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Dry Stone Wall News - April 2010

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Leckhampton Hill - new dry stone wall project

The Cabinet of Cheltenham Borough Council agreed on 15th December 2009:

To the rebuilding of 1.3 km of the wall on Leckhampton Hill and Charlton Kings Common subject to funding being obtained. This is part of a wider project to restore 4.5 km of boundary wall to secure the common (an important SSSI) for grazing with local Dexter cattle, which will help to deliver favourable conditions on the limestone grassland and restore a diverse range of habitats and species for all to enjoy.

Mendip field boundaries (dry stone walls) habitat action plan

Dry stone walls are a significant reason for the Mendip Hills’ national designation as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The 27 Sites of Special Scientific Interest and 2 National Nature Reserves in the AONB all feature dry stone walls as a major element. The walls are vital to the sense of place and character within Mendip District but also provide habitat to a variety of wildlife. They are also used as a navigation aid by colonies of Lesser Horseshoe Bats of European importance. The Mendip Hills AONB has funded the Life lines program specifically aimed at surveying and restoring the condition of stone walls, of which only a fraction remain stockproof. Its goals are to:

  • Promote the cultural and natural value of dry stone walls by one public event per year
  • Improve knowledge of species occurrence and range in relation to dry stone walls, including preparing full species lists for walls at ten 100m sites in separate 1km squares
  • Study mapped walls for use by other wildlife as corridors, particularly Horseshoe bats.
  • Produce guidelines for wall restoration that include suggestions on how to improve the value of walls to wildlife

Native Origin Irish Wildflower Seed Mixtures

The Irish firm Design by Nature markets a seed mixture called Wild Flora for Stone Walls and Green Roofs. However, it seems to be for garden use, and includes species not normally associated with walls. Artificial treatment of the wall surface is recommended. It is, not, therefore, appropriate for use in dry stone wall maintenance and restoration in historic landscapes or the countryside. Even in the garden, one might wish that more traditional methods were employed.

The Gwent Grassland Initiative: Dry Stone Walls and Wildlife

Guidelines have been produced on the importance of dry stone walls for wild life and their maintanance and restoration

Dry Stone Walls: Tameside

Ancient examples of dry stone walling are known from Peru, Japan, Iceland and Egypt. In Britain, standing examples survive of dry stone walls and buildings developed thousands of years ago - such as Celtic Brochs and Bronze Age burial sites.

Hundreds of volunteers are signing up for beginners and advanced courses in dry stone walling. In the Gower Hey Wood project, a volunteer event restored an 18th century 6 metre boundary wall at Needhams Farm near Stockport.

Besides using different types of stone found naturally in areas around the UK, different regions have developed their own characteristic style of build. Cornish walls are formed with slate in a herringbone pattern, and wallers use earth infill for extra stability. This became a natural place for flowers and grasses to grow, hence the colourful nature of Cornish walls. The wallers of Derbyshire and North Yorkshire use sandstone, which is coarse and difficult to shape into even blocks, so that they have an irregular pattern, compared to more even walls in South Yorkshire.

Government backing has seen an extra 1000 miles of wall preserved in Cumbria and the North East. The result, according to DEFRA, is a marked upturn in the numbers of previously declining bird species. Bittern, stone curlew, cirl bunting and lapwing are making a welcome comeback.

House of Commons: Supplementary Memorandum by the Dry Stone Walling Association of Great Britain (FB 13(a))

The memorandum covers:

  • Wildlife, historical and archaeological value of walls
  • Information on neglect and dereliction and their effects and comparisons to local and national surveys
  • Information on costs
  • System of protection, pointing out that there is no protection for dry stone walls, that they need protection at least comparable to that for hedgerows, that a commitment by all agencies (e.g., Forestry Commission and Highways) is required to protect walls and that legislation is necessary.
  • Education and advice, stressing that everyone needs to be aware of the value of dry stone walls, that landowners and farmers should get advice through MAFF/WOAD/SOAFD/ FRCA and the normal grant and advice system, while developers and the general public could get advice through Structure and Local Plans.
  • Conservation Area specifications (which should extend beyond the built-up areas into the surroundings), Village Design Statements and Design Guides (e.g., for barn conversions), which should also consider the landscape context, need to take account of dry stone walls.
  • Grants for repair
  • Skills, requiring high quality training  
  • DSWA's role, including training and advice