Tropical Savannas CRC > Education & Training > PhD projects 2001-2007 > Benefits of fencing riparian zones

TS-CRC Student project - The effectiveness of riparian fencing for biodiversity conservation

Charles Darwin University

Nicole Cranston

Background | Methodology | Supervisors |


 Riparian zones are vital elements of the savanna landscape. Their contribution to biodiversity, cultural values and the economy is disproportionate to the small area they occupy. They are important for maintaining savanna and in-stream biodiversity, stream channel morphology and water quality. However, savanna riparian zones are highly vulnerable to the effects of disturbances such as weed invasion, feral animals, fire, over-grazing and subsequent erosion. The appropriate management of riparian areas is a significant issue for landholders to maximise productivity, maintain the health of their country and help to maintain regional biodiversity values.

In the past decade, land management groups around Australia have invested large amounts of money in the protection and rehabilitation of riparian habitats. Extensive areas of riparian river frontage have been fenced-off throughout the Victoria River District, to limit access by cattle and feral animals, and to promote rehabilitation of degraded areas. As well as improving stock management, it is generally assumed riparian fencing has significant environmental value and enhances biodiversity values.

However, there has actually been no detailed evaluation of the benefits of riparian fencing, both for biodiversity and production. It is also now apparent that new management issues are arising in some fenced riparian zones, such as the spread of weeds and the control of fire. It is important to rigorously investigate these issues, in part to ensure that maximum benefit is gained form future investments in environmental management on pastoral lands. Therefore, this project aims to evaluate the effectiveness of fencing for conserving savanna riparian biodiversity.


The Victoria River District contains sites with varying histories of riparian fencing and provides a unique opportunity to conduct research to determine how effective riparian fencing has been in protecting rivers, and what management issues have arisen as a result of fencing. In, this project, we seek to work with a number of landholders in the region to investigate these issues.

The project will have two main components:

  • A survey of the views of pastoral managers in relation to riparian management. We aim to collect information about why people have undertaken riparian fencing, what benefits it has brought to them and the environment; what problems it may have created; and whether further effort should be expended in this area. We are also seeking to determine the location and extent or riparian fencing, and the economic costs and benefits associated with it.
  • Detailed on-ground surveys of riparian biodiversity in the VRD. During these surveys, we will measure elements of riparian habitats including soils, vegetation, birds and ants, to build up a picture of the condition of riparian zones. If possible, these surveys will be carried out in fenced and unfenced riparian zones with a range of management histories.

The results from both the survey of pastoral land managers and the survey of the condition of the riparian zones will be brought together to assist landholders in the region to make management decisions that will help maintain the health of the riparian landscape, as well as maximising economic benefits. The results will also help develop recommendations to assist people in policy, management and investment positions.


Dr Michael Douglas, NTU
Dr Samantha Setterfield, NTU
Dr Alaric Fisher, NT DIPE