Fencing on public land - when is a fence a deathtrap?

4 September 2009

As the waters of the Lower Lakes recede, more and more dry lakebed is being exposed. People are naturally going for walks along the edge and using the area in new ways.

But who owns the dry lakebed?  Who has the right to use it?  Do farmers have the right to run a fence over the dry lakebed and out into the water?  Do people have the right to use the dry lakebed for walking, motorbiking, horseback riding and hovercrafts? 

In Australia,  land which is water frontage, whether beach, river or lake, is Crown Land, i.e., owned by the Commonwealth Government.  Crown land may be leased for agricultural purposes and in such cases suitable fencing may be permitted. Regardless though, members of the public absolutely have the right to enter water frontage crown land and use it for passive recreational purposes, such as walking, riding, or birdwatching.

Setting aside the legalities for just a moment, what about the damage done by cattle to potentially acidic soils?  After all, fences go to the water's edge in the first place presumably so cattle can drink.  Experts agree that the lakebed soils should not be disturbed. Damage by cattle hooves in soft mud has it's own special name -  'pugging'. DEH is aware that 'pugging' by cattle causes ASS disturbance and recommends that livestock should be fenced away from lakebed, not lead to it.

Alexandrina Council brushes it off, claiming it is crown land and not their responsibility.

Councils and landowners on Lake Alexandrina and Lake Albert should not be so cavalier though.  Accidents are already happening, and law suits will undoubtedly follow.  The LakesNeedWater team has been forwarded the following photographs from a person who was injured when they came across a 'man trap' style fence on the dry lakebed.  Out for a slow ride around the lake's edge, this person was unable to see the single strand of barbed wire until it was too late.  The strand he ran into spanned 18 metres without a single intermediate star dropper.  Not even a piece of construction tape as a warning.  Can you see the wire in the photo at left?  

This person was extremely lucky to survive, 10 cm to the left or right, and he would have bled to death on the lakes edge.  As it was, he was hospitalized for two days and has lasting injuries.  The photo at right is the detail of the distant lump in the lefthand photo. Notice the 'pugging' or damage to the lakebed floor by livestock hooves.  This area is one of DEH's 'at risk hotspots' and is on their bioremediation list.


This RCLAG newsletter from 2008 has a photo of a fence going into the water.  The author claims that the fence was erected from a dinghy.  How would you like to sail into that one?  Or now, how would you like to come across what's left of this fence on horseback or otherwise?

  2005 and 2008   

How about this fence?  Do you see it? Think a windsurfer would see it, or maybe a kid in a sailing dinghy? Would they see it soon enough to stop? This photo was taken September 2009.  Click on any photo to enlarge.

Landowners, you do not have the right to fence to the waters edge unless you have a specific lease for the crown land adjoining your property (and chances are, you don't).  

Take down these dangerous fences before someone gets killed, and help protect our delicate lakebeds from senseless damage by cattle.