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Looking at the gaps in an old stone wall

Posted by Miranda Hodgson on 11 Dec 2009 at 03:40 PM

On the coast of Cornwall, there is a place of sea, rocks and sand called Polzeath. When the tide goes out, the rocks are revealed and if you peer into one of the crevices, you are likely to see a fish tucked away at the back in a puddle of water, waiting for the tide to come back in. It’s a strange and wonderful sight.

Living inland, I don’t get to see that sort of thing very often, but we are lucky enough to have an old stone wall that divides us from our neighbours and it is also full of gaps, so I can peer into those instead.

This wall is about three feet thick and is old enough that much of whatever mortar originally held it together has now fallen out and if you look closely you can see that beyond the cobweb-festooned openings, there are small caverns. In places, the cobwebs have been disturbed, which makes me wonder if a mouse or a shrew has passed that way to find shelter in a protected chamber within.


The outside of the wall is also home to ferns, especially Maidenhair Spleenwort (Asplenium trichomanes), ivy-leaved toadflax (Cymbalaria muralis), mosses and lichens.  


Growing over the wall is a tangled mass of old ivy and there would be a good spot for a robin to build a nest. Small birds visit the wall and sometimes I’ll see bluetits clinging to the stones as they search for spiders and gnats. Their agility is remarkable and it’s a slight puzzle that they manage to hop from one vertical spot to another without either flapping their wings or falling off.

It’s a lovely, rugged old wall and I’m glad it’s there. In future, I must look at it more often and try to find out how many species live on or within it.

More information about dry stone walls and wildlife


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