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A Proposed PERMACULTURE PROJECT at TIR PENRHOS ISAF
A permaculture design for the site.
Support for the permaculture holding has been promised from a number of individuals and organisations, some of whom are listed below.
Also, many local people, both in the farming community and other respected and professional positions, recognise and support our need to live at Penrhos. (For the final application letters of support were received from all the above. Additional letters presented included; COLEG MEIRIONYDD, DOLGELLAU to bring in the educational aspect)
1. The philosophy of permaculture.
1. Natural patterns.
Rather than just one yield, (monoculture), permaculture is concerned with a sum of yields, or polyculture. To achieve this, permaculture follows natural patterns, such as those found in forests with clearings. The aim is to include not just the maximum diversity of species but the maximum connectivity or interdependence of those species. It is this which builds strong, resilient systems.
There is no division in permaculture between farming and conservation. They are the same thing.
2. Sustainable land use
Permaculture offers a safe, sustainable form of land use. Soil reconditioning and building is achieved through the practice of particular strategies. An emphasis is placed on perennial crops, especially trees, to minimise soil disturbance. Livestock are reared in their natural habitats on self-forage basis.
Water is conserved and managed to the advantage of the polyculture. Plant systems are used to filter and purify water. The aim is to let the water leave the holding cleaner than when it arrived.
As far as possible, all energy requirements are met on site from renewable resources. All wastes are recycled so as to avoid pollution. No chemicals are required. All food produced is organic.
3. Strong local communities
Primarily, products are aimed to meet local needs, thus further reducing energy requirements in terms of transport and packaging. This generates work and cash flow in the local economy. In addition, high value products are exported from the area. This draws wealth back to the local community.
Permacultures allow for the building or rebuilding of strong interconnected local communities. It reflects the spirit of co- operation and community care evident in local tradition. It provides great flexibility, needed more than ever now, to cope with rapidly changing economy, climate, social and product needs.
2. Permaculture at Tir Penrhos Isaf.
A brief description of the site and the practical application of permaculture there. A permaculture design is included at the end of this section together with balance sheets covering income from running courses.
[Tir Penrhos Isaf]
1. Description of site.
Tir Penrhos Isaf is a seven acre holding situated in Coed Y Brenin. The land forms a small, well-sheltered hanging valley, opening to the south, between four and five hundred feet above sea level. It has good access from a public road and is well watered by several streams and springs. The holding features a wide variety of land conditions, well suited to the development of a diverse permaculture system. Further details are given in the appropriate sections below.
The land is an officially recognised holding with its own holding number. It has provided an increasing part time income for us for the last six years. The holding did support a family at one time. The original house is some distance off in the forest; this is owned by the Forestry Commission and currently leased to the National Mountainbike Association. There is no possibility of a rent or sale in the foreseeable future.
[Tir Penrhos Isaf]
2. Intensive Garden.
The intensive garden will feature a full range of vegetables and soft fruit interspaced with hard fruit arranged in a permaculture design which will include aspects of Robert Hart's Forest Garden and Winter Garden, (please see the comparative studies). Microclimates will be developed for tender species through contoured plantings, shelter breaks, (which in turn will comprise useful species) and by using existing structures such as banks, walls and trees as heat and light traps. To extend the growing season small greenhouses and cloche\cold frame systems will be incorporated, heated by power produced on site from simple renewable energy sources such as solar ponds and thermosiphons.
Emphasis will be placed on native species of plant due to their climatic suitability. These will include "wild foods" and many traditional local varieties. The development of localised high yield strains will remain a central aim.
Non-native vegetables and plants will also be included in the intensive gardens. Permaculture studies have resulted in a list, (now being published), of over 4000 edible species which can be grown in Great Britain. Permaculture workers in various parts of Cymru have already begun trials under controlled conditions to assess suitability to the local climate. Early successes, demonstrated by a research team near Llanberis, include Oca, Mashua, (tubers similar to potatoes) various ground nuts and varieties of artichoke. They are now running their own seed catalogue.
[Tir Penrhos Isaf]
The development of high yield permaculture orchards in this area requires careful design, the creation of microclimates and good species selection. Again, permaculture research in this country has already carried out much of the groundwork. There are lengthening species lists for western Scotland which are equally applicable to this locality. Sources include Canada and the Siberian Taiga. Some examples are given below;
- Sugar maple Apple, Spartan. A particularly hardy strain.
- Rowan; sorbus aucuparia edulis. Similar to the native tree but with larger, edible fruit
- Various nut pines; pinus sibirica. Edible seeds.
- Hazels, including Siberian filberts and also cobnuts grafted onto local stocks.
- Pear cultivars grafted onto local wild stock.
- Siberian pea-tree. Caragana arborescens. Stockproof shelter- breaks, bee forage and edible pods.
- Redcurrant, blackcurrant\gooseberry hybrids. Which have already proven successful on the site in trials.
- Cornelian cherry. Cornus mas
- Bunchberry; Cornus canadensis
- Juneberry; Amelanchier alnifolia
- Saskatoon serviceberry. Amelanchier alnifolia
- Salal; Gaultheria shallon
- Thimbleberry; Rubus parviflorus
- Mountain Bilberry; Vaccinium membranacaeum
- Cowberry or Low-Bush Cranberry; V. vitae-idaea
- Blueberry. Various types of Vaccinium
- Evergreen Huckleberry; V. ovatum
- Red Huckleberry; V. parvifolium
All the above are suited to the locality, being hardy, acid loving or acid tolerant plants. Many are also wetland plants and present great opportunities for increasing the yield of marshland.
More tender fruit will be grown in microclimates provided by shelter plants; the shelter plants themselves will be useful species such as those given above or for example, nitrogen fixers like the alder.
Particular attention will be payed to native wild plants, such as the bilberry, blackberry and raspberry. By identification of heavy cropping plants in the locality it will be possible to selectively breed high yield local strains. Last summer frozen blackberries were on sale in the local supermarket; they had been imported from another area. This represents a growing demand which is not being met locally. Similarly, in some cases introduced fruit and soft fruit in gardens in the area have become acclimatised over a long period of cultivation. Through taking grafts, cuttings or earth\air layering it will be possible to build up a valuable resource in terms of locally adapted varieties of introduced species.
[Tir Penrhos Isaf]
4. Fuel\Forage Forest.
The emphasis here is on native species but a proportion of high value or fast growing non-natives will be included to boost overall yield. Much of this work has already been started. Due to the occurrence of alkaline flushes and the variety of soil conditions at Tir Penrhos Isaf, the site will support a very wide range of trees. Native species, many already present or planted, include;
Alder, ash, aspen, beech, birch, bird cherry, black poplar, blackthorn, crab apple, dogwood, elder, elm, gean, hawthorn, hazel, holly, hornbeam, lime, maple, oak-Welsh and English, privet, rowan, Scots pine, spindle tree, wayfaring tree, service tree, willow and yew.
Introduced species, some already present or planted, will include;
Southern beech, German hybrid walnuts, European larch, Douglas fir, Norway spruce, Western hemlock, redwood, sweet chestnut and sycamore.
Again, microclimates would be developed for individual high yield trees such as fruit and nut. In the long term this represents a considerable yield in terms of specialist hardwood. However, short term benefits should not be underestimated. All native trees have traditional, multiple uses and spin offs. A local Natural Forester friend, who was strongly influenced by permaculture, distilled a lifetimes experience and research into a book detailing the many and various uses of native trees. Although sadly he died some years ago before his work was published, the manuscript came to me. This represents a unique opportunity to massively increase the yield of native broadleaf forest. Some of the potential uses are;
Animal fodder, human food including breads, drinks, wine and beer, coppice for carving, basket work, rope, charcoal, fencing materials, firewood, bee fodder, natural insecticides, increased water retention, erosion control, shelter belts, soil reconditioning and building, carbon dioxide absorption, wildlife, game, medicine, perfumes, preservatives, resins, sugars, soaps, tannin, writing ink, dyes and fabrics.
[Tir Penrhos Isaf]
Swales will be used on the steeper slopes to trap and redirect run-off into systems of small pools. In aquaculture, food is raised or grown in one pool to feed the animals or plants in the next lower pool. The higher pools will grow algae and single celled organisms which flow down into a pool or pools of baitfish and frogs which in turn flow down to feed fish in maincrop pools such as trout.
Aquaculture is in its early stages in this country but has great potential locally in terms of increasing yield on wet or marsh land, especially when grants are already available to farmers for the construction of ponds. Apart from the aquaculture side, such systems also provide valuable water storage which can be called on in times of drought, something which may well become vital in the future.
[Tir Penrhos Isaf]
In keeping with permaculture principles, a wide variety of livestock will be included. Local past traditions provide valuable information on the husbandry of small numbers of a variety of species, prior to the concentration on sheep. Livestock are incorporated into the design so as to maximise the use of their characteristics and waste products. Furthermore, a large amount of their feed, especially tree fodders, can be grown on site, thus minimising inputs and resulting in low work, high yield systems of management. Livestock, some already on site, are given below with indications of their food sources.
Sheep. Mainly pasture with limited access to perennial graze, (in winter) and orchard areas. Occasional graze in fuel/forage areas. Winter feed includes ground gorse, foggage, hay and root vegetables grown on site.
Cattle. Mainly pasture with some access to perennial graze. Winter feed includes foggage, (see accompanying comparative studies), tree fodder, crushed gorse, root crops.
Pigs. Pigs have time-slots in orchards, fuel and forage forests, perennial graze, marsh, pasture and wilderness. Their more permanent areas, around their winter quarters, can be planted to pig fodder plants such as oaks for acorns, crab applies for fruit and pig nut among many others.
Goats. Particularly useful animals in that they eat plants which few other animals will, including gorse straight from the plant in winter. They can also be tethered easily to graze small corners of unfenced areas or small clearings within orchards or fuel and forage forests. All winter feed can be provided on site from gorse, tree fodder, (especially coppice by-products), foggage or a small amount of hay.
Ducks. Marshes, orchards; they have a time-slot in the intensive garden, (late autumn, early spring), where they carry out valuable pest control, (slugs), and on certain ponds where they provide manures for algae and protozoa.
Hens. Pasture, perennial graze, fuel and forage forests, (their natural "home") and more limited time slots in orchards and intensive gardens where like ducks they have a useful part to play in pest and weed seed control.
Horses. Pasture, perennial graze. Horses can provide the power for all heavy work and transport relating to the site. Winter feed includes gorse, foggage, tree fodder, hay, roots.
Bees. Areas of fruiting trees and shrubs with understoreys of flowering herbs such as are found in Permaculture gardens, orchards, fuel and forage forests and wilderness are well suited to bees. As well as providing a source of honey bees undertake essential pollination work in orchards.
[Tir Penrhos Isaf]
7. Yield and Sales.
In keeping with current trends, all food produced on site, (fruit, vegetables, meat, eggs and dairy products) will be organic. Similarly, while being intensive, all livestock are reared humanely in conditions suited to their natural requirements. In the light of today's educated green consumer, this represents a secure market.
The bulk of food sales will take place through existing local outlets and in the longer term through the establishment of a food network to distribute locally produced foods.
Due to the small scale of each part of livestock operations there is the opportunity to raise yields to high levels. For example, smoked meats, naturally dyed wool wear, soft fruit yogurt etc. It is expected that particularly profitable lines will be developed over a number of years. Private sales through personal contact and advertising will allow for the growth of more specialist requirements such as goats milk for families with children allergic to cows milk. In this particular case demand often exceeds supply. Other examples include herbs and flavorings or hops for local home brewers.
Other sales include seeds, specialist plants and information on a mail order basis. There is already a great demand for this through the Permaculture Association (a registered charity) and increasing demand generally for native wild flower seed. Plants would also be sold through existing local retail outlets. Locally rare wild plants, already present on site, will be propagated, by seed, cuttings etc, for sale as plants or seed.
Materials are already produced for local craftworkers and as coppice comes into production this will play a useful part in the general yield of the site. Due to the small scale it will be possible to cater for precise requirements. For example, we have been approached by a local basket maker to plant osier which is suited to the alkaline pockets present on site. Short rotations, (1-3 years) of some coppice, particularly willows, mean regular returns and the opportunity to interplant and overplant with longer term plants. Again, all sales can take place at a local level through existing outlets. As before, yields can be increased in value for sale through specialist markets in other areas, by carrying out the craftwork on site.
[Tir Penrhos Isaf]
8. Limited Permaculture Courses.
Our primary aim at Tir Penrhos Isaf is to develop a viable permaculture holding. It is not our intention to set up an educational centre or attract lots of tourists. However, permaculture courses provide a lucrative source of income, particularly during the early years as fruit and tree crops come into production.
The intention would be to hold about four permaculture courses per year, each course of two weeks duration with occasional weekend courses. Course numbers are limited to fifteen\twenty per course so about 80 people per year. Accommodation of visiting students is in existing local bed and breakfast establishments. Local Village halls are hired for lecture space, slides, videos etc. Catering and foodstuffs are provided by local people. Tir Penrhos Isaf itself is used as a demonstration holding showing examples of permaculture strategies and for practical work. Fees are weighted so that visitors subsidize locals.
In the past, permaculture teachers have had to be bought in but the may-june Designers' Course that I ran this year, (1991), qualified five local people as probationary permaculture designers which entitles them to teach. Course teaching can then be largely taken over by local teachers with the occasional outside expert for specific topics. The qualification of Welsh speaking locals, (two so far), will allow for the development and teaching of permaculture through the medium of the Welsh language.
Balance sheets for the Weekend Introductory Course and the fortnight Designers' Course are provided at the end of this section. Both these courses were very successful both financially and in terms of satisfied students. They also provide a useful cash injection to the community at the village level. Visiting students have included representatives from New Zealand, Australia, the Slovak Institute of Science in Czechoslovakia, the Radnorshire Smallholding Project, Leicester City Farm and the Soil Association. The teaching has been of the highest standard currently on offer and the top members of the Permaculture Association (G.B.) who have led our courses have always expressed strong support for our work.
There is now an increasing demand for permaculture courses which exceeds supply. There is also the awareness that permaculture is quite new to this country. This means that at present, students are not worried too much that the sites that they visit do not fully reflect permaculture principles. However, in future, as more permaculture holdings are set up and developed in other parts of the country, this will not be the case. Permaculture is concerned in particular with energy and its conservation. Living away from the land as I do at present, is an example of an unnecessary consumption of energy. Together with the fact that it will be impossible to implement and run a complex permaculture development without a full time presence on site, this will become a serious deterrent to future student numbers. It would be a great shame to loose the opportunity to continue running courses locally, to the ultimate benefit of the community, particularly when so much of the farming world is suffering severe hardship.
[Tir Penrhos Isaf]
9. Permaculture Design.
As a qualified Probationary Designer I am now able to undertake permaculture designs for other people's holdings. As the interest in permaculture continues to grow this will form a lucrative market. However, one of the commonest requests I hear from clients is to see working examples. Apart from a handful of embryonic projects in Cymru there is nothing really to offer. I can only describe my own work at Tir Penrhos Isaf as embryonic, giving limited examples of particular permaculture strategies as I am not resident there to develop it as a whole system. As before, the inability to live on site will pose severe restrictions on my continued work.
[Accounts were included showing income and expenditure for a weekend introductory course and a two week intensive permaculture design course.]
3. Permaculture; a general description.
"Permaculture (permanent agriculture) is the conscious design and maintenance of agriculturally productive ecosystems which have the diversity, stability and resilience of natural ecosystems. It is the harmonious integration of landscape and people providing their food, energy, shelter and other material and non-material needs in a sustainable way"
From Bill Mollison's "Designers' Manual" 1988
1. Some problems in current farming.
Farmers have been encouraged by government through subsidies and grants to farm in particular ways. It now seems likely that these subsidies will be heavily cut. This is compounded by southern grain producers turning towards livestock production, including sheep, on "set-aside" land. Many people are consequently very worried about a collapse in hill farming and the reversion of uplands to scrub.
Coupled with this is the growing strength of the conservation lobby and the environmentally educated tourist. Concerns have been expressed about inappropriate forestry, erosion of grazed slopes, the grazing of woodlands and inadequate sewerage treatment.
There is also a growing concern over invasive species such as bracken, rhododendron and Japanese knotweed. Some species suppress native vegetation in woods whilst others inhibit the agricultural use of the land they occupy.
Land use is intimately linked with local communities and culture. Any further reduction in the local farming economy will have serious effects on both. There has been much talk of diversification of product, as a means to solving farming problems and permaculture offers various strategies which encourage this approach.
2. Permaculture Principles.
The fundamental principle in permaculture is conscious design. That is to say, all elements in a system, be they plants, animals or buildings, are arranged so as to be of mutual benefit to each other.
Emphasis is placed on developing a rich diversity of species, plant and animal, to recreate the stability of natural systems like forests. This requires an understanding of the interdependence and multiple connections between all the elements of a system.
Permaculture tends towards perennial crops, especially trees, bushes and herbs, and self forage livestock production to minimise maintenance and maximise yield.
Renewable forms of energy are used as far as possible and all wastes are recycled through the system.
Permaculture principals have great flexibility and can be applied to gardens, smallholdings or farms.
3. Permaculture Strategies.
A. Water management.
Water is the basis of all plant and animal growth, thus the careful management of water is central to permaculture. With various large scale environmental problems becoming more apparent such as ozone depletion and global warming, rainfall patterns and climate generally are likely to become increasingly more difficult to predict. Current scientific theories suggest that locally we might expect hotter summers with consequent drought and wetter autumns and winters with consequent land drainage problems, increased erosion and the risk of floods. This will place increasing importance on water management.
Permaculture uses various strategies to slow the flow of water through the landscape. Run-off can be trapped by series' of keylines or swales, low banks which run along the contour, and directed to dams and ponds or earth storage. Even quite narrow contour plantings of trees which include an understory of bushes and herbs will trap run- off in the litter layer and direct water down into the soil.
Using these strategies much more water is trapped in periods of high rainfall and released gradually during the summer, effectively drought proofing land. At the same time, plant growth is increased; to the spring peak\autumn flush pattern is added steady summer growth. Water can also be released from impoundments to irrigate particular crops.
Every impoundment of water, even if on the same stream, is capable of generating energy using existing, well-tried technologies. This energy can be used on-site or, on a larger scale, it becomes a product, part of the yield of the system. on-site uses include hydraulic rams to pump water up to higher storages and low power electricity generation to heat horticultural greenhouses.
Furthermore, every impoundment provides the opportunity to establish aquacultures. These systems, made up from mutually beneficial selections of fish, plants and crustaceans that model natural systems, are capable of very high yields and are amongst the most productive uses of land.
Generally, fish farms have concentrated on rearing single species. It is now recognised that the introduction of a second species, say bottom feeders added to surface feeders can increase yields in both species without increasing inputs. Additional animals and plants can be stacked into the system to further reduce input or increase yield. For example, insect-attracting plants can be grown on the pond edges to provide fish food. Water fowl can be introduced as additional yield and the pond bed can be dredged regularly to provide a phosphate rich manure for use on the land.
Work is currently being carried out on the use of plant\water systems to extract pollutants. Various plant filter beds are running successfully in different parts of the UK and water authorities are already showing interest. Plant filter systems can be used for various purposes such as the treatment of sewerage, (up to twenty times more effectively than most conventional treatments,) the extraction of toxins or heavy metals from polluted sources and the uptake of radioactive materials to allow safe removal.
This leads on to Marsh and wetland management. In the past the emphasis, through subsidy and grant, has been on draining. This can be expensive and not always effective. But because of the water present in these sites they provide unique opportunities for developing very productive systems.
Species can be selected which flourish on wet\acid\soil\peat; in particular certain North American Blueberries and various cultivated strains of bilberry show promise. Through the use of series' of ponds, all the benefits of aquaculture can be incorporated.
Forest as monoculture is an unnecessary limit to yield. As with aquaculture, increasing the diversity of species (plant and animal) results in increased yield and provides the opportunity to harvest at different levels. "Forest" is used here to include clearings, which allows for the incorporation of grazing stock. On degraded soils careful design includes soil conditioning trees and other plants such as alder, which fixes nitrogen in the soil and birch which can grow rapidly in very poor soils and in turn rots down very quickly.
The obvious product from forests is timber which could include long term valuable species (walnut for example), as well as shorter term trees (such as soft woods) for on-site use or local sale. With the increase of local craftspeople with special requirements there will be the opportunity for cash crop timber markets through, for example, specific types of willow and sallow for basket making. There is also the opportunity to develop local willow resources as fuel products, particularly as the new generation of high mass wood burners become available.
However, in permaculture, timber forms only one aspect of forestry. Temperate climates are particularly well suited to fruit and berry production, especially when coupled with careful water management and the development of micro-climates and shelter for sites. Soft fruits planted with a tree crop can provide a low input return during the initial waiting period before trees are ready for thinning.
Main tree crops can also include hard fruits and nuts such as the cobnut and filbert. Through careful design prior to planting, such trees can be given shelter by hardier species to develop favorable micro-climates. Harvesting can be by hand, which would yield a high value organic product, or through the use of animals such as pigs which can themselves then be treated as a yield. There is also important work to be done through the grafting of high yield varieties of fruit and nut on local stock; for example, the various cobnuts can be grafted onto indigenous hazel and certain fruits can be grafted to wild pear. Over a period of time it will be possible to develop high yield varieties adapted to local conditions.
Natural forest contains a rich understory of shrubs and herbs and by careful design useful species can be added to planted forest to provide further yield. These could include plants for fibre and textiles, medicines as well as food for people and animals. Livestock can be introduced for limited grazing to certain areas to direct or control growth in plant species or harvest a product. The animals in turn can then be treated as yield. Pigs have been mentioned but others like deer, (as in Coed Y Brenin) and goats, (presently seen by many as a problem on the Rhinogydd) could be usefully employed. Such forests would provide a rich variety of niches for many forms of wildlife, thus satisfying conservation arguments, and introducing the further possibilities of forest walks, self harvest sales and educational facilities. In this way, highly productive forest systems can be developed which will show increasing yield through time yet allow continuous cropping at different levels.
C. Pasture as clearings.
Within this forest context it is possible to consider pasture as clearings, large or small. Forest edges are especially rich in biomass and thus capable of high yields. By maximising edge length this effect can be further enhanced. The new generation of electric tape fencing, powered for example by on-site small scale hydro-electric systems or solar panels, allows for complex edge shapes providing increased diversity of plants through increasing the availability of edge niches. If various fodder trees and crops are planted here then the tape can be moved further into the forest during the winter to allow animals access to shelter and browsing.
It is also estimated that pasture can be planted with upto 30% treecover without lowering stocking rates. Any loss in grazing is more than made up for by the benefits the trees provide. Here they would include shelter, (thus reducing the amount of additional winter feed required), cut fodder or self graze, shade, (which may well become vital due to increased ozone depletion) and increased growth in pasture due to water retention around the roots and leaf litter. Coppiced alder grown in this situation could replace the use of nitrogen fertilizer. Special high value trees, or multiple crop trees, could also be included. Walnut, for example, while providing valuable timber in the long term, also yield nuts, high quality cooking oil and medicinal leaves, (a vermifuge). German grafted hybrid walnuts fruit within three to five years and are more tolerant of frost and damp.
D. Wilderness regeneration\management.
There is some concern at the possibility of land coming out of use because of cut subsidies and altering patterns of land use. Fears have been expressed about the countryside reverting to scrub or wilderness. However, through the intervention of people it should be possible to gain high yields from wilderness management.
The general direction of permaculture here is to steer natural regeneration towards productive mixed forest and grazing as outlined above. This is the direction the land will take anyway but through human intervention it is possible to greatly accelerate this process.
"Scrub" is one part of this process that evokes concern yet it has important environmental significance. In effect these early colonisers perform natural soil conditioning and prepare the way for trees and other plants. They can supply all essential nutrients and minerals. Gorse, for example, fixes nitrogen, bracken is high in potassium and the increased cover encourages birds which supply phosphates in their droppings. This effect can be increased by introducing other birds such as poultry or game which then form part of the yield.
Managed scrub can also yield quality animal feeds such as gorse, once recognised locally as a valuable crop; working horses thrive on mature gorse, it can be crushed or rolled for cattle and sheep will eat the soft, young growth if the plants are regularly coppiced. By careful management, rich perennial graze\browse systems can be developed which support various animal species. In this way, existing problems such as feral goat and deer can provide yield with little input. Limited tourism could also be introduced to increase yield and provide labour for tree planting through connections with city conservation groups or educational facilities.
Wilderness itself is very important in permaculture as it is here that the natural patterns of plant and animal growth and the interactions of species can best be studied. Certain plants grow best in certain conditions, with certain neighbours; livestock will seek out certain plants when sick if given the chance. Wilderness is thus a tremendous resource and will provide further information for the better design of more productive permacultures.
E. Invasive species.
There are growing worries about the spread of certain plant species, some foreign, others native. These include plants such as rhododendron, bracken and Japanese knotweed. The spread of the plant can be rapid and land use is degraded as niches for other species are taken up. Various chemical controls have been attempted and there is talk of introducing foreign biological controls or genetically engineered insects, all with unknowns attached and possibly disastrous results.
Permaculture presents various strategies to solve these problems. The general aims would be to direct the land back towards the productive forests outlined above but obviously local site conditions are taken into account. For example, good level land might be better reclaimed as pasture, steeper slopes liable to erosion would require particular species for protection or higher land might be more valuable as perennial graze\browse.
What is already clear is that the invasive plants cannot simply be cut down and removed while leaving unchanged the conditions that allowed them to proliferate in the first place. This allows room for their return or the invasion by an even worse species. So permaculture strategies are concerned with filling the niche that the invasive species' occupies with other more useful plants, especially trees, which are detrimental to the invasive plant. Depending on species the invasive plant may be suppressed by shading out or crowding, as in the thicket stage of young tree growth.
These strategies still require the removal of the invasive plants aerial growth prior to planting the land they occupied with useful species. Permaculture therefore looks for uses for the invasive species so that it becomes a harvest and thus increases the total yield of the system. Possibilities include the use of rhododendron as a fuel, (particularly in high mass stoves), bracken as a source of potash or compost (particularly significant now as environmental pressures grow over the use of peat composts), the use of Japanese knotweed as sheep fodder, possibly on a self forage basis or the removal of the plant through rooting pigs. In this way problems can provide their own solutions, no longer detracting from total yield but actively contributing towards it.
F. Intensive gardening.
Intensive gardening provides the focus for much that has been learnt through agriculture and horticulture, combined with permaculture's understanding of natural systems. Centered about the dwelling where they can receive most attention, highly productive gardens can be developed on relatively small scales. A mulch system is used to mimic the deep soils of forest floors with all mulch materials being grown or produced on site. The emphasis is on perennials to minifies work and a wide diversity of plants arranged in a mutually beneficial design.
Beds are shaped to maximize edge while minimizing path space. The approach is generally organic so no artificial or chemical fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides are used. Specific plants are included, usually native or local, to provide these services. For example, various plants including the trefoils grow and self-seed easily while fixing nitrogen. Other plants that harbour insect predators can be incorporated into the design. Micro-climates can be developed by making banks, planting crescent shaped protection to the north and developing profiles in the growth which focus heat and light on particular tender plants. The inclusion of greenhouses heated by energy produced on-site allows for an extension of the growing season and an increase in the range of plants that can be grown. Thus high value exotics and\or out-of-season foods can be grown on low inputs.
With a changing climate it will be increasingly difficult to predict weather patterns and thus crop types. The diversity of permaculture systems provides buffering from adverse conditions by not working in monocultures. However, particular sites may well be suited to larger plantings of particular species and the design will take this into account. Even so, monocultures are usually not necessary and other plants can be included to increase overall yield. For example, continuous grain cropping is being researched; this allows for three or four types of grain to be grown in succession on the same plot, each grain being sown prior to the harvest of the previous grain.
Energy is routed through the system to reduce work; for example, water can be channeled or piped to small holding ponds within the gardens which allow for droughts and provide the option for small aquacultures. Livestock units are sited so as to ease the application of manures. Chicken coops can be backed onto greenhouses to provide warmth and allow the easy use of their droppings which provide valuable phosphates. In this way low input, minimum effort techniques combine to produce maximum yield.
4. Conclusions and Directions.
Permaculture offers common sense, practical strategies to present day problems in land use. Developed initially in Australia it has been applied very successfully there and in a variety of other climates and altitudes. The principles and patterns of natural growth remain the same, only the species selected vary, according to local conditions. It is particularly effective where the environment has been seriously damaged such as through the cycle of over grazing, drought and erosion.
Although permaculture designs are already working well in many parts of the world there are not many in the UK. Notable examples include Robert Hart's Forest Garden in Shropshire, Bruce Marshall's 1500 acre hill farm in the Scottish Borders and Aurther Hollins' low input farm in Somerset. No mature examples exist in Wales and only a very few embryonic projects. Much work is still to be done on plant species suited to the local climate. Similar important research still needs to be undertaken on uses of native species and particularly local or localised varieties. The interactions of different species in complex plantings is only just being unraveled.
The development of such localised strategies can be carried out on a small scale initially, thus providing a seed bed for new ideas which can be applied when required at any level, from home garden to hill farm.
5. Practical applications at Tir Penrhos Isaf.
Tir Penrhos Isaf provides excellent opportunities for the research and development of practical permaculture techniques and strategies appropriate to this area. A wide range of land conditions found in the locality are represented on this site. Some of these could be categorised as;
- Regenerating native forest
- Hedgerow trees
- Old meadow
These are further complexed by;
- Steep slopes, drought in summer
- Level, waterlogging in winter
- Feral deer
All the various permaculture strategies outlined above could be applied on this site. Some have already been started; the wilderness management project is now entering its sixth year and has gained national and international recognition as a pioneer in natural regeneration. While carrying out potentially valuable research into diversification, such a project would intend to be self financing and would require additional seasonal labour. However, large amounts of money are available on low-interest terms through ethical investment funds such as "Friends Provident"; as an ethically and environmentally sound project, Tir Penrhos Isaf would qualify.
6. Yield in Permaculture.
Trees represent a long term yield; an annual plant is short term. By maximising the diversity of plant and animal as in permaculture it is possible to generate cycles of production which spread yield throughout the year.
Yield rises steadily because there is always room for another plant. Similarly, through practical experiment it will always be possible to improve the design by, for example, redirecting energy through the system or linking up elements in more efficient ways. Yield could be categorised as follows.
Permaculture yields a wide range of products. Food, all organic, in keeping with current trends, could include fruit, nuts, soft fruit, honey, fish, shell fish, a wide range of vegetables and meats such as beef, lamb, and pork. Specific local requirements could be catered for and high value crops, such as difficult to harvest crops could be grown for export to other areas. Livestock fodder would be grown on site to further reduce the need for inputs.
Other products include fuel, timber, textiles, fabrics, dyes, plants such as herbs, rare or endangered species, localised varieties, seeds including purpose produced wild flower seeds, much in demand now for town and city gardens.
Such diversity of yield is particularly suited to sale at a local level through say the village shop or farm gate\shop. Certain high value items can be exported from the area. Also, yield is always taken to its highest level given the limitations of the situation. For example, one ton of firewood may sell for say £30. The same wood converted into planks may sell for £300 and as furniture, perhaps £3000 or even £30,000. Similarly, meat smoked with oak is worth more than just the carcass weight. Yield can thus be increased, especially if the processes which are needed to raise the level of yield are provided on site.
In the context of a permaculture research project, knowledge or information is part of the product yield. A project such as this will generate large quantities of information. Occasional courses already help to generate income and provide useful labour for undertaking developments such as new plantings. Tir Penrhos Isaf has appeared in various articles and the written word can provide valuable yield in the form of articles, pamphlets, books, experimental write-ups and practical guides. While tourism will not be catered for on this site, as an on-going project, limited guided viewing could be available which in turn would generate additional income.
Visually, the diversity of plants and animals supported on this land through permaculture, would appear as an oasis of diversity in an area predominated by moncultures of soft wood plantations. Such a project would be actively environmentally friendly. It would not require chemical fertilizers or large quantities of bought-in animal fodder. All products would be entirely free from artificial pesticides, herbicides or fungicides. It would generate no waste or pollution and water flowing through the site would be cleaner when it left than when it entered.
Such a diverse mixture of species would provide many niches for wildlife; wilderness itself would be actively encouraged in certain areas and thus provide further habitats and seed beds. Rare or threatened indigenous species already growing on the site, such as helorborines and globe flowers, would be preserved and used as stock from which to grow plants to export to other areas. Livestock would be provided with environments similar to their own natural habitats.
Such a project, while being an independent working unit in its own right, would provide successful examples of the practical application of permaculture techniques for those wishing to learn and use them. Permaculture is receiving increasing attention in the UK and this project would be a unique asset to the area and would reflect the National Park's concern for the environment.
4. Permaculture. Comparative Studies.
1. Difficulties with comparative studies.
At present there are no mature examples of complete permacultures in either Wales or Britain as a whole. However, there are some excellent examples of the successful application of particular permaculture strategies, some of which are given below. The number of new, (or embryonic), permaculture projects have more than doubled in the last six months. These range in size from half an acre to 1500 acres. A selection of these, including Tir Penrhos Isaf, are presented in "The Permaculture Plot", a publication available through Ecologic Books or the Permaculture Association.
2. Robert Hart's Forest Garden.
Wenlock Edge, Shropshire.
This is probably the best example so far of an intensive permaculture garden\orchard in Britain.
After 30 years study, research and practical experience in Agroforestry and Forest Farming, Robert Hart set up a quarter acre model forest garden on his farm on Wenlock Edge. It is a miniature reproduction of the self-maintaining ecosystem of the natural forest, consisting of some 78 varieties of fruit and nut trees and bushes, perennial and self-seeding vegetables and culinary and medicinal herbs.
Established within two years and now in its seventh year, it is self-perpetuating, self-fertilizing, self-watering, self-mulching, self-weed-suppressing, self-pollinating, self-healing and highly resistant to pests and diseases. The only work required is pruning, controlling plants that seek to encroach on each other, and mulching with compost once a year, after the herbaceous plants die down in the late autumn.
The scheme is very highly intensive, making use of all seven-odd "storeys" found in the natural forest for the production of economic plants. These "storeys" are;
Robert Hart has also developed a model winter garden, the primary aim of which is to grow very hardy vegetables, available during the winter months. This includes experiments with uncommon Italian, French, Chinese and Japanese vegetables. Of particular interest are chicories emanating from mountainous and hilly areas in Italy.
The forest garden system is in direct contradiction to the conventional horticultural view that food-plants should be grown in isolation from each other. As the forest garden demonstrates, many plants tend to thrive best when growing in close proximity to each other. The reasons for this are contained in the science of Plant Symbiosis, a study that has so far been very little researched. One of Robert Hart's main aims is to further refine the laws of plant symbiosis which will allow the development of more complex and productive systems.
Obviously there are differences between Shropshire and Gwynedd such as climate and soil types but the basic principles remain the same and some of these differences are even to our advantage. For example, much more severe frosts can occur in Shropshire. Further, Gwynedd's higher annual rainfall, if managed carefully through permaculture strategies, provides the opportunity for more steady growth rather than the usual pattern of spring peak\autumn flush. Applying the same principles locally requires careful selection of species. The local climate is particularly well suited to acid-peat berry-plants such as the Canadian Blueberry, Hilberry and others. Selective breeding of native species such as the bilberry would also be employed. Local grown fruit, including some particularly good croppers, can be seen around the Mawddach, and by careful siting within the various microclimates provided by the forest garden, many species could be grown successfully.
3. Bruce Marshall.
1500 acre hill farm on the Scottish Borders.
Bruce Marshall's approach to restoring fertility is simple and highly effective. Stimulated by the desire to plant broadleaf, native trees rather than conifers, he was disturbed to find that advisers from MAFF and the Forestry Commission told him the same, sad story. Fertility on the hills had declined over the years and new broadleaf trees would be unable to survive the lean, acid conditions. Undaunted, Bruce Marshall sought a solution and gradually pieced together what has become an important permaculture strategy which consists of;
The liming is a major intervention, (1.5 tons per acre in years one and three), and can cause temporary locking up of trace elements in the soil. Stock grazing on the land need mineral supplements initially until the soil is able to maintain its own balance again.
The liming results in soils which will support a high earthworm population and allow clover to establish. The clover further improves soil health by fixing nitrogen.
Earthworms are collected from high population areas on the farm, recognisable by mole activity. They are bred in simple compost bins and distributed on the previously limed areas. Soil passing through the gut of an earthworm is further reduced in acidity and several tons of soil per acre can be turned over by worms every year.
On Bruce Marshall's farm, soil profiles reveal a new layer of wormcast topsoil up to two inches deep, lying on top of the peat, within five years of implementing the strategy. There is reduced spread of rushes and sedges, improved drainage and increasing amounts of diverse grass species and clover. The farm boundaries are striking for the colour change from green to brown where his neighbours have not applied the same strategy. Stocking rates on the farm have been increased and bought in fodder reduced.
Meanwhile there are new hedgerow plantations and shelter belts of willow and Rosa Regosa coming along well and areas of mixed hardwood plantings becoming established. These represent further opportunities to reduce inputs through the provision of fodder, either cut or self graze\browse.
Bruce Marshall's strategy for rejuvenation of upland peat areas is directly applicable locally. It demonstrates clearly that even severely degraded soils can be improved relatively quickly to allow for more productive use.
3. Aurther Hollins.
Aurther Hollins has worked the family farm for forty years now. His methods are notable for a number of reasons but one strategy is particularly relevant here.
Hollins has concentrated on building a thick, resilient turf. Methods have included the return of all animal manures to the land, the sowing of very complex mixtures of grasses and herbs, the exclusion of chemical fertilizers and the encouragement of earthworms through additional composts, worm breeding and distribution.
Winter feed is provided largely by Cocksfoot in the form of foggage or "Welsh Hay". Livestock are excluded from winter grazing areas for six weeks during September\October. On these areas the Cocksfoot grows upto four feet before collapsing down for the winter. Cattle are turned out here and consume the high cellulose feed on a self-graze basis throughout the winter months. By spring they are just uncovering the fresh green shoots of the new growth.
Thick hedges provide additional browse and shelter; no extra feed is required. Because of the resilient turf and shelter belts, the cattle can be left out all winter. Because no additional fodder is given, there are no areas of concentration where poaching and damage to soil structure can occur.
Aurther Hollins has reduced his stocking rate to 3/4 cows per acre, but because his feed bills have practically disappeared, farm profits have increased. All his meat is sold as organic through local butchers. He also has a lot less work to do with the cattle and is able to turn more attention to other parts of the farm enterprise.
Foggage from cocksfoot and other tough grasses represents the re-emergence of a neglected Welsh tradition which has great relevance to modern concepts of extensification. It provides a good example of a strategy which allows for the permaculture principles of low input, low energy farming and is well suited to this locality.
[Some notes and after thoughts which I wrote later. These are thoughts on the lines of "what I would do differently if I was doing it again".
Some notes and afterthoughts (18\1\92)
A. Depending on where you are, various planning laws apply. Certain developments will not require permission, so check first. (Library, Citizens' Advice etc or planning office.)
B. In our case, inside a national park, strict rules apply. Here, new dwellings outside village boundaries have to prove financial viability. Our problem was convincing the committee that it would be possible to do this on a seven acre PC holding. As many of the committee members are sheep farmers having a hard time on several hundred acres, this was always going to be difficult. In the end, in consultation with our planning officer, we opted for temporary permission (caravan, 3 years) to allow us the opportunity to demonstrate viability, with the option of reapplying to extend that period. This suited us as we cannot afford to build a house yet. However, if your design is sufficiently detailed in terms of funding, or your planning rules not quite so tight, then an immediate, permanent solution is obviously more desirable.
C. Work with your planning officer. Their job is to help you. Also, build a friendly connection with another member of the planning committee, ideally your local member. These two points are crucial. If the committee receives an application that goes against the local structure plan and none of them know anything about you, they will refuse it. Cultivate interest, which leads to support.
[D. There is no D.]
E. For our case, the planning officer asked us to include a general description of PC by way of an explanation. Unfortunately, my description was seen by the committee's agricultural advisor as a threat to traditional farming patterns and he opposed the application on these grounds. This was carelessness on my part. I would have done better to point out that large scale sheep farming is comparatively recent and that the real local traditions, (small farms, mixed stock, coppice woodlands) provide strong roots for PC. If I was doing it again I would also emphasise the community aspects of PC more. ie LETS systems, shared work, people-care etc.
F. The opposition from the agricultural advisor was counteracted by a strong letter of support from the Farmers Union Wales (I had been a member for three years), the national park ecologist, (I showed him my wilderness plot), the planning officer and our local member. This was enough to tip it our way.
G. Copies of letters of support (see list within) were included in the final application. Some of these, such as from the Forestry Commission, were extremely brief, but the name is enough. Who to approach will vary according to your area,(ie who is seen to be important.) The Green Party might be more appropriate for you than Plaid Cymru. We went for organisations but prominent individuals and evidence of general support is sure to help.
H. Emphasise the ethical\environmentally sound basis for PC. You want to undertake something meaningful. Allow them to see that they can help.
I. My experience of PC is continuously growing, so observe my text for errors or where ideas\techniques may have been improved. (For example, you can only really use Quail for pest control in a cool greenhouse where at least part of the structure is netting instead of glass-too hot otherwise)
J. Remember, by adding your ideas\ideals to this structure, you can make an even better one.]
Chris Dixon 1994
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