High cost of fencing out ferals in Australia’s Alps

Feral Herald |

The Bogong High Plains is an area of outstanding biodiversity and landscape values in the heart of Victoria’s Alpine National Park, writes our Victorian deer project officer, Peter Jacobs.

For decades conservationists campaigned to have cattle grazing removed due to the serious impacts hard-hoofed grazing animals were having on biodiversity, particularly the sensitive alpine peatlands. Cattle grazing was paused while the area recovered from the 2003 bushfires and the last licences for alpine grazing were finally withdrawn by the Victorian Government in 2006.

Tragically, the area is now under threat from other hard-hoofed introduced animals, more recently, sambar deer, leading to the need for new measures to protect important sites from the impacts of both sambar deer and feral horses.

This low fence is the type that kept cattle out of research sites for six decades.


The Bogong High Plains has been a focus for important alpine research for decades.

In 1945 Maisie Fawcett, a pioneering botanist from Melbourne University, fenced cattle out from a couple of small areas on the high plains south of Falls Creek to test the response of native vegetation to the removal of cattle grazing.

One of those areas, the Rocky Valley site, is a five-hectare exclosure in a small catchment that contains a range of vegetation types – moss beds, snowgrass grassland, open heath, closed heath and a Carex-dominated late lying snowbank. The low fence kept cattle out for some 60 years but was removed after cattle were withdrawn.

Now, with the relatively recent occurrence and impacts of sambar deer on the Bogong High Plains, and the fresh occurrence of feral horses, deer and horse-proof fencing is needed to protect the integrity of the site and continue this critical, long-term research into the impacts of large hard-hoofed animals on alpine ecosystems.

High-cost fencing at New Species Gully in the Bogong High Plains is critical to protecting some of Australia's rarest alpine herbs and forbs from encroaching feral deer and horses.
High-cost fencing at New Species Gully in the Bogong High Plains is critical to protecting some of Australia’s rarest alpine herbs and forbs from encroaching feral deer and horses.

Threatened species

The Bogong High Plains contains a number of rare and threatened species and vegetation communities. Another long-term monitoring site: New Species Gully, contains some of the rarest alpine herbs and forbs in Australia. This includes the Caltha herbland vegetation community, which is listed as threatened under the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act (1998).

Within that community are a number of endangered species such as cushion caraway (Oreomyrrhis pulvinifica), small star-plantain (Plantago glacialis) and Parantennaria uniceps, all occurring on a delicate stony erosion pavement under a late melt snowpatch.

The value of this area was recognised decades ago and fenced by ecologists to protect it from cattle grazing. This fence was also removed after cattle were withdrawn but sambar deer and feral horses now threaten the integrity of this important site, along with several other similar sensitive and high value sites on the Bogong High Plains. Just a few visits by these feral animals in these delicate areas can have a long-term impact through trampling and browsing.

New fences, but at what cost?

The stakes are high, and these sites are now guarded by 2m high wire fences, designed to exclude feral deer and horses. The fences can be lowered to the ground during the snow period to ensure they are not a hazard for skiers and to prevent them from being damaged by snow pack.

While effectively protecting these important sites from feral deer and horses the new fences do have negative aspects and come at considerable cost. They are expensive to build (up to $50 a metre), require ongoing maintenance, need to be physically dropped and re-instated each year and have a significant visual impact on the outstanding treeless natural landscape of the Bogong High Plains.

This bold approach to the protection of biodiversity assets in natural areas raises a number of important questions. Do we continue to build fences across these landscapes to protect natural values from feral deer and horses, allow the damage to continue, or do we fight back hard against the invasion of these feral intruders to protect our pristine natural areas?

The removal of feral horses continues to be a vexed issue within the community and their presence on the Bogong High Plains remains for now. Parks Victoria has been active in trialling deer control methods in alpine areas and carrying out deer culling programs.

However, to date this hasn’t alleviated the need for expensive and intrusive fences to protect assets and indicates feral deer and horses are continuing to have significant impacts on otherwise protected areas.

Further substantial action is needed to protect our precious biodiversity from these feral animals.

* These long-term monitoring plots continue to be part of this important long term research undertaken these days through the La Trobe University led Research Centre for Applied Alpine Ecology’s long-term plot monitoring network.


Research Centre for Applied Alpine Ecology >>

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Help protect NSW!

Our expert team has written a list of policy asks detailing exactly what the next NSW government needs to do to stamp out some of the worst invasive species impacts across the state. But they will only become a reality if every key political candidate at the 2023 NSW state election hears about it from you!

Dear National Deer Management Coordinator,

Please accept this as a submission to the National Feral Deer Action Plan.

[Your personalised message will appear here] 

I am very concerned about the spread of deer and am pleased that a national plan has finally been developed. Without urgent action, funding and commitment from all levels of government it is clear that feral deer will continue to spread and damage our environment.

The feral deer population in Australia is growing rapidly and spreading across the country, damaging our natural environment, causing havoc for farmers and foresters and threatening public safety. Unlike much of the world where deer are native, our plants and wildlife haven’t evolved to deal with these heavy hard hooved animals with a voracious appetite.
With no natural predators and an ability to adapt to almost all environments, they could occupy almost all of Australia unless stopped. Despite this, state and territory governments have been slow to respond and in Victoria and Tasmania they are still protected by law for the enjoyment of hunters.

This plan should be adopted by all governments but must also be underpinned by dedicated funding and clear responsibilities. A plan without funding or accountability is a plan that will fail and Australia cannot afford for this to fail.

In order to prevent the spread of feral deer and reduce their impact on our native wildlife, ecosystems and agriculture, I ask that the following recommendations be adopted for the final National Feral Deer Action Plan:

1. All federal, state and territory governments should adopt the National Feral Deer Action Plan and declare feral deer to be a priority pest animal species.

2. All federal, state and territory governments should commit to:

  • Contain deer to the existing large population areas.
  • Reduce and eradicate smaller and isolated populations.
  • Protect important environmental assets such as world and national heritage areas.
  • Develop and fund regional plans and strategies to manage deer populations which involve land managers across all tenures.

3. In order to drive action and the success of this plan, there should be dedicated Commonwealth funding and support for:

  • A permanent national feral deer coordinator position.
  • A permanent federal feral deer action committee with representatives from the commonwealth and state and territory governments and the environmental and agricultural sectors.
  • An ongoing public education campaign on feral deer.
  • A network of regional feral deer coordinators to drive local action across tenures.

4. The expected outcomes for the plan need to be more ambitious, with clear interim targets including:

  • Within one year, all States and Territories should have in place arrangements to implement the National Feral Deer Action Plan, including allocating dedicated funding for implementation.
  • Within one year, feral deer management plans should be developed for key environmental assets of national significance, including the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, the Greater Blue Mountains, the Australian Alps, the Gondwana Rainforests and the Wet Tropics of Queensland.
  • Within five years coordinated landscape scale management should be in place where land owners, land managers, government and community are demonstrably working together.

5. A national feral deer containment map with three zones should be adopted. It should be more ambitious than the zone map in the current draft plan and there should be greater clarity in the naming of the zones. Improvements that should be adopted include:

  • Renaming the zones to better reflect the management intention to ‘Containment Zone 1’ (the current large population zone), ‘Containment Buffer Zone 2’ (the current buffer zone) and ‘Eradication and prevention Zone 3’ (the current small isolated population zone).
  • The NSW northern rivers area should be in the eradication and prevention zone as there are few feral deer currently in this region and eradicating isolated populations and preventing spread into this area is still possible.
  • The whole of South Australia should be in the eradication and prevention zone as eradication is the goal of the SA Government.
  • The Tasmanian region in the containment zone should be smaller to reflect greater ambition and potential for eradication of deer populations.
  • In eastern Victoria areas such as Wilson’s Promontory, Westernport islands and the Mornington Peninsula should be in the eradication and prevention zone.

6. There should be consistent laws and regulations across all states and territories that:

  • Recognise feral deer as a pest animal and treat them as such.
  • Establish a clear responsibility for all landholders and managers to be involved in feral deer control programs.
  • Set clear penalties to stop the wilful or negligent release of feral deer.
  • Prevent new deer farms in areas where no feral deer are present and phase out all deer farms in the eradication and prevention zone.
  • Enable enforcement of compliance, including on government land.

I support the follow principles being adopted in the final National Feral Deer Action Plan:

  • Feral deer are a pest and should be treated as such on all tenures, except on approved deer farms.
  • Federal, state and territory governments have a responsibility to fund the outcomes under this plan.
  • All land managers in areas where feral deer are present have a responsibility to be involved in feral deer control programs.
  • The focus of management efforts should be on eradication of isolated, satellite populations, protection of key environmental assets currently impacted and stopping the spread to new regions.
  • Feral deer control should be undertaken humanely, safely and professionally according to agreed protocols and all tools which meet this criteria should be adopted, including aerial control.
  • Funding for coordination, regional planning and community engagement is necessary for effective feral deer management.
  • Ongoing management and follow up control efforts are required to achieve long lasting results.
  • Rules and regulations should be consistent across jurisdictions and land tenures.
  • Recreational hunting is not an effective strategy for feral deer control and should not be relied upon.
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