Deer with leg trapped in top of barbed wire fence

Fallow deer killed jumping a fence in The South Downs National Park

This really is a horrible sight. This is what happens when a deer traps a leg between the top two wires of a stock fence. It leads to the slow, painful and agonising death of the deer. It’s upsetting to see – especially when (like this) it happens twice in a week. But worst of all, it’s totally avoidable. Let me explain why.

The first time I heard about deer getting their legs trapped between two strands of barbed wire at the top of fences was when I was a boy. We were on a family holiday in Scotland when I saw photos in a visitor centre of Red Deer that had been trapped by their legs whilst jumping over farm fences. I can clearly remember the visitor centre guide saying that they had made a decision to stop using this type of fence on the estate, explaining that one wire rather than two was more than enough for keeping sheep and cattle in a field, but would allow deer to move unhindered over the fences.

Roll forward 30 years and here on The South Downs very little has changed. We really are a backward country when it comes to managing some aspects of the countryside. Some national parks such as The Peak District National Park Authority provide guidance for stock proof fencing. Their preference is for one strand of barbed wire on fences. I’ve looked all over the South Downs National Park website and I can’t find any stock fence guidance for our area.

The irony is that installing one wire is actually cheaper than installing two wires, and one wire is just as effective as two. I chatted with a local fence installer who confirmed that “Materials are much better these days, we could run higher netting and then you’d only need one wire. Not really sure why we put two wires at the top, I guess it’s just the way it’s always been done”.

The fence in the photo marks the boundary to Bepton Down which is an SSSI on The Cowdray Estate. Cowdray claim to take be an holistic estate which cares about the land, but in reality they’re not that great at looking after the countryside. I contacted the Estate Office about the two deer that had been trapped in the fence last week, and I asked them if they would consider using one wire rather than two for future fencing projects? They didn’t even have the courtesy to reply to my message… Such is their holistic approach to managing the land and their attitude to local people and their concerns.

For the foreseeable future deer in the UK will continue to be trapped by their legs between the top two wires on farm fences – and will continue to die in the most horrific way imaginable. Old ways will need to change before outdated fencing becomes more more friendly to wildlife. Contact your local landowner if you’re worried or concerned – but if they’re anything like Cowdray you might not get very far…

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