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DSWA: Protecting dry stone walling for future generations

This month, The Dry Stone Walling Association highlights how their work preserves British heritage.

The delicate tapestry of the British countryside is well known and loved by many. Known for its hedgerows, green fields, rugged mountains and verdant river valleys, there is a feature which is often and unfortunately overlooked.

Yet any who spend time in the countryside will have seen these historic boundaries, walked alongside them for miles and traversed over and through them using styles and gates. I am of course speaking of the mighty dry stone walls which meander through our countryside in an unwavering and steadfast way.

It is a trap all too often fallen into, to take these walls for granted and not give them a second thought yet they shouldn’t be underestimated. They are standing monuments to our history with dry stone walling in the UK stretching back at least three and a half millennia ago.

Not only are these walls and dry stone features which populate our countryside a piece of our history and heritage, their contribution to the upland farming system is still as important today as when they were first built and their benefits for our flora and fauna are immeasurable.

Yet it isn’t a new phenomenon for dry stone walling to be alluded to as a “dying craft” and for it to be overlooked. Such public opinion led in 1968 to the creation of the Dry Stone Walling Association with the aim to better improve the knowledge and understanding of the traditional craft. The Association steadily grew in both members and the activities it sought to undertake.

The Association has continued to go from strength to strength with a membership base today of around 1000, from Professional members through to those beginning on their walling journey. The aim remains the same, to advance the education in the craft and heritage of dry stone walling for the public benefit.

The DSWA now has 18 Branches around the UK and boasts members across the globe including in America, Australia and Canada and with training enquiries being received daily the demand for dry stone walling is only increasing.

Education comes in different guises from running the ever-popular demonstrations at agricultural and country shows through to our various training courses. Our Branch network deliver Beginner training events each year, perfectly suited for those wanting to learn more about the basics of dry stone walling and to “have-a-go”.

From there many participants, once bitten by the walling bug, sign up to the four-day qualification courses run under the expert tuition of a Master Craftsman Waller.

The Association runs a sector leading and internationally recognised Craft Certification Scheme accredited by Lantra, for those wishing to gain formal qualifications in dry stone walling. With four levels of certification, participants are required to demonstrate their technical skill and understanding of stone through hitting certain criteria.

As participants progress through the Levels they are expected to demonstrate a higher degree of technical skill with Masters Level requiring not only the building of different features but also the use of different stone types.

As with all traditional and heritage Crafts it is key to encourage young people to enter the craft to ensure its survival for future generations. The Association, with kind funding from The Ernest Cook Trust, is looking to support three Apprentices in dry stone walling over the course of three years.

The first of the three Apprentices took on the role in October 2022 and has been working diligently alongside a longstanding DSWA Master Craftsman. The apprenticeship pathway helps provide opportunities that ordinarily would not exist for many younger people and the Association will continue to provide opportunities wherever possible.

One of the best ways to support the DSWA’s work is to become a member. Through joining the Association, you are an integral part of protecting, restoring and rebuilding part of our country’s rural heritage. There is an active network of branches throughout the country offering a range of activities including training days, courses and demonstrations as well as meetings and social events.

Professional and Corporate members also enjoy being listed on the Professional Register on the DSWA website.


Kate Dymock

Kate Dymock is a Training and Education Coordinator for the Dry Stone Walling Association. She has a deep-rooted passion for the British Countryside and the natural world. In 2015, she graduated from Harper Adams University with a First Class honours in Countryside Management.

All articles by Kate Dymock

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