And the walls came tumbling down

Geoffrey Lean explains why one of England's glories is in peril

ALMOST all of England's drystone walls, for generations one of the main glories of its wildest and most beautiful countryside, are crumbling away. Yet the Government has refused to protect them in newly passed environmental legislation, and is about to abolish the grants that enable farmers to maintain them.

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.

The Banksy image in Folkestone before it was vandalised
Life and Style

Sales of the tablet are set to fall again, say analysts

football West Brom vs Man Utd match report: Blind grabs point, but away form a problem for Van Gaal
Arts and Entertainment
Gotham is coming to UK shores this autumn
tvGotham, episode 2, review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Bloom Time: Mira Sorvino
tvMira Sorvino on leaving movie roles for 'The Intruders'
First woman: Valentina Tereshkova
peopleNASA guinea pig Kate Greene thinks it might fly
Brian Harvey turned up at Downing Street today demanding to speak to the Prime Minister

Met Police confirm there was a 'minor disturbance' and that no-one was arrested

Arts and Entertainment
George Lucas poses with a group of Star Wars-inspired Disney characters at Disney's Hollywood Studios in 2010

George Lucas criticises the major Hollywood film studios

Chris Grayling, Justice Secretary: 'There are pressures which we are facing but there is not a crisis'

Does Chris Grayling realise what a vague concept he is dealing with?

Life and Style
A street vendor in Mexico City sells Dorilocos, which are topped with carrot, jimaca, cucumber, peanuts, pork rinds, spices and hot sauce
food + drink

Trend which requires crisps, a fork and a strong stomach is sweeping Mexico's streets

Life and Style
The charity Sands reports that 11 babies are stillborn everyday in the UK
lifeEleven babies are stillborn every day in the UK, yet no one speaks about this silent tragedy
Blackpool is expected to become one of the first places to introduce the Government’s controversial new Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs)

Parties threaten resort's image as a family destination

Life and Style
Northern soul mecca the Wigan Casino
fashionGone are the punks, casuals, new romantics, ravers, skaters, crusties. Now all kids look the same
Life and Style

I Am Bread could actually be a challenging and nuanced title

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Year 5 Teacher

£80 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Year 5 Teacher KS2 teaching job...

Software Developer

£35000 - £45000 Per Annum Pensions Scheme After 6 Months: Clearwater People So...

Systems Analyst / Business Analyst - Central London

£35000 - £37000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Systems Analyst / Busines...

Senior Change Engineer (Network, Cisco, Juniper) £30k

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ampersand Consulting LLP: Senior Change ...

Day In a Page

Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Salisbury ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities

The city is home to one of the four surviving copies of the Magna Carta, along with the world’s oldest mechanical clock
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album