Fencing waterways


2 min read

Planning your fencing Fencing in flood prone areas Maintaining access Additional resources

Fencing waterways has many benefits, including protecting freshwater from nutrients, effluent and sediment, improving water quality, and creating habitat for birds and freshwater species. Along with protecting waterways, new fencing can be an opportunity to improve grazing management and stock control.

Planning your fencing

When planning your fencing, make sure you meet national stock exclusion regulations. These state that dairy cattle must not have access to lakes and wide rivers and that new fences must be at least 3 metres from the edge of the bed of the waterbody.

Note that the regulations for intensive winter grazing are different. These require livestock to be kept at least 5 metres from the bed of any river, lake, wetland or drain (regardless of whether there is any water in it at the time).

For waterways, your fence does not have to be exactly at the same distance from the bed into the paddock along its whole length. You may like to consider increasing the distance at certain points to encompass particular risks to water quality, such as critical source areas.

As well as fencing lakes and waterways, fencing should be extended to protect seeps, wetlands, swamps, springs and critical source areas. Keep in mind, fencing in erosion or flood prone areas may need a wider set back than other areas.

Start by mapping your waterways and creating a fencing plan. Consider the overall layout of your farm.

Plan out fence lines and crossing points. Think about whether a waterway might change course or meander over time, which could mean fencing adjustments need to be made.

If you are planning on planting your riparian margin, it’s best to have the fence between the paddock and the plantings so they are protected from livestock. This might mean that the fence is placed is further from the waterway than the regulations require.

Once fenced, the riparian area will require continuous weed, pest and animal control. Planting these areas is worthwhile as there are many benefits for your farm and the environment – for more information, see our riparian planting and biodiversity pages.

Fencing in flood-prone areas

If you are fencing in flood-prone areas, consider the following:

  • Use fewer upright posts and less wire – this way less debris will catch on the fence. Do not use netting as it will trap debris.
  • Put wires on the downstream back side of posts so the staples pop and the wire drops rather than pulling out the posts and strainers.
  • Use un-barbed staples so wires can pop off more easily.
  • Erect fences parallel with the way the stream floods so the fence does not collect debris.
  • Have fences further back where active erosion is occurring.
  • Construct separate ‘blow-out’ sections across flood channels.
  • Avoid using battens in flood-prone sections to reduce snagging.
  • Use insulators that can be dropped before a flood event.
  • Consider using tape instead of wire as it’s easier to repair after a flood.
  • If the flow levels are usually low, consider where the bottom wire is in relation to flood levels and move it slightly higher.

Maintaining access

If you need to maintain access for machinery to clean weeds, silt or debris from your waterway, consider these options:

  • Build an electric fence that can be dropped or removed to allow access.
  • Use pinlock insulators so the wires can easily be lowered for machinery to cross.
  • Position the fence so that a long-reach digger can reach over the top.
  • For wide waterways, place a fence far enough back to allow a digger to work between the fence and the bank. This approach still allows for a wide grassy margin, and you can plant low-growing plants on the waterway margin if you wish. Do not cut off gateways that give diggers access to neighbouring paddocks.
Last updated: May 2024

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