Turning waste into ‘gold’

Brush fencing offers a new tool from nature for nature, and it could save some countries from sinking.

Amid all of the recent human interruptions in terms of addressing climate change, nature has begun to fight back devoid of opinion. People can only stand in awe at the power of natural disasters, and it’s a scientific fact that they are worsening as our climate tilts further off its balanced course. Due to more extreme weather patterns, shoreline erosion is beginning to have a massive impact on coastal regions, while soil degradation affects many areas inland.

One such shoreline exists in Kiribatian example also mentioned in the latest climate change documentary by Leonardo di Caprio “Before the Floodwhere rising sea levels affect low-lying coastal regions, leading to predictions that the country could be underwater in just 30 years. For Kiribati, this is critical because the majority of its population thrives in these lower elevations where lands are flatter and more ideal for larger cities. A myriad of factors affect this sinking country, including soil erosion and degradation.

The productive magnitude of the brush fence is a possible solution to this and other related cases. These are passive ways which people can use to fight back – with simple methods that are two-fold in their resuscitating assets. Brush fences and other living fences, are constructions that are comprised entirely of plant-based elements woven together to form an impermeable barrier that endures the tests of time and harsh weather.

Brush is often regarded as rubbish; a waste material and a nuisance. It is the debris of tree pruning, forestry work and dead plant matter. Typically to be discarded where it will be piled or burned, brush is identified as unwanted. Yet these contents are gold in a material sense, harnessing massive potential to be turned into a beautiful fence for landscaping, shoreline protection or permaculture purposes.

At The Deanery Project in Nova Scotia, Canada, a team of natural builders is dedicated to building a brush fence for a tree nursery. Nova Scotia suffers greatly from habitat loss and deforestation, therefore it is of great importance to citizens to repopulate areas with native tree species. The fence required tall walls that would protect the saplings from hungry deer who can devour the small trees. The height and mass of the fence, towering over 8 feet tall, also offered young trees many benefits that assist in their growth.

Another advantage of building brush fences is that carbon dioxide release is mitigated by the absence of burning large quantities of brush that would otherwise serve no purpose or potentially have to be hauled long distances when discarded. Because the brush is natural, and in some areas bountiful, there is no extra energy expense to produce external supply of material. In the case of a living fence as shown in the video below, where plant matter is still alive and growing, carbon sequestration also occurs, where carbon amounts are absorbed through a tree’s natural processes.


When constructed properly, natural fencing also reduces the impact of wind and snow providing crop or tree nursery protection for gardens and farms without as much need for expensive greenhouses. This wind reduction can reduce the cost of heat energy bills drastically, and wind erosion impact also decreases as the brush acts as a buffer.

Living fences can also act as a habitat for animals. For instance, wild bird species will consider it an ideal place to nest, especially during the winter months. And since brush fences are built naturally, they biodegrade with no adverse effects on the surrounding space.

Vine crops will have a stable means of growing upward if on a living fence, increasing the thickness of the fence itself,  in turn adding to wind reduction and strength of the structure. Fungal networks can have a protective source to spread within the soils beneath brush fence. This, in turn, reduces soil erosion and degradation as mycorrhizal fungi interact beneath the ground with other plant root systems, fortifying at the base. If farms or gardens are integrated with brush fences, all plants will therefore grow better and produce more abundant crops.

Money is saved through reduced material costs when choosing living fences, as typically all of the material needed can be found locally at no additional cost. There is also no need for adhesives, nails or other binders. As aforementioned, it may also

Lastly, living fences are aesthetically attractive. Their forms encourage artistic expression and a flexibility to create beauty in nature (such as these charming windows).



Information on brush fence efficacy is still quite sparse, but this method of building a fence is actually ancient, and is not difficult once understood.  In the near future, perhaps solutions will be as straightforward as working with nature to prevent greater damage to the ecosystem. In using traditional, sustainable tools such as brush fences, climate change may become a more manageable obstacle on a global scale through this little-known method that is both simple and affordable.

Cassie Piccolo

Cassie graduated from the University of Guelph, Canada, with a degree in Biological studies and Fine Arts. She has worked with Organic Food organizations, Food Not Bombs, worked with the Sierra Club, is experienced in sustainable agriculture and landscape architecture, and most recently attended the COP21 Climate Summit in Paris. She has been a front-line activist, fighting alongside Indigenous and rural communities against fracking in Canada. In spare time she writes poetry, paints, and hangs out with her massive bear-dog.
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