8m post will cost you about £5.50, plus delivery. You can space these every 3m or so, with a larger post for the corners.

I do like the idea of a rubble-filled trench as a bunny barrier. I'm sure you could obtain rubble/hardcore for free if you spent a bit of time searching. Alternatively, natural stone is pretty cheap (I have paid £10/1000kg incl. delivery). An extension of this idea, which would surely be the most expensive option of the lot, is to build a stone wall that sits a foot or more down into the ground. You may be able to source wall stone for free too - in South Wales, where I used to live, it was often available as people pulled down outside toilets or old walls, free for the collector. Depending on your local climate and availability of clay you could also consider a limed cob wall (with an overhanging eave) - but this wouldn't last in a flood event.



I had had the same thought about cost for metal, but it was an option I hadn't considered.

I have thought too, to build a stone wall; the property I live in is stone, and there are a number of dry stone walls around. It would look very nice, but as you say, expensive. It would also be tricky to know what to plant on the slope side of the wall; the maintenance issue would remain that strimming the grass would be very tough against the wall, so planting something outside it would make sense.
 
Luke Mitchell
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Here in Pembrokeshire it is typical for people to plant hedges on top of stone and grass hedgebanks - these are low (1' to 6') dry stone banks that are back-filled with rubble and soil. Blackthorn grows particularly well on these.

Sometimes, perhaps due to poor maintenance, these hedges seem to have died or been removed and a hedge has been planted (or grown up of its own accord) on one side of the bank. This looks quite nice and, particularly with thorny species, improves the stock proofing of the bank.

I wonder, in your situation, whether this might encourage critters up and over the wall however.

As for the cost of the stone wall, I believe they are expensive when you employ a contractor. I've heard figures of £100/m3 thrown around (this takes into account the width, so a wall of 100cm tall, 50cm deep and 200cm long is ~1m3). I've done some rough stone walling and not found it to be too challenging so, if you are feeling handy, you could have a go at building it yourself.

Photo of an old retaining wall that I have helped to repair. It took 3 of us about 3 hours, including a break for tea. We tore the entire wall down and rebuilt it to take out a forward lean.
stone-wall-repair.jpg
dry-stone-wall-repair
 
John C Daley
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The type of steel fencing I am talking about is similar to a typical farm fence with posts and wire / mesh.
The posts are made from round steel pipe and bolted with the clamps I showed.
download-20.jpg
[Thumbnail for download-20.jpg]
download-19.jpg
[Thumbnail for download-19.jpg]
 
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My Kleingarten plot is directly across the road from a park which is filled with rabbits.  Thus, everyone near that road sinks concrete patio stones vertically all along their garden fences.  They're about 50cm by 50 cm sunk so the top edges are just visible.

Caveats:
--This is obviously a lot of work
--I have no idea what chemicals are in the concrete
--Eventually the stones will come out of alignment and/or the rabbits will jump the fence and then you have a resident colony

But I have noted that beyond my garden and the one backing it, no one seems to need the sunk stones any more, and they don't seem to travel deeper along the packed dirt paths.
 
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