Argel: a wilderness regeneration and management project.
Argel is a 3/4 acre site from which domesticated grazers were excluded in January 1986. Previously it been heavily grazed by sheep and horses. Lying at about 400 feet it was considered to be rough grazing (it is classified as a LFA) mainly "poor" grasses with heavily poached wet areas, eroded slopes and a number of gorse patches. Since then it has been lightly but continuously browsed by fallow deer, and occasionally by sheep, goats and horses, (tethered or escapees). The only other intervention has been in the form of harvesting, (see below). Argel already contained a number of mature (ie seeding) native trees and one edge of mature conifers of various types.
Rough sequence of events so far. (see slides, series 1 and 2)
Grasses grow to flower.
Large numbers of tree seedlings to a few inches including conifers but especially birch and willow. On broken ground, numbers could exceed 20 per square metre. Some collected for tree nursery and other sites.
Bracken expansion, spreading out into previously open areas. This is harvested heavily in July and used to mulch existing trees and regenerating saplings, on and off site, (potassium).
Bramble begins to throw out long runners into open spaces. Some harvested for goat fodder, others wound into gorse.
Gorse (nitrogen fixer) spreads outward by exploding seed pods. Forms basis for later clumps.
Increased birdlife, (phosphate from droppings)
Grasses begin to give way to herbs, particularly on edges of gorse patches. Notably angelica, hemp agrimony, yarrow, fox glove, hard head or napweed, raspberry. Also wild strawberry, common tormentil, meadow sweet, ladies smock, (these two on wetter areas) honeysuckle, self heal, stitchwort, heath bedstraw, meadow thistle, St. John's Wort, various trefoils, (like gorse, nitrogen fixers). Harvested for fruit or herbal prescriptions.
Regenerating oak and hazel become visible.
Older gorse patches, up to nine feet, begin to collapse and are heavily harvested, (coppice and pollard, fed in "bunches" to horses and goats off site) to reveal many trees within.
Bramble begins to establish as large beds but also interpenetrates gorse and is harvested. (fruit and goat fodder)
Self seeded alders make their appearance on wetter areas.
Definite clumps appear, focused around groups of gorse plants, as a result of intermittent browse and harvesting. Birch and willow up to 2 metres grow straight through the clumps, beyond the reach of the deer. Clumps also contain hazel and oak, full spectrum of herbs so far on clump edges, positioned according to aspect preference, (wind shelter, sun etc) plus woodland floor type plants often deep within the clump such as violets.
More obviously "useful" plants added to clumps such as damson, crab apple, wild cherry, pear.
It is pointless trying to relate this sequence to specific times as to a certain extent it all takes place simultaneously. ie. at any one moment, all parts of this sequence can be found somewhere on the site, depending on specific seed supplies, soils, aspect, existing plants, etc. Its intended here really just as a guide to the increasing complexity that occurs quite naturally as soon as grazers are excluded or limited.
No inputs were used at Argel (other than work in the form of harvesting and limited mulching to a dozen or so planted trees) It is not necessary to worry about soil types or deficiencies; the plants themselves will look after this. From the sequence it can be seen that all primary elements are supplied, (nitrogen, potassium, phosphate) and it is reasonably safe to assume that other needs will be managed naturally; that is to say, given the chance, plants, including trees, will grow themselves in their best (correct) places.
Its also very important to realise that human interaction in the form of harvesting, can be very positive in that through avoiding monocultural takeovers (eg. bracken) the complexity can be increased. Similarly, as Argel moves further towards forest, the use of grazers to maintain open areas allows for the continuation of the full spectrum of grasses and edge plants.
Argel forms apart of the seven acre embryonic permaculture plot "Tir Penrhos Isaf".