Study Highlights Importance Of Dry Stone Walls

We walk past them all the time without barely noticing them, but the Isles of Scilly AONB is currently in the final stages of a study into the importance of dry stone walls in our islands’ landscape.

The project, called “Pushing the Boundaries” has been assessing the economic value and history of dry stone walls, as well as recording their environmental benefit as a habitat for wildlife.

AONB Manager, Trevor Kirk, says the work is important for a number of reasons. It allows the AONB to assess the extent of repair and restoration of the walls required on the islands and the need to provide training in dry-stone walling skills. They’ve had plenty of people requesting training but they have to ensure there is a real need, he says.

Trevor said the dry stone walls in Scilly are an iconic part of our landscape. Many of them date back around 100 to 150 years and were built as part of the economic development of the islands during the late 19th and early 20th century.

But he said woven in among those are some that may be considerably earlier, from the medieval and even prehistoric times.

There is also an important environmental aspect of the walls. They provide habitats for a wide variety of species of plants, insects, birds and animals. Bats, says Trevor, have been found to take shelter in some walls.

And this is where care needs to be taken when making any repairs as habitats are often established in derelict walls and rebuilding could ruin those.

There are several different types of dry stone wall in Scilly with some being closer to the double-wall tradition seen in, for example, the Peak District while others are closer to the Cornish style of an earth core with stone facings on either side.

Trevor says their surveys focussed on areas on the islands with a high density of stone walls, rather than “randomly trawling the islands.” This also involved researching the archives such as old maps of the land.

They then did extensive surveys in those areas which included everything from well-maintained boundaries to those in complete dereliction and this has allowed them to work out the extent to which repair and restoration may be required.

Trevor said Natural England funds several environmental stewardship schemes where farmers get money for maintenance of key landscape features, including walls. And the reintroduction of grazing animals in many parts of the islands could mean older boundaries need repairs.

This current programme will cost around £18,000 and has been awarded Local Action Group funding.

However, Trevor says one difficulty is that there may be a limited amount of stone available for restoration work. There are no working quarries still in operation on the islands.