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Argel: wilderness regeneration and management

During the year 1990-1991 I made an attempt to record the various yields from Argel. Where I could not be entirely accurate with the amount of produce, I made conservative estimates. Where no price was available for a product, I used as close an equivalent as possible. Weights and measures are in imperial.

Argel: yield for 1990-1991 (fifth year of regeneration)  
Gorse: fodder, 3/4 ton (hay=£100 per ton) 75
Gorse: firewood 1/2 ton @ £30 per ton 15
Bracken: bedding 1/2 ton (straw=£50 per ton) 25
Bracken: mulch 1/4 ton (straw=£50 per ton) 12.50
Blackberries 20lb. @ £1 per lb. 20
Raspberries 10 lb. @ £1.50 per lb. 15
Tree seedlings/saplings 50 @ 50p-£1.50 each 50
other plants including seeds, herbs etc 100 @ 50p each 50
timber, including Christmas trees 30
meat: 1/2 deer, road kill 30
meat: rabbit, 8 @ £1.50 each 12
total value of harvested produce
guided tours (as part of general tour)1 hour per tour at £10 per hour. Average 25 tours per year 250
intrinsic yields ?


Argel is approximately a 2/3 acre site and under its previous management system of susidised sheep, might have been expected to produce two or three animals per year at roughly £30 per animal (this is about what the subsidy payment is per year in upland areas). It should be obvious from the above that managing wilderness regeneration systems can be far more productive as well as more environmentally beneficial. Try multiplying these figures to generate yields for 500 acre farms. Interesting, isn't it?

The crucial factor here is that in order to manage and harvest such systems we need more people living in the landscape.



With nearly half the protein content of oats, gorse provides a valuable fodder without the ploughing and aftercare required by a grain crop. It was used as a fodder crop traditionally in many areas (notably Wales and Ireland). It was usually ground between stones to a moss like consistency for feeding to cattle. Processing for horse was much simpler and involved basic devices to snap the gorse up; there is an example of an early machine at St. Fagans. It does not seem to have been used much for sheep although they will browse it in hard winters; in fact, local lore relates the hardness of the winter to the pin pricks of blood around a sheep's mouth resulting from gorse's spines.

I don't bother with a machine and just cut the gorse down with long handled loppers. If the area is likely to be taken over by bracken I tend to pollard the gorse at about waist height, otherwise I coppice it at ground level. New growth is rapid and soft (with coppice gorse in some traditions this was scythed off after a year for sheep). I tie the branches of gorse in bundles and hang them up for horses. This is an excellent addition to their winter feed and our Welsh Cobs would always leave their hay until they had finished the gorse. It also takes some time for them to eat as they are careful due to the spines; this again is a real advantage in winter and provides them with something to do. They will peel and eat every strip of bark that they can reach

The firewood from the gorse comes from the bundle of peeled sticks (a faggot) which is what you are left with when the horses have finished with it.



This makes good bedding (again, a traditional practice) but requires observation as some horse will just scoff it; not a good thing as it can kill them.

As mulch bracken is excellent. The fronds break down very quickly (within a year) producing a friable humus. The stalks take longer. At times I have bundled and tied quantities of bracken and left them for a bit (few months). All the fronds can then be shaken off leaving you with a bundle of stalks for a stick-like mulch. Due to the debate as to its poisonous qualities I tend not to use it immediately on food plants, preferring to mulch trees or add it to compost heaps.


Soft fruit

I was amazed to see little plastic boxes of blackberries on sale in the local supermarket; amazed because the area abounds in the stuff. I was unable to find out where they had come from. This is one of my favourite plants and plays a key role in regeneration, protecting trees from browsing animals and arching out into open spaces. With some care (and a good pair of gloves) it is possible to encourage the bramble to follow the sides of paths, climb through trees or use simple trellis structures. Yields can be enormous and these are very conservative estimates. We have never managed to pick anywhere near all the blackberries on the site in one season.

Raspberries again can be very significant in regeneration. These are the native variety and produce a smaller but much tastier fruit than the cultivars we buy for our gardens. In ungrazed situations, as in regeneration projects, they can form dense stands, particularly around shrubs (such as gorse) and appear to be fairly mobile, occupying spaces for a year or so and then moving on.


Tree seedlings

Due to there being a good variety of mature trees on or around Argel, tree seedlings appeared in great abundance, in some areas numbering over 100 per square meter. At times this was like managing a tree nursery and it was fairly simple to extract plants for use elsewhere on the site or for sale. Some are easier to get up than other and it will also depend on the soil type they are in. Birch and ash can be ridiculously tough and I have just pulled out many of these. Despite whipping myself for having torn roots etc. they generally just get on with it and flourish. Other species, such as oak, may need a bit more care. The most useful tool I found for this task was a thin crowbar. In a densely populated patch you can use the crowbar between plants to thoroughly loosen the soil and then just lift them out.


Other plants and seed

Other plants, herbs, raspberries etc. can be lifted in similar ways or with a trowel. Seed collection depends largely on timing. I collect masses of foxglove seed each year; this is a great coloniser and can be sown on any large patches of bare ground you might get as a result of, say, excavations or similar. A tip I had off one visitor was to put a native seed mix into something like a small salt shaker and keep this in an outdoor-coat pocket; this can be sprinkled on any bits of bare soil that might appear after minor work outside.



This is a very conservative estimate. Due to the large numbers of mature conifers on our neighbour's land we get significant quantities of self seeding spruce (Norway and Sitka), hemlock and some pine. Depending on species, these can be Christmas trees, firewood, mulch, path foundations, etc. Thus does maintenance become harvesting, which is the key to wilderness management.



The fallow deer initially formed an invisible farm; I have heard a wide range of estimates for their actual numbers in Coed Y Brenin (which covers about 20,000 acres) and in the late eighties would tend from personal experience to put them at several thousand at least; we would often (daily) see deer in groups of up to about a dozen. Imagine, several thousand organic deer that no one feeds or injects or otherwise has much to do with. In the mid nineties the Forestry Commission began regular winter culls for various reasons including the increasing numbers, damage to tree and farm crops and rampant poaching with shotguns; not nice to come across a deer that was still alive but had lost half its head.

Although I excluded our livestock from Argel, it was simply not practical to attempt to exclude the deer (the forest garden required a two meter fence to be effective). So throughout the whole time period of the regeneration project the site was regularly grazed and browsed by deer. This served to maintain some clearings (and hence the original pasture species) and also paths. Their dung also provided concentrations of nutrients which favoured other plant species.

Our good friend Martin, when he was a forest ranger, brought us a road killed deer one day which Lyn skinned and I helped eat. I felt that this could be realistically included as part of the yield from Argel as deer spent so much time on it.

Rabbits form a similar wildish yield from the patch and more latterly, pheasants from the shooting grounds at Nannau have made their way to our place (we now have a semi-resident cock and hen).



Argel is generally the first bit of Penrhos that I show people as it is here that I have learned the earliest and most significant lessons relating to land specifically and life in general. In particular, I point out that if we are to work with nature not against it, then it is essential that we have some understanding of what nature is trying to do. This is where close observation of regeneration becomes hugely valuable.


Intrinsic yields

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