Dry Stone Walls - an integral part of the British countryside
PUBLISHED: 09:33 10 March 2014 | UPDATED: 09:33 10 March 2014
The Prince’s Countryside Fund is aiming to save the dry stone wall and help the rural economy. Roger Borrell reports
Imagine Lancashire or the Lakes without dry stone walls. Suddenly, those beautifully intricate patchwork quilts are gone and the landscape becomes a mass of monotonous green.
But it goes beyond aesthetics. How do you manage the land without the physical boundaries used for centuries to retain stock and keep over-amorous tups from ewes?
The degradation of walls – and there are several places, including Rossendale, where it is already happening – is an indication of a deeper malaise in the countryside. Without well-maintained walls, husbandry issues make small hill farms even less profitable and, goodness know, many are already clinging on by their fingertips.
When small farms become uneconomic they either go out of business or they amalgamate, forming bigger units. Either way, jobs are lost, young people move away to find work and a way of life disappears.
‘It’s a subject very close to the heart of the Prince of Wales,’ says Linda Clarkson, training and education coordinator at the Dry Stone Walling Association, which is based in Kendal.
The Prince’s Countryside Fund, supported by Lancashire Life, has provided funding which will help to train young people in walling around the country. ‘There is a skills gap which has opened up in the countryside,’ adds Linda, who comes from Carnforth and is a former trainer at Myerscough College, near Preston.
‘The grandfathers of today’s farmers would have had dry stone walling skills and in the 70s and 80s there were funds available which meant their sons could employ contractors to look after walls while they got on with what they did best – farming.
‘Now, those grants have disappeared and the result is today’s generation of farmers no longer have the finances or the time to maintain walls. Importantly, they don’t have the skills so walls are starting to fall into disrepair.
‘Our aim is to engage with young people to make them want to have a try at dry stone walling and then go onto a more advance level so they gain a qualification. We not only want to fire up the enthusiasm of young people so they go out and do the work on their own farms, but also see it develop as another source of income.’
Contract work on neighbouring farms can bolster earnings but the big growth area is landscape gardening where dry stone walling is much in demand and quite lucrative.
Among those who have already taken advantage of the training scheme is Lydia Noble. At just 18, she is the DSWA’s youngest ever advanced dry stone waller - and she’s one of the very few women to qualify at this high level.
She passed her Advanced Walling Certificate in July 2013 and she went to her local show in Penrith where she came second in the Cumbria Walling Grand Prix. Lydia went on to win the overall championship later in the season.
The Prince’s Countryside Fund grant helps to pay for training vouchers targeted at people like Lydia - young farmers and rural workers keen to train and gain qualifications offered by DSWA. Courses take place throughout the UK.
‘Dry stone walling isn’t all about working in the rain on a windswept fellside,’ added Linda. ‘It can be quite therapeutic and allows you to create something physical that has a purpose as well as preserving habitats for small animals and maintaining the country’s historic features.’
All about walls
Dry stone wall became a more regular sight in our landscape after the Enclosure Act in the early 19th century but there are still some in use that date back to medieval times.
The DSWA has a UK wide network of branches that run weekend training courses . Details can be found at www.dswa.org.uk or by contacting the head office on 015395 67953 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org