By Linda Clarkson, Training co-ordinator for the Dry Stone Walling Association

Dry stane dykes are an integral feature of the landscape – particularly in the upland areas of the UK.

The practical and aesthetic value of dry stone walls in the landscape cannot be underestimated. We may take them for granted, but their impact on our landscape is immeasurable.

Their contribution to upland farming systems is still as important today as it was when they were first built some 300 years ago.

However, a lack of funding and falling incomes have led to a decline in the condition of dry stane dykes throughout the UK, affecting both their practical and aesthetic value. Upland farming incomes are in serious decline, which in turn affects the sustainability of upland communities.

Things have changed significantly on upland farms over the last 40 years. In the past, farmers would do all their own walling, but with the advent of stewardship grants, farmers relied more on contractors to repair wall gaps.

Now those grants have almost gone, but so have the skills on farm to carry out dyking maintenance and building. Although previous farming generations were skilled dykers, all too often life is too hectic for today’s farmers to devote time to acquiring those traditional skills to maintain their own dry stone walls.

Dry stane dykes are a vital tool in stock management on an upland farm. Walls form a permanent enclosure that is more robust and cost effective than any other form of field boundary, and a lack of boundary maintenance can lead to livestock husbandry issues which adversely affect profitability.

On upland farms, the land is often too rocky to drive posts in properly and post and wire will only last about 20 years, whereas a wall can remain stockproof for more than 100 years with very little maintenance. So, it make good economic sense to keep walls in good repair.

Traditional skills are being lost at an alarming rate and less young people are considering a career in traditional boundary maintenance. The Dry Stone Walling Association (DSWA) is keen to redress the balance by encouraging more young people to engage with the craft of dry stone walling.

Skilled dry stane dykers are still in demand and there are many opportunities to make a good living, whilst also helping to maintain the landscape for future generations to enjoy. By increasing the availability and affordability of training for those seeking rural careers, dry stone walling skills can be secured for the future, thereby enhancing the condition of walls and their practical farming value.

Providing opportunities for rural workers to boost their income by enhancing their self-employment skills with dry stone walling training and qualifications will also increase the viability of upland farms and improve the sustainability of rural communities.

The DSWA delivers beginner training through a network of branches, including four in Scotland. They also deliver career training leading to Lantra-accredited qualifications at the National Training Centre, in Cumbria.

The association runs an accredited certification scheme for those wishing to gain formal qualifications in dry stone walling. There are four levels of certification, each requiring a higher degree of technical skill and understanding of the stone.

Most of the work is carried out on a scheduled test day/days held regularly at sites across the country and assessed by examiners within a given time period. Qualification levels include ‘initial’, ‘intermediate’, ‘advanced’ and ‘Master Craftsman’. Advanced and Master Craftsman levels include building a selection of features off site (eg curved wall, stile, pillars).

The DSWA publishes a list of qualified professional dry stone walling contractors on its website:

Thanks to support from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the DSWA are also delivering training bursaries to young people looking to become dry stone wallers.

Currently, there are eight bursary trainees throughout the UK, including two in Scotland, who are placed with professional dry stone wallers for 12 months work-based training. They also complete intensive training courses at our National Training Centre.

By July this year, the bursary trainees will have achieved their ‘intermediate’ qualification and be ready to start their careers as professional dry stone wallers. The hpe is to secure future funding so that the bursary programme can continue.

Funding is also needed to support farmers to maintain dry stone walls. It is vital that agricultural support systems recognise the value of dry stone walls to upland farming and offer realistic levels of grant funding to maintain traditional boundaries and secure the future of the craft.

If you would like to know more about careers in dry stone walling or where to find a qualified contractor, please contact the Dry Stone Walling Association – Tel: 015395 67953; e-mail: or get more at on at the website: