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Dry Stone Walls & Hedgerows

Dry stone walls have been part of the landscape of the UK for thousands of years. It is estimated that there are over 120,000 miles of dry-stone field walls in the UK (some dating back to the Bronze Age) but only 13% of these are in good condition, 17% in an advanced stage of decay and the remaining 70% are derelict (DWSA).There are more than nine miles of walling around the perimeter of Blenheim Estate with sections dating back to the creation of the Palace in the 18th century.

Dry stone walls are made by stacking pieces of stone together to make a wall without using mortar. It is a skilled craft that takes years to learn to do well. The walls on the Blenheim Estate are maintained by a team of skilled craftsmen; a major rebuilding programme for the walls is currently in progress. On average it takes about a day to build half a square metre of wall. “With such a vast amount of walling surrounding the entire estate it’s pretty much a never-ending task to inspect and repair it,” explains Chris Keeler, our Estate Maintenance and Conservation Manager.

As with many other aspects of the estate, we endeavour to keep our carbon impact as low as possible and the limestone used for wall repairs comes from a quarry only ten miles away.

Discovering Lost Treasures

As our dry stone walling team repairs the walls, they often discover artefacts such as coins, clay pipes and on one occasion even a pocket watch. Most of these items are assumed to have been dropped or left behind by previous workmen over the centuries. The discovery of such artefacts brings the walls’ long history to life; a history which spans over three centuries.

Biodiversity

Of course, the walls’ primary purpose has always been to separate and secure livestock and to delineate field boundaries. However, over the years, the contribution dry stone walls make to biodiversity is also being recognised. The craft is seeing a resurgence in popularity as ecologists have discovered to what a great extent such walls provide a valuable habitat for a wide range of wildlife from amphibians, snakes, slow worms and lizards to field voles, mice and bats.

A variety of birds species including blue tits, great tits, wagtails, sparrows, spotted fly catchers, nuthatches, wheatears, redstarts and little owls also make use of the walls’ nooks and crannies.