Dry stone walls have great value for field study. Aspects of geology, local history, land-use, social history and wildlife can all be studied by research and observation of local walls. Whilst being of intrinsic educational value, studies and surveys are also important to further the understanding of walls, and to provide a base line from which changes can be measured and comparisons made. When co-ordinated nationally, survey information is very helpful for organisations involved in formulating policies which may affect the maintenance, repair and rebuilding of dry stone walls.
DSWA wall surveys
To encourage a co-ordinated approach to wall surveys, the Dry Stone Walling Association (DSWA) has drawn up a set of guidelines and survey forms which can be used by any group or individual wanting to do wall studies. There are three different categories of survey, A, B, and C, as described below.
Studies can be done of a farm, valley, parish or larger area. Permission must be sought to go on any land other than a public right of way, and it is sensible to gain the co-operation of all landowners in the area in question. Copies of the completed survey information should be sent to the DSWA, and to any local co-ordinator or sponsoring organisation, and to the landowner if requested.
A: LENGTH AND CONDITION
Normally this category should be covered first, to provide the baseline for categories B and C.
Walls are measured from the map or on the ground in convenient sections, for example from field corner to gate. The land use on either side is recorded, together with any furniture such as lunky holes, stiles or water smoots. Any fencing is also noted.
The condition is assessed as being in one of six condition classes, from A to F. As described in chapter 2, these condition classes were used in a survey of walls in England in 1994, which covered 700 one-kilometre squares. The results of the survey are detailed in The condition of England’s dry stone walls (Countryside Commission, 1996), which is available online at dswa.org.uk
B: STYLE, REGIONAL VARIATIONS AND FEATURES
The same wall sections as identified in the length and condition survey can be surveyed for walling style and features. The height and width of the wall are noted first. The style can be recorded as double, single, single above double, retaining, stone-faced bank or slab wall, with banks and ditches also noted. Style details include throughbands, coverband, coursing, the use of dressed stone, the stone shape and the type of coping. The survey notes includes diagrams to help identify the different styles and features.
Features which can be noted include smoots, wall heads, stiles, gates, bridges, arches, niches, bee-boles and inscriptions. Finally the type of stone is noted as slate, granite, limestone, sandstone or other.
The type of information gathered will depend very much on the expertise and interests of the surveyor, and the resources available.
The local history of walls can be researched initially by talking with landowners and other local people with knowledge of the area, and then by research through the county records office and other local sources.
For natural history surveys, the DSWA recommend following the methodology and codes described in the booklet ‘What’s on a Wall’ (South Court Environmental Ltd, 1994), which is available from the DSWA. Species lists are included for algae, ferns, galls, grasses, lichens, liverworts, mosses, trees and shrubs, vascular plants (wild) and vascular plants (garden escapes). For wall fauna, lists are included for birds, butterflies and moths, snails, spiders, woodlice and other animals. Specialist knowledge is required for the identification of many of these organisms.
The Living Churchyard and Cemetery Project, in conjunction with the DSWA, have drawn up a survey form for dry stone walls enclosing churchyards. This survey concentrates on the type of stone, the style of building, the amount of dressed stone, and features within the wall. Copies of the survey form are available online or by post from the DSWA.
Until the late 1800s, bees were kept in straw skeps. In windy or wet areas the skeps were placed in specially constructed niches, called boles, set into stone or brick walls. South and south-east facing locations were usually chosen, to provide maximum warmth and shelter from wind and rain. Together with the International Bee Research Association, the DSWA have produced a form for the recording of bee boles. To date, about 1000 sets of boles have been recorded.