Group of people behind a dry stone wall

National Grid funding helps conserve historic landscape

Volunteers trained to rebuild dry stone walls on the Mendip Hills

A £2,358 grant awarded by National Grid from its Community Grant Fund has helped The South West England Dry Stone Walling Association (SWEDSWA) undertake a training programme for conservation volunteers in the Mendip Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB)

The National Grid-funded courses helped the association to conserve and enhance dry stone walls in the Mendip Hills as the AONB unit celebrated the 50th anniversary of the area being recognised with special AONB status. Without regular maintenance, the walls collapse. 60 per cent of the area’s 260 miles of walls have already done so.

To date, this funding has enabled the team at SWEDSWA to deliver three courses on maintaining and repairing dry stone walls for the Mendip Hills AONB unit as well as a course for the Somerset and Avon Wildlife Trusts.

In contrast to the neighbouring Chew Valley and its hedgerows, the Mendip Hills are defined by their dry stone walls. They are hugely important to the ecology of the area – providing a home for a wide range of plants and animals, shade for livestock, a lookout point for foraging birds, and navigation aids for bats.

SWEDSWA has been teaching local organisations how to safely maintain, repair and rebuild dry stone walls. They will hold their final course with the Mendip Hills AONB between 23 and 24 March.

Chris Waite, SWEDSWA’s Secretary, said: “The grant was really welcome and has allowed the training of upwards of 50 volunteers who now regularly meet for volunteering walling days.

“There were a few stiff muscles at the end of the course, but also a huge sense of satisfaction to know that the section of wall built should still be standing in a couple of hundred years, contributing to the beauty of the landscape while benefitting local plants and animals.”

The training has raised the profile of one of the most visual special qualities in the landscape of the Mendip Hills AONB.

Lauren Holt, Ranger Volunteer Coordinator at Mendip Hills AONB, added: "The training has been beneficial in two ways. It has benefited the community by teaching individuals the skills required to preserve our dry stone walls – the AONB now has 35 trained wallers who meet weekly. It has also raised the profile of one of the most special visual qualities of the landscape, inspiring more volunteers to get involved. The grant really helped kickstart this process.”

SWEDSWA holds regular Introductory training weekends, details of their locations and dates can be found on their website.