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The Art of Dry Stone Walling

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Posted: Tuesday 26th September 2017 by WildBlog

By Joe McSorley, Living Landscapes Manager 

There’s an old archaeological saying that goes “One stone is a stone, two stones is a feature and three stones is a wall” which comes to mind when we embark on our annual dry stone walling work with our various volunteer groups. 

Dry stone walling goes back to ancient times before the advent of mortar, and has been used through millennia as an easy way to build structures and boundaries between land. In some cases, such as the Egyptian pyramids, Mayan temples and bronze age burial barrows, the architecture and the workmanship are astonishingly accomplished.

In the UK in areas where hedgerows don’t thrive such as the Cotswolds and at higher elevations, dry stone walls are a distinctive feature of the landscape. The earliest dry stone walls in the UK go back several thousand years, but the largest number are post-medieval and are a reminder of the increasingly enclosed nature of land in Britain.

As well as being an aesthetically pleasing feature of the landscape dry stone walls also provide a rich wildlife haven. The spaces between the stones are fantastic places for insects to hide away from predators, and in some cases for predators such as spiders to hide away from their prey. Small mammals frequently scuttle into small spaces in dry stone walls like Jerry in the Tom and Jerry cartoons, and they are a great hibernation space for lizards, amphibians and snakes (for this reason most dry stone walling takes place in the summer months to avoid disturbing them during their hibernation). Features in the landscape often act as a route across the landscape for birds and bats sheltering from winds, and some birds including wrens, robins and blackbirds will use the spaces to make their nests. Where exposed rock surfaces are scarce, dry stone walls often have thriving colonies of long-lived lichens and mosses mottling the colour of the stone.

Next time you’re out and about in the country, spare a thought for the wildlife value of our dry stone walls and if you fancy learning the traditional skills involved then think about signing up with one of our volunteer groups.

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