Anyone living in Devon is truly blessed to be in such a beautiful and ancient landscape. It’s easy to take it all for granted when you don’t know how much work has gone into managing it over thousands of years. From the granite walls of Dartmoor, too the wooded valleys of the Dart River, and the hedged fields and lanes crisscrossing the county, it has all been painstakingly cared for by generations of farming families.

Traditional Devon landscape
Traditional Devon landscape

With the mechanisation of agriculture after the war many of Devon’s valuable hedges were torn out to create bigger fields and those that were left fell in to disrepair along with countless miles of walls and banks. The old skills required to maintain them were also being lost.

In 1980 the Devon Rural Skills Trust (DRST) was set up by a group of traditional practitioners who realised the importance of passing their skills on to the next generation.

The DRST now runs Saturday courses for members of the public who are interested in learning hedge laying, dry stone walling, and many other traditional skills. They also run a training programme for those individuals who are more serious about working with these skills. I was one such trainee, fortunate enough to be given a place on the training programme.

Learning to lay cobbles

Much of what I have learned from the DRST I have been able to put to good use managing the land here at Velwell Orchard. I’m also able to use these skills further afield in the local area, working on local farms and holdings.

Recently I’ve been instructing on DRST courses and helping to train the current crop of trainees. I feel really passionately that we need to do everything in our power to keep these skills alive.

Recent hedgelaying course with the DRST
Recent hedgelaying course with the DRST

But it’s just so easy to sit at home and watch Countryfile and assume that someone else is caring for the countryside instead of making an effort to get involved with it on a practical level. I do believe however, that the technology that allows us to watch TV and read this post can help us to care for the land. So please prove me right by checking out the news page I’ve created for the DRST (link below) and share it on social media. Better still, book yourself on a course for some fun, fresh air, exercise, and a chance to have a positive role in looking after the Devon landscape.

Yesterday was the annual DRST Hedgesteeping Competition which went ahead in spite of dismal weather conditions.

Click on the link below to find out who won!

Skills Online – The online magazine of the Devon Rural Skills Trust

Proper Edges – My new website displaying some of the work I’ve done