Following The Line Of History At Deep Dale

Joe Costley

Joe Costley

Nature Reserves Manager

2nd October 2018

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© Simon Williams/Plantlife

Plantlife's nature reserves are essentially small farms, or groups of fields that once formed part of larger farms.

Traditional farming practices such as hay-making and extensive grazing are central to our care of these places, and to facilitate this we must also ensure the upkeep of hedges, ditches, tracks, dry-stone walls and other features that have a simple, but important, functional role.

A good example is our Deep Dale nature reserve in Derbyshire; a fabulous sweeping expanse of flowery turf that is grazed by cattle over the summer months. Here, dry limestone walls are critical to our ongoing grazing management; they form the boundary of the reserve and thwart cattle from escaping across neighbouring land.

There are nearly two and a half miles of wall at Deep Dale, a major and never-ending task to keep in good condition; and not least because we are still restoring derelict sections that were inherited when we acquired the reserve. Limestone walls are a defining feature of the Derbyshire Dales and are considered a landscape conservation priority within the National Park. They have an interesting ecology too. Often there is a good range of lichens and bryophytes where walls are not subject to nutrient pollution; while field mice, voles, slow worms, and a plethora of insects and snails find shelter in the nooks and crannies between the stones.

This year we are re-building one of our derelict sections, with the support of generous funding from players of the Peoples' Postcode Lottery. It is a 200-metre length; a sinuous line that follows the boundary between neighbouring parishes that runs through the centre of the dale. The wall is thought to date from the early seventeenth century, so is itself of historical merit.

The project has provided an opportunity to revive our links with the Peak District Conservation Volunteers, who have a long history of involvement at Deep Dale and lots of experience working on similar walling projects within the National Park. They have toiled over a total of seven days to prepare the section of wall, cutting back bushes and unearthing blocks of stone that had fallen and become buried over time. With the preparations complete, the wall is now being re-built according to the traditional local style.

Projects such as this one not only enable ongoing protection of important flower-rich grasslands, they also represent the restoration of historic landscape features that are of conservation value in their own right. In a small way, we are also helping to keep alive some of the traditional rural crafts associated with these features; employing the latest in a long line of craftsmen that runs back through history. Working with us on this current project is David Renwick, a local waller who has been practising for over 30 years. He learnt his craft on the family farm, and a love of working with stone became a full-time occupation. I have always been impressed by his enthusiasm, and his positive belief in the value of hard work. He talks with delight about clay pipes and other old artefacts he has pulled out of walls over the years; objects that were left by his predecessors in that line back through history. As David builds our wall he repeating the very same work as the craftsman who first built it some 400 years ago. Both handling the very same blocks of stone; and both perhaps pausing every so often to admire the flowery daleside ahead.

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About the Postcode Local Trust

Postcode Local Trust is a grant-giving charity funded entirely by players of People’s Postcode Lottery. Our project received £13,258 from the Trust to restore a traditional dry stone boundary wall essential for conservation grazing management at Deep Dale Nature Reserve, Derbyshire.

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