Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Preserving Dry-Stone Walls

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Preserving Dry-Stone Walls

Article excerpt

The North-East boasts a stunning and varied landscape from spectacular hills and dales to rivers and waterfalls and a beautiful coastline.

Nature has created this vista, but over the centuries farmers and landowners have also played their part in shaping the character of the landscape.

However, in recent times changes in farm practices have led to sometimes dramatic changes in the landscape such as the loss of hedgerows and dry stone walls, a key characteristic of the landscape in many parts of the region.

Nationally, it is estimated that more than 4,500 miles of dry stone walls have been lost since the Second World War.

But, in recent years the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has encouraged farmers and other landowners to adopt more environmentally-friendly farming and land management practices by signing up to its agri-environment schemes.

The agri-environment schemes form part of the England Rural Development Programme (ERDP) administered in the region by Defra's Rural Development Service North East.

ERDP provides a framework for the operation of 10 separate but integrated schemes to provide new opportunities to protect and improve the countryside, develop sustainable enterprises and to help rural communities to thrive.

More than 1,000 farmers across the North-East have signed agri-environment agreements and receive payments of around pounds 7.5m a year.

The agreements cover more than 90,000 hectares of land on which almost 2,000km of boundary features such as hedgerows and dry stone walls have been restored and preserved.

Farmers Jonathan Pittendrigh and his wife Susan, of Horncastle Farm, Kirkwhelpington, Northumberland, signed up in 2003 to include their 300-acre farm where they have a herd of 75 suckler cows and 400 ewes.

Mrs Pittendrigh also runs a B&B at the farm.

"The farm is mainly pasture land," Mr Pittendrigh explained.

"Our agreement includes preserving ridge and furrow, and managing grassland and upland pasture.

"I've also agreed to do capital works to repair and preserve our dry stone walls and last year I was also given a grant from the Vocational Training Scheme to do a four-day course in dry stone walling. …

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