And the walls came tumbling down
Geoffrey Lean explains why one of England's glories is in peril
Sunday 15 October 1995
The first national survey - carried out by the Government's own countryside advisers - reveals that 87 per cent of the country's 70,000 miles of drystone walls are deteriorating or derelict.
Only 4 per cent are in excellent condition, and only a further 9 per cent can be described as "sound".
More than 2,500 miles of wall have disappeared altogether over the past 10 years, and the survey, by the Countryside Commission, shows that another 12,000 miles are now mere "remnants", little more than lines of stones on the ground. Some 8,500 miles are totally derelict, and more than 40,000 miles are deteriorating or in the early stages of dereliction.
David Gear, the commission official in charge of the survey, which examined the walls in detail all over the country, said he had been shocked by the results.
"Walls that look sound from the air, or show up as lines on the large- scale Ordnance Survey maps, in fact turned out to be in very, very poor shape," Mr Gear said. "These could be lost very quickly, unless something is done now to address the problem."
Many of the walls are now no longer needed for agriculture. Many were built in response to the Enclosure Acts, which laid down that they should be used to demarcate land, and others have fallen into disuse as field sizes have grown.
They are extremely expensive to repair: it costs pounds 20-pounds 30 to repair every yard of the thousands of miles of walls. But the Government is failing to protect the walls and is reducing incentives for farmers to look after them.
The new Environmental Protection Act, passed this summer, contains special provisions for safeguarding hedges, but ministers refused to give the same protection to the walls, despite the pleas of the Countryside Commission.
Earlier this year the Ministry of Agriculture reduced the level of grants paid to farmers to maintain them, and there is evidence that repair work slowed down dramatically as a result. Next April the ministry plans to abolish the main source of the grants - the Farm and Conservation Grants Scheme - altogether.
"Walls are appreciated by everyone - ramblers, photographers, artists and writers - but farmers need financial incentive to preserve them," said Mr Gear. "Putting new resources into wall restoration now, while the problem is still manageable, would help to protect these cherished livestock features for many years to come." The National Farmers' Union is dismayed by the impending abolition of the grants and has been lobbying for the retention of the scheme at the political party conferences this autumn.
Grants will continue to be given in limited Environmentally Sensitive Areas, but the Countryside Commission and the National Farmers' Union believe that a national scheme is essential. The commission is proposing that a new scheme should be set up when the old grants disappear, and is in negotiatoin with ministers to press for it.
Sales of the tablet are set to fall again, say analysts
Met Police confirm there was a 'minor disturbance' and that no-one was arrested
George Lucas criticises the major Hollywood film studios
Does Chris Grayling realise what a vague concept he is dealing with?
Trend which requires crisps, a fork and a strong stomach is sweeping Mexico's streets
Parties threaten resort's image as a family destination
I Am Bread could actually be a challenging and nuanced title
- 1 Indian footballer Peter Biaksangzuala dies after injuring spine doing somersault celebration
- 4 Drink alcohol and eat meat to improve male fertility - but cut down on coffee, studies suggest
- 5 Brian Harvey turns up at Downing Street and 'demands to speak to Prime Minister'
Jack the Ripper: Scientist who claims to have identified notorious killer has 'made serious DNA error'
Banksy arrest hoax: Internet duped by fake report claiming that the street artist's identity has been revealed
'Russian submarine spotted' by Swedish military off coast of Stockholm
Brian Harvey turns up at Downing Street and 'demands to speak to Prime Minister'
Kentucky gang rape: 15-year-old boy left in critical condition after sexual attack by group at party
Cameron is warned 'no possibility' of UK reducing immigration and that bid to bring in quota on migrant workers would be illegal
Residents should throw a street party and mix with immigrant neighbours, councils told
Russell Brand threatened with arrest after filming outside Fox News headquarters
London bus driver allegedly kicks gay couple off for kissing
Amal Alamuddin calls for the return of the Elgin Marbles from Britain: 'Injustice has persisted for too long'
Lord Freud: Tory welfare minister apologises after saying disabled people are 'not worth’ the minimum wage
£80 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Year 5 Teacher KS2 teaching job...
£35000 - £45000 Per Annum Pensions Scheme After 6 Months: Clearwater People So...
£35000 - £37000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Systems Analyst / Busines...
£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ampersand Consulting LLP: Senior Change ...