A fence is a freestanding structure designed to restrict or prevent movement across a boundary. It is generally distinguished from a wall by the lightness of its construction: a wall is usually restricted to such barriers made from solid brick or concrete, blocking vision as well as passage (though the definitions overlap somewhat).
Fences are constructed for several purposes, including:
- Agricultural fencing, to keep livestock in or predators out
- Privacy fencing, to provide privacy
- Temporary fencing, to provide safety and security, and to direct movement, wherever temporary access control is required, especially on building and construction sites
- Perimeter fencing, to prevent trespassing or theft and/or to keep children and pets from wandering away.
- Decorative fencing, to enhance the appearance of a property, garden or other landscaping
- Boundary fencing, to demarcate a piece of real property
Various types of fencing include:
- Barbed wire fence
- Cactus fence
- Chain link fencing, sometimes called "wire netting"
- Concrete fence, easy to install and highly durable
- Chicken wire, light wire mesh for keeping predators out and chickens or other small livestock in
- Dry-stone wall or rock fence, often agricultural
- Electric fence
- Ha-ha (or sunken fence)
- Hedgerows of intertwined, living shrubs (constructed by hedge laying)
- High tensile smooth wire
- Hurdle fencing, made from moveable sections
- Leitner fencing, made from wiggly sections.
- Live fencing is the use of live woody species for fences.
- Pest-exclusion fence
- Pet fence Underground Fence for pet containment
- Picket fences, generally a waist-high, painted, partially decorative fence
- Pool fence
- Post-and-rail fencing
- Roundpole fences, similar to post and rail fencing but more closely spaced rails, typical of Scandinavia and other areas rich in raw timber.
- Slate fence, a type of palisade made of vertical slabs of slate wired together. Commonly used in parts of Wales.
- Snow fence
- Spear-top fence
- Split-rail fences made of timber, often laid in a zig-zag pattern, particularly in newly-settled parts of the United States and Canada
- Stake-and-wire fencing
- Turf mounds in semiarid grasslands such as the western United States or Russian steppes`
- Temporary fencing
- Vinyl fencing
- Wattle fencing, of split branches woven between stakes, or of moveable wattle hurdles.
- Wood-panel fencing
- Woven wire fencing, many designs, from fine Chicken wire to heavy mesh "sheep fence" or "ring fence"
- Wrought iron fencing, made from tube steel, also known as ornamental iron.
Alternatives to fencing are a hedge or a ditch (sometimes filled with water, forming a moat).
A balustrade or railing is a kind of fence to prevent people from falling over the edge, for example, on a balcony, stairway (see railing system), roof, bridge, or elsewhere near a body of water, places where people stand or walk and the terrain goes steeply down, and so on.
Requirement of use
The following types of areas or facilities often have to be fenced in:
- facilities with open high-voltage equipment (transformer stations, mast radiators). Transformer stations are usually surrounded with barbed-wire fences. Around mast radiators, wooden fences are used to avoid the problem of eddy currents.
- railway lines (in the United Kingdom)
- fixed machinery with dangerous mobile parts (for example at merry go rounds on entertainment parks)
- explosive factories and quarry stores
- most industrial plants
- military areas
- zoos and wildlife parks
- Pastures containing male breeding animals, notably bulls and stallions.
- open-air areas that charge an entry fee
- domestic swimming and spa pools
Fences can be the source of bitter arguments between neighbours, and there are often special laws to deal with these problems. Common disagreements include what kind of fence is required, what kind of repairs are needed, and how to share the costs.
In some legislatures the standard height of a fence is limited, and to exceed it a special permit is required.
Servitudes are legal arrangements of land use arising out of private agreements. Under the feudal
system, most land in England was cultivated in common fields, where peasants
were allocated strips of arable land
that were used to support the needs of the local village or manor
. By the sixteenth century
the growth of population and prosperity provided incentives for landowners to use their land in more profitable ways, dispossessing the peasantry. Common fields were aggregated and enclosed by large and enterprising farmers -- either through negotiation among one another or by lease from the landlord -- to maximize the productivity of the available land and contain livestock. Fences redefined the means by which land is used, resulting in the modern law of servitudes.
In the United States, the earliest settlers claimed land by simply fencing it in. Later, as the American government formed, unsettled land became technically owned by the government and programs to register land ownership developed, usually making raw land available for low prices or for free, if the owner improved the property, including the construction of fences. However, the remaining vast tracts of unsettled land were often used as a commons, or, in the American west, "open range." As degradation of habitat developed due to overgrazing and a tragedy of the commons situation arose, common areas began to either be allocated to individual landowners via mechanisms such as the Homestead Act and Desert Land Act and fenced in, or, if kept in public hands, leased to individual users for limited purposes, with fences built to separate tracts of public and private land.
Eastern European communist countries
In Eastern European former communist countries, such as Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and the former Soviet Union, fences (starting the 1950s until late 1980s) were deprecated and removed, in a move against "private property".
Where a fence forms an ownership boundary, it is normal for the fence owner to put the fence cladding on their neighbour's side, with the posts on their own side. Where a fence divides two adjacent plots, title deeds
for the properties often show who owns the fence.
Where a fence or hedge has an adjacent ditch, the ditch is normally in the same ownership as the hedge or fence, with the ownership boundary being the edge of the ditch furthest from the fence or hedge. The principle of the rule is that an owner digging a boundary ditch will normally dig it up to the very edge of their land, and must then pile the spoil on their own side of the ditch to avoid trespassing on their neighbour. They may then erect a fence or hedge on the spoil, leaving the ditch on its far side. Exceptions often occur, for example where a plot of land derives from subdivision of a larger one along the centre line of a previously existing ditch or other feature.
On private land in the United Kingdom, it is the landowner's responsibility to fence their livestock in. Conversely, for common land, it is the surrounding landowners' responsibility to fence the common's livestock out.
Distinctly different land ownership and fencing patterns arose in the eastern and western United States
. Original fence laws on the east coast were based on the British common law
system, and rapidly increasing population quickly resulted in laws requiring livestock to be fenced in. In the west, land ownership patterns and policies reflected a strong influence of Spanish
law and tradition, plus the vast land area involved made extensive fencing impractical until mandated by a growing population and conflicts between landowners. The "open range" tradition of requiring landowners to fence out unwanted livestock was dominant in most of the rural west until very late in the 20th century, and even today, a few isolated regions of the west still have open range statutes on the books. Today, across the nation, each state is free to develop its own laws regarding fences, but in most cases for both rural and urban property owners, the laws are designed to require adjacent landowners to share the responsibility for maintaining a common boundary fenceline, and the fence is generally constructed on the surveyed property line as precisely as possible.
"Good fences make good neighbors." - Robert Frost (ironically, in the poem "Mending Wall").
"A good neighbour is a fellow who smiles at you over the back fence, but doesn't climb over it." - Arthur Baer
"There is something about jumping a horse over a fence, something that makes you feel good. Perhaps it's the risk, the gamble. In any event it's a thing I need." - William Faulkner
"Fear is the highest fence." - Dudley Nichols
"What have they done to the earth?/ What have they done to our fair sister?/ Ravaged and plundered/ and ripped her/ and bit her/ stuck her with knives/ in the side of the dawn/ and tied her with fences/ and dragged her down." - Jim Morrison, of The Doors
"Don't Fence Me In (song)" - Cole Porter
- Encyclopedia Britannica (1982). Vol IV, Fence.
- Elizabeth Agate: Fencing, British Trust for Conservation Volunteers, ISBN 094675229X