Sustainable Fencing Ideas That'll Make You Want to Ditch Man-Made Fences in Your Garden

All too often, fences divide us and diminish the environment, rather than improving things and bringing people together.

A rusty wrought iron white bench on the grass in a summer, sunny English Garden
Jacky Parker Photography / Getty Images

There is a common saying that good fences make good neighbors. Unfortunately, all too often, fences are things that divide us and diminish the environment, rather than improving things and bringing people together. 

Of course, fences are often required for a range of reasons. We may need to fence in pets or livestock, for example. But the first thing that you should ask yourself when looking for sustainable fencing ideas is whether you actually need fencing at all. 

Do You Really Need Fencing? 

Dawn walk in late spring, early summer, in Sussex, England
Image captured by Joanne Hedger / Getty Images

When fencing is utilized simply to mark the boundary of a property, for privacy, or screening, for example, it may be best not to use fencing at all, but rather to use plants. 

Hedging and living "fedges" of willow etc. can often be far better solutions. Using native trees and shrubs to create windbreaks, privacy hedgerows, or partitions can often be better for you, your neighbors, and local wildlife. 

You might consider creating a boundary with fruit trees or fruiting shrubs, or creating looser, more informal boundaries with taller grasses and perennials, to name just a couple of other examples. 

There are plenty of planting schemes that can help define, protect and improve the amenity of your garden far more effectively than fencing. These can be far more sustainable solutions than creating a man-made fencing structure. 

Sustainable Natural Fencing Ideas

Wicker rustic modern fence made of flexible willow or hazel wood in landscaping of territory
Wicker rustic modern fence made of flexible willow or hazel wood in landscaping of territory. Aleksandr Golubev / Getty Images

If you do require permanent fencing for pets or livestock, the materials you choose will be important. What your fencing is made from, and where those materials come from are crucial considerations for those who wish to live in a sustainable and eco-friendly way. 

The most sustainable way to make fencing is with natural materials—ideally materials that come from your own space, or the immediate surroundings. 

For example, you might create:

  • "Dead hedging" with fallen branches/ brush
  • Wattle fences from hazel or other pruned or coppiced branches
  • Willow lattice fencing
  • Bamboo fencing
  • Log fencing
Low stone wall along a footpath with gate
Raquel Lonas / Getty Images

You might also use natural materials to make a wall, as an alternative to a boundary fence. For instance, you might create:

  • Cordwood walls
  • Dry stone or natural stacked rock walls
  • Cob, adobe, or earthbag walls 

You might also create sustainable fencing using reclaimed materials, which are far cheaper, perhaps even free, and have a far lower embodied cost to people and the planet. 

Wall made of blue glass wine bottles
Wall made of blue glass wine bottles. Elizabeth Fernandez / Getty Images

For example, you might make:

  • Reclaimed wood fencing from old wood pallets, old doors or shutters, etc.
  • Reclaimed chicken wire/fencing panel livestock fencing. Perhaps even creating a double fence and creating a linear compost bin or leaf bin inside.
  • Reclaimed metal fencing (using corrugated roof panels, steel sheeting, surplus copper plumbing pipes, etc.

Using your imagination, you may find there are plenty of ways to make suitable fencing using materials that would otherwise have been thrown away. You may even be able to incorporate household trash into a fence or wall on your property—using glass bottles is just one example. 

Planting Alongside Sustainable Fences

beauty pink climbing rose on the white fence
Khanh Bui / Getty Images

Even where man-made fencing structures are required, it is important to consider how you can increase biodiversity and improve the amenity and visual appeal of the space. A fence sitting alone, without attendant planting, will never be as eco-friendly and sustainable as it could and should be. 

Creating hedges or boundary planting alongside fences can be beneficial for wildlife, any livestock that you may keep, and for you. And you should also think about adding appropriate climbers and vines to the structures that you have created. 

There are many different ways to combine vegetation with a man-made fencing structure, which can improve its function and performance, and also deliver a range of additional benefits and yields.

Sustainable fencing should always be considered only as part of the whole design. Don't think about any fencing you add in isolation. Make sure that you think carefully about how it will fit within and integrate with the rest of your garden.

In your garden, every element that you add–including fencing—should have multiple functions. So before you decide on a fence, think carefully about what exactly you would like to achieve, and about what additional functions the fencing could fulfill. 

For example, a fence to keep pets or livestock contained might also be a trellis for climbing plants, provide shelter or wind protection for boundary planting, give habitat for wildlife, be a small-space composting solution, and more.

If you consider all of the above, you should be able to find the best solution or solutions for your needs and create new fencing without having a negative impact on people and the planet.