Protecting Trees

A Feral Pest

Feral animals such as deer, hare, and rabbits are a curse to the establishment of new trees and shrubs. Sheep and kangaroos are also not too kind to emerging or young seedlings.

Deer at Aristida Drift

Whether trees and shrubs are self-sown or planted by human hand, they are at risk of being eaten down to almost nothing, thrashed around by rutting male deer, pulled to bits by female deer, or ring-barked by kangaroos and deer.

The end result can be devastating.

Deer damage

Deer on "Aristida Drift"

In a single month in 2010 at our property "Aristida Drift", nearly 100 young trees were badly affected by the treatment meted out by feral deer. 

Damage of a young native pine from deer on  "Aristida Drift"


Damage of a young spotted gum on "Aristida Drift" 

(above and right)

The economic cost was estimated at about $1500, because each tree would have had at least a $15 value, maybe a lot more if all costs are factored in. The economic cost would be significantly higher if future value was considered.

The environmental cost would be the loss of the tree if it wasn't able to produce regrowth. Other costs include loss of shape, stunted growth, exposure to disease.

No Resources To Combat The Feral Deer Problem

What can be done about animal damage and young trees and shrubs?

Once upon a time, back in the good old days when Northern & Yorke Natural Resources Management Board was responsible for feral animal control, tiny things started to happen. 

I was involved in an initial deer survey in 2007.

If you read this page at the N&Y NRM Board website, you'd think that there's action happening now, today.

But, sadly … no. 

Here we are in January 2014, and Northern & Yorke Natural Resources Management Board is almost a non-functional entity, since it was "culled" and absorbed into Department of Environment Water and Natural Resources. Well, that's my view anyway, regardless of what the outside "appearances" are.

Click on the Staff link on the About Us page and you're taken back to the Home Page. There's no "staff". They're gone. But that's another story. 

However, the information on the feral deer control program page is out of date. To my knowledge, that control program didn't get going. 

"Control" is left in the hands of land owners. Counter-measures include shooting and fencing, both not cheap options.

So, is there another way?

Simple thinking

Here are two examples of keeping animals away from young trees and shrubs … at least until they are of a size where they're left alone.


These images are in an open Red Stringybark (Eucalyptus macrorhyncha) woodland. Notice the tree branches in the foreground in the left image, and a close-up in the right image. 

This idea came from a friend, who witnessed a protective system using thorny growth around villages in Africa. Applying the same principle, he placed tree prunings around young seedlings.

The idea is that animals don't like to scramble over branches. So far it seems to be working.

It's fairly labour intensive to gather and place the branches around the plant, but it's a practical use of felled material or prunings. Also, the circle of branches will create a micro ecosystem that will aid the future health of the plant.


By 2006 at "Aristida Drift", the deer problem had escalated from nuisance to becoming a significant issue in terms of our agroforestry and biodiversity systems. Each year we would plant our usual 500-800 trees, shrubs, and groundcover plants, but the risk of losing many of them to deer had become acute.

The smell of fresh earth where new plants were placed into the ground was very attractive to deer, and the result was the extraction of plants. Some were nipped off, others were pulled out.

The other concern has been ring-barking, and the culprits are not only deer but also hares and kangaroos. It's tough trying to rehabilitate the environment!

So, something different had to be done. 

In 2006, the first ring fencing around a planting cell using second-hand materials (barbed wire from a defunct fence, and fencing droppers) was established. It worked, but there was still room for improvement; I didn't like the use of barbed wire, and the fence needed to be higher. 

By 2010, the deer problem had worsened, and so the fencing system included second-hand sheep fencing wire, droppers, tree pruning sticks lashed to the droppers to get extra height, and polypropylene twine in two strings around the sticks.

It worked. By 2013, six of these planting cells had been created; four in 2013 alone. 

The 2010 cells have been removed.

What's been your experience?

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