Category Archives: Environment

Your Resilience Plan – Housing

In a climate where cold and rain are frequent features, your house is a critical resource. Unless you can afford to build your own, you will have to make do with a standard model, not designed with resilience in mind. Very few houses in Britain can function independently of mains services (‘off-grid’).

There’s still a lot you can do. Living off-grid is a major lifestyle change, and you can cultivate the correct attitude from any starting position. Then you’ll know what opportunities to look out for and be ready to seize them, as well as being better prepared for domestic emergencies.

Heating is important. You can always keep warm by wearing extra clothes, but a cold house soon become damp. This is a health hazard. Cut the high cost of heating energy with good insulation. There are many low-cost options, such as using double curtains and draught excluders in winter.

Use any outside space you have. You can grow herbs in pots and put up a washing line in the smallest of gardens. With a larger space, cultivate vegetables or hold community gatherings.

The structure of your house may be resistant to resilient improvements, but it’s filled with furniture, which is under more control. Consider quality and ease of cleaning in purchases. Learn how to care for furniture and you can afford to spend the extra on better made, or even locally crafted, items. Buy second-hand to save energy costs and help reduce the waste stream.

Taking this further, you could learn to repair or build your own furniture. For example, your landlord might not allow you to put up shelves. Find an old wardrobe and convert it to a bookshelf. If woodwork is too daunting, try making a rug or learning to upholster a simple stool. It’s important that you learn how much effort and skill is required, so that you know the true value of hand-made goods. Always try and source materials to benefit your local economy for your DIY projects.

making a rag rug
This method uses a hooked needle to make a rag rug

These are all easy tasks, which you can carry out at any time. Suppose things go wrong in the outside world, upon which you depend? Do you know how to turn your mains services on and off? Where’s your water shut-off tap? You’ll need to know this if your system springs a leak! How would you make your house safe and secure if you have to leave it? Remember the two basic emergency situations are evacuation and isolation.

Let’s assume the latter case. You’re safe at home, but isolated from mains services and new supplies. Is your emergency food store independent of mains power? Many people rely on freezers to see them through. These are valuable in most circumstances. However, after a couple of days without mains electricity, all you have is a waste disposal problem. It’s very difficult to keep a freezer going on the sort of off-grid power you can easily access, but you’d learn a lot by setting this up.

How else could you provide essential services in your house in an emergency? What would you actually do if the water, gas or electricity went off? Make a plan. Would it see you through overnight? Could you last a few weeks? Understand what you might need and source the necessary equipment. A loft or shed are important as storage spaces for this.

For example, a well-insulated house can be kept from freezing or damp with the smallest of heaters. As long as you don’t keep leaving doors open, even a 500 watt oil-filled radiator can keep a room warm.

Never use a barbecue or other charcoal-burning device to heat a room or to cook indoors. They give off dangerous amounts of carbon monoxide, and could quickly kill you.

The truly resilient can make their own candle-powered flowerpot stove, using the proper instructions. The excitable inventor gives you full details to make your own if you scroll down, as shipping costs to the UK from the USA are quite high. Use this design and no other! All I’d add would be to use stainless steel for the inner metal workings, as ordinary steel nuts and washers are coated with zinc. Find out why this isn’t ideal, using your own research.

flowerpot candle stove
A flowerpot candle stove

Once you’ve given household resilience some thought and tried out a few ideas, you’re in a better position to assess a new place. Value a garden, food storage space and a large kitchen. Take a day trip to a historic house as your adventure for this section. Study the facilities people used before mains services.

A community eco-housing plan is the ultimate in resilient housing. It’s a major investment, so do plenty of research. Study the issues involved until you can discuss this possibility with confidence. Many communities offer places to rent. Being able to work from home opens up more possibilities.

Finding a resilient house is a challenge. Most builders of large estates are motivated by financial greed. They source cheap materials from overseas, while British farmers produce enough straw as a by-product of grain farming to build 600,000 straw bale houses every year! Research and lobbying are important. Allow no new major development to go unchallenged as every single one costs land which could be used for resilient housing instead.

‘The Handbook of Practical Resilience’ is available from New Generation Publishing, where print-on-demand ensures they never run out of copies or make you wait for an order. It contains the updated Resilience Assessment. Signed copies can be obtained by contacting me directly.

Same goes for ‘Recipes for Resilience’ your go-to book for food security strategies. Over a hundred simple adaptable recipes, plus many tips for growing vegetables and for storing food.

Notes on a Resilient Community

I made these notes some years ago, while researching for ‘Recipes for Resilience – Common Sense Cooking for the 21st Century’. A whole sheaf of writing was condensed into a ‘mind map’, as pictured below, and set aside.

rough notes on self-sufficiency

If I need this information for an article, book or story, this serves to remind me of the conclusions I drew from the research. It underpins the description of a resilient village on page 198 of ‘Recipes’ for example.

However, other people don’t find it quite so clear, so I’m just going to expand on these notes a little.

I began the project by musing on how much land a single person might need to grow all their own food. An acre of vegetables is said to be sufficient, but you’d want more variety, more redundancy, perhaps extra food to trade for other necessities. This is what I came up with:-

One acre of vegetables

About a third of an acre for chickens – you’d get both eggs and meat here

One acre for a horse

One acre for a cow

A quarter acre for a sheep

One square yard of grain gives you one loaf; 200 square yards of grain crop should suffice.

A quarter acre of pond supplies fish

Barns, workshops and housing would occupy another quarter acre.

That’s about four acres, adding land for paths, fences, windmills and suchlike.

By that time, I was considering fuel as well. Four acres of coppiced woodland can provide enough to heat a house all year in a temperate climate.

This was looking like a lot of work for one person. Suppose you got ill? A house can accommodate several people. Farm animals don’t like to live alone. Resources and practical skills are only half of the Resilience Wheel. Community is important. Let’s add more people!

With four adults living in the house, the amount of woodland required remains the same, but we need more food:-

Four acres of vegetables

About eight acres of pasture. There’s now enough land for a serious rotation. The sheep follow the cows and horses, the chickens follow the sheep. You could bring pigs into the mix too.

Add a couple of acres of orchard, with fruit and nut trees. The sheep and chickens can forage here too. There will be beehives for honey and wax.

About half an acre of pond is probably still enough. Any more and the fish may be too hard to catch! If you have a flowing stream as well, there’s water power to consider.

An acre of grain gives extra for fodder.

Your buildings will still take up about the same area; a quarter acre

And the four acres of woodland.

That’s about twenty acres all told. The single person had to manage eight alone. I notice I’ve randomly added a few more acres into the total in the original notes. I forget why, so let’s do the same. Call it twenty-four acres to support four people, that gives us extra land for crop and pasture rotation. The animals are much happier in their little herds. The extra labour opens up possibilities.

Now we’ve almost certainly got a surplus of produce. This tiny community could even support an elderly person and children, who each need less than half the food of a working adult. Not many children, as a two-child family is the only way to sustain this group long-term. Land does not multiply itself.

Now they need some company. Let’s give each household of six a thirty acre plot, just in case they temporarily expand to eight people. Fallow meadowland is easy to grow and pleasant to have, easy to cultivate if needed. Twelve of these plots, as segments of a circle with the houses and valuables at the centre, form a circle a mile wide. We’ve now got seventy to a hundred people in a little village, bordered by a band of woodland.

how many people can live on three square miles of land

That’s quite a small community. Could it get bigger and remain resilient? Let’s double the diameter of the circle to two miles. The houses are still only a mile, twenty minutes walk, from the edge. You’ve got horses, renewable energy for tractors, you’ve laid paths. According to the expanded calculations in the picture, up to 72 households could be accommodated, or three to four hundred people of all ages from babies to the very old.

Below is a diagram of how the cultivated land could be laid out, with crops needing more maintenance closer to the houses. Sheep graze the edge of the forest, to discourage saplings encroaching. Water as in ponds, streams, rivers or even canals, may have to be worked around. Perhaps a couple of segments must be left unclaimed to host these common resources.

layout of a self sufficient plot

The coppiced woods form a circle around the village. It’d be useful to have a zone of natural forest beyond these. Fungi and game were always a fall-back plan if crops failed. Lets say a thick band of woodland, a couple of miles across, separates one of these villages from another. Your neighbours are only four miles away, an easy journey on foot – though you have horses and electric vehicles.

All the elements are in place for a fully sustainable, completely resilient lifestyle. Add skilled crafts people making luxury items, remote working because you haven’t forgotten technology and still have the internet. Unlikely? It’s surprising how resilient the internet is now that it’s been discovered!

What you can actually do right now may bear no more relationship to this than an acorn does to a full-grown oak. Remember – every majestic tree was once a nut that didn’t give up!

Ice and Mirrors

There was barely time to repack my bags before I had to head off for a few days in London.  I took a Berry’s Coaches bus to Hammersmith in the morning.  My neighbour was part of a group of retired Girl Guide leaders – we began to chat when she commented on my lucet.  Not many people would know what one was!

I navigated to my destination in the far West of London – the very area ravaged by H.G.Wells’ Martians – by bus. Regular travellers may complain about the incessant destination announcements, but they are vital to the tourist

My sister and I took the train from Surbiton to Waterloo for a day out on the South Bank. The Tate Modern had an outdoor exhibition by Scandinavian artist Olafur Eliasson, called Ice Watch.  Thirty blocks of ice from Greenland were arranged in a rough spiral, reminiscent of standing stones, and left to melt, as a statement about global warming.

ice watch exhibition at tate modern london dec18 1

Some of the ice had veins of subtle colour running through it.

ice watch exhibition at tate modern london 5 dec18

It became very cold that night.  I wondered what kind of statement it would be if the ice gained weight instead, and whether the effect of the cold weather on the pool of water the exhibit generated had been properly considered

We climbed the stairs to the Members’ cafe, which has a good viewing balcony.

ice watch from the members balcony at the tate modern december 2018

The traditional vista with St Paul’s cathedral was impressive too.

classic london skyline from members balcony tate modern dec18

The Hayward Gallery also had an interesting exhibition, called Space Shifters, featuring mirrors and transparency.  The rocks and pillars in the picture below changed colour in a most intriguing fashion as you walked among the frames, some of which were filled with glass.

colour changing rocks at hayward gallery london south bank december 2018

yayoi kusama at hayward gallery london south bank dec18

This picture is of ‘Narcissus Garden’ by Yayoi Kusama.

oil reflections richard wilson hayward gallery dec18

The exhibit by Richard Wilson was genuinely unsettling.  The metal structure is a walkway projecting into a room filled with used engine oil right up to the very level of the handrail.  Although the oil is deep black, it holds a perfect reflection of the upper half of the room.  The walkway narrows as you go deeper in.  One is held by the illusion, yet at the same time aware that to touch the edge of the walkway is to court disaster – at least for your clothes!

As a country mouse I always find the South Bank entrancing.  It seems to me to be the real heart of London, with the booksellers’ market, the colourful skateboard arena, and the performance artists.  This vibrant street life takes place against the backdrop of the art galleries, the famous Globe Theatre, the London Eye.  If you tire of land, you can lean on the handrail and watch the River Thames rolling slowly to the sea, washing scraps of history up along its gravel shores.

It’s a good place for reflections.

 

The ice blocks have melted now and there is a good timelapse film of this, which can be found on Olafur Eliasson’s website.  Like its subject, the film is already vanishing into the sea – this one of the discarded ephemera from yesterday’s social media.

It’s easy to find beginnings, new news, the latest topic.  Discovering what happens next, how it ends, is far more difficult.

Next post, by popular demand…..How to be realistic about storing food for Brexit

 

Damage Limitation

Certain seagulls, who lay single eggs on cliff faces, prefer larger eggs to smaller. This can be observed by providing gulls with false eggs to nurture. They will reject their own egg in favour of one so large that the bird looks ridiculous trying to cover it.

There wasn’t any need to programme an upper limit into this genetically controlled behaviour. There were other limits on the size of egg likely to be laid, and no other birds of that size used this precarious habitat.

Humans are social creatures. Alone, we are poorly equipped for survival compared to other animals. Small family groups are also vulnerable, due to the long periods of child care required. In general, the larger the group, the better. Genetically controlled behaviour leads humans to feel more comfortable as part of a large group; other limiting factors controlled group size.

Most isolated humans would feel impelled to join a group, the larger the better. Advertisers, religions and political parties exploit this impulse to the hilt. Join our label, be part of our congregation, follow our leader!

Such unfeasibly large groups must sever their relationship with the land which supports them, such that other instincts like resource conflict seem irrelevant. These instincts do not go away, however, but simmer deep in the subconscious, informing behaviours which seem incomprehensible on the surface.

Competition for territory comes mainly from members of your own species, who require exactly the same resources as you. An expanding tribe would eventually encounter the borders of another group. Conflict might ensue, each group against the ‘other’.

In modern times, this was played out in destructive wars between nations. Now that it is far too dangerous to fully indulge this, different ways of identifying the ‘other’ are employed by primitive instincts trying to surface. In the absence of clear group markers, this leads to confused behaviours.

These instincts, around the potential of resource scarcity and the need to defend a ‘territory’ which cannot be defined, need to be brought into the open and dealt with honestly. We have indeed exceeded the carrying capacity of the entire planet, by a good long way, and urgently need to manage ourselves down from that while we can still prop up the process with non-renewable resources.

There’s no point looking at Science for answers. Science put the solution on the table back in the Sixties – efficient, cheap family planning. If we’d prioritised resilience over economic growth in the Seventies, Britain would be in far less trouble now. We may even have achieved the Age of Leisure as depicted in old science fiction novels, instead of having to work harder than medieval peasants.

However, it’s better to cry over split milk than to try and put it back in the bottle. Although it’s past time for an easy answer, there is a way forward. Start at ground level, resist the allure of labels, and consider what you couldn’t do without. Food, water and electricity are a good start.

Grow a resilient, sustainable civilisation underneath the worn out ways; the old will fall away like a broken eggshell as the new emerges.

I’ve done my bit by writing ‘The Resilience Handbook – How to Survive in the 21st Century’….now you need to read it!

An Encounter with Swans

Following on from my visit to Town Tree Farm nature garden in early Spring, I decided to create a photo-journal about it, visiting every six weeks or so and recording the changes.  The trees around this urn sculpture are now in full leaf.

Urn sculpture in May

A more spectacular transformation is taking place in the  wreckage of the mysterious plants – the chair is much larger than a normal one!

Towntree chair and giant dead flowers february

This was the scene in February.  In March, a very few tiny green shoots could be seen in these great piles of fallen stems and flowers, but by late May, a whole jungle was springing up!

Towntree chair and giant dead flowers february

Below is another clump (without a chair in the way).  You could use that image to try and identify it – search programmes struggle to come to terms with the scale.  It probably isn’t a West Indian gherkin.

Giant flowers at Town tree in spring

The Nature Garden is a labyrinth rather than a maze.  There are only a few places where you can take a wrong turn and get lost, and these are service tracks, only visible in winter.  The paths are usually bordered on both sides by water – pool or wide ditch – so when you encounter a family of swans  there’s no way around them!

swans guarding young on Town Tree Nature Walk

We persuaded them back into the water on the way into the gardens.   The male chased us furiously up the lake once the cygnets were safe, but stopped short of following us along the path!

Unluckily for us, they were back when we returned.  It was now early evening and they were settled for the night.  Why a creature would spend so much effort adapting to life on the water then park its young on a path which must be used by every predator in the district is a mystery to me!

They recognised us; they didn’t like us.  We retreated to consider our options.  Swans are quite dangerous, but my companion walks with a stick and it was several miles to the road by the other route.

There was a big pile of dead pine brush by the track.  Arming ourselves with long branches tipped with large fans of twig, we approached the birds in what we hoped was a confident manner.  They hissed and raised their wings, glaring menacingly, but as long as we kept the twigs between us, they couldn’t get to us and we managed to edge past!

In future, we may avoid the Nature Garden on spring evenings!  Once the cygnets can fly, the family departs on their travels.

 

 

 

More about Foraging

Wild garlic, or ramsoms, is growing in profusion now.  It can be used in many recipes, added to soups and stews, or washed and munched raw.wild garlic growing

Below is the young leaf of a Cuckoopint, or Arum Lily.  These often grow in the same patch as wild garlic – weed them out of your own forage area.  Pay attention to the leaf veins.  They are branched, as opposed to the garlic which has parallel veins like a grass blade.  The arrow shape becomes more pronounced as the leaves mature.

arum leaf growing

If you eat cuckoopint by accident, it will cause a burning sensation in your mouth which can last for several days.

bluebell roots and leaves

Bluebell comes out a little later, so it’s fairly easy to tell the leaves apart from wild garlic, which will be moving into the flowering stage by then.  It occupies the same woodland habitat as the garlic too.

All these leaves vanish completely in the summer, except for the cuckoopint which goes on to produce its vivid orange berry spikes.  These are also poisonous to humans.  No sign of any of these plants is visible in autumn and winter.  However, the edible bulbs of the wild garlic are still there underground.

When learning this plant series, it’s identifying these bulbs which you should concentrate on.  Without any other clues, it could be tricky; you need to avoid including cuckoopint or bluebell in your forage.

wild garlic close up bulb

arum lily bulb close up

bluebell roots

Establish specimens of each in pots and watch them grow.  Dig up some roots and study them.  Wash your hands after breaking up the cuckoopint; if you have sensitive skin, it may be worth wearing gloves.  Once you have thoroughly learned all three, you are equipped to forage for them in the woods, should you ever need wild food.

In order to protect these important plants, it is illegal to dig them up in the UK without the permission of the landowner.  Hence you should grow your own for study.

When you do, you will observe  that the tiny first-year roots of all three look much the same – an oval white bulb about the size of a match head.  Only gather the larger wild garlic bulbs which have developed the brownish root skin.

Action task 9 in the Food section of the Resilience Assessment  requires you to go on a walk to identify edible wild plants.  Look for wild garlic in local woods or under trees in parks.  Are there more plants which grow in that area, such as daffodils, which you need to be confident of identifying?

The simple questions in the Resilience Handbook encourage you to establish a layer of underpinning knowledge upon which you can build your resilient lifestyle!

April Diary 2018

The weather in the Summerlands went straight from cold and icy to cold and wet.  I planted some onions, but the peas went in the neighbour’s greenhouse to get started, and the potatoes are still chitting in the shed.  I found out that you should wait until the soil is roughly the same temperature as the potatoes before planting them.  I’m experimenting with new varieties this year, so there should be notes.

The wasabi plants thought they might die, so they flowered again; they haven’t done this since the last snow, seven years ago!  There are four pots, all cloned from the same rootstock, and they all flowered at once, even the one kept some miles away at the allotment.

wasabi flowers UK

Starting with a scrawny two-year plant from the market, over the years their leaves have become smaller, glossier and tougher.  Wasabi are awkward customers in that they like damp but cope badly with slugs; they make up for this by thriving in the cold weather.

I planted out the burdock salvaged from the resilience field.  Three plants had shared a pot over the winter, and their calorie-rich roots grew so fast that there was hardly any soil left.  I’m hoping to start a breeding colony in the woodland strip.

I’ve written about burdock in ‘Recipes for Resilience’ as it’s a good emergency food source.   The root fattens up in the first year, and is used up in the second summer to produce the large flowering stems.  This is a good time of year to harvest these roots, but only the spring leaves can be seen.

spring burdock

Compared with….

The spring leaves of poisonous foxglove

Growing both these plants in your Resilience Garden enables you to study them in detail, so you won’t dig up the wrong one – note the foxglove is kept in a pot.  Feel the leaf textures and observe the shades of green.

Practise  identifying them on a forest walk – but don’t dig up wild plants as that’s illegal in the UK unless you have the landowner’s permission and it’s not an endangered species.  Take pictures, and return later in the year to see if you were right.  It takes a couple of years’ study to really learn a plant.

The dismal, threatening weather meant the planned Magic Oxygen Literary Prize Giving was filmed for YouTube.  None of us were confident about travelling to Lyme Regis, given the weather forecast!  Although we didn’t get much snow here in the South, the rain was relentless and there was a lot of water on the roads.

Saturday itself was almost a nice day.  I worked on some of the infrastructure projects in the garden, feeling that these should have been finished weeks ago.  The plum tree is blossoming with the utmost caution; the bumblebees are about, but I haven’t seen any honey bees yet.

plum flowers 2018

Winter slinks out of the door, turning to snarl “I’ll be back!”, as Spring tiptoes tentatively in.

 

 

 

 

Earth Hour Chard

Earth Hour is an annual event which celebrates a global network committed to creating a sustainable world. It’s organised by the World Wildlife Fund, and began as a ‘lights out’ event in Sydney, Australia in 2007.

The idea is for people, organisations and businesses to turn off all non-essential lights, and other electrical devices, for one hour. The hour begins at 8.30pm local time, so the effect ripples around the world. City landmarks, such as the Eiffel Tower and the Shard, participate now, as well as millions of individuals.

chard earth hour list mar18

Some people organise whole events around the occasion, and one such is Earth Hour Chard where I was booked to talk about Resilience. Their first event had been a magnificent street fair, betrayed by a bitterly cold March wind. They’d hired the Guildhall this time, for a whole day’s programme of activities supported by a cafe, bar and numerous stalls.

chard art stall march 2018
Some of the colourful hand made local products on sale

I arrived early; the kids’ activities were in full swing. Everyone was busy, so after I unloaded and parked, I took a walk to the museum.

chard museum earth hour march 2018

In a county of farming communities, Chard always stood out as a factory town. The textile industry was important, particularly machine made lace for net curtains and clothing. As outlined in the Resilience Handbook, the presence of machinery in the area encouraged a support network of craftspeople. These skills were then available to inventors.

 A very comfortable 'donkey chaise' in the foreground
A very comfortable ‘donkey chaise’ in the foreground

It was in Chard, in 1848, that John Stringfellow’s Aerial Steam Carriage first showed that engine powered flight was possible. Other major advances credited to the town include the development of articulated artificial limbs and of X-ray photography. Today, it’s the home of the Henry vacuum cleaner.

chard British icons march 2018
British icons!

I strolled down Fore Street, admiring the remaining old countryside architecture, the thatched houses and diamond pane windows, arriving back in time for the judging of the colouring in competition. I hastened over to the Phoenix Hotel; the talks were being held there while the Guildhall was set up for the evening event.

chard phoenix hotel mar18

I’d decided to create a new talk, outlining how the Resilience Project came into being through a fusion of Transition’s Energy Descent Action Plan and local emergency planning, with decades of experience in living off-grid thrown in. Jason Hawkes covered ecological footprints and housing; Kate Handley talked on local food.

We packed up in time for the music; a selection of bands often seen at off-grid festivals, compèred by Tracey West, publisher extraordinaire. Simon West manned their Word Forest Organisation stall on the top floor, where the poetry slam was going on.

It was a very entertaining evening, networking and enjoying quality performances. We didn’t turn off the lights in the venue for Earth Hour – a health and safety issue – but at least the people attending had turned theirs off!

Thatched cottages in Chard Somerset

Although Chard is poorly served by public transport, it’s worth a visit. I found some charming hotels with reasonable prices, though in the event I stayed with one of the organisers. Check for parking, as this may be a local issue.

Sadly, the nearby Wildlife park at Cricket St Thomas has closed and is now on the Heritage at Risk register.

chard ration foods mar18
From the museum…I eat less meat then that already…more cheese and eggs though

Town Tree Farm

The Somerset Levels are flat, and barely above sea level.  Most of the land is drained now, to form cattle pastures, but it used to be a mix of swamp, wet woodland and bog.  The value of the latter is now becoming appreciated for its role in flood control.  Towntree Farm is decades ahead of the game!

View of a normal Levels field through one of the trademark horseshoe constructions
View of a normal Levels field through one of the trademark horseshoe constructions

In the 1970s, farmer Chris Burnett began a visionary landscaping project on the family farm.  Starting small, with a pond outside the farmhouse, he used the spoil to form a lawn, then landscaped a neighbouring field in a similar fashion.

Towntree farm

The left over soil made pathways this time, and the pond soon attracted a breeding pair of swans.  Encouraged by this, Chris dug out a seven and a half acre pond, specially designed for water birds.  It’s quite shallow, which allows a good growth of reeds.

towntree lake vista feb18

He planted the new high ground with trees and plants, both wild and cultivated.  Once these became established, hundreds of migratory birds began to visit, and he has hopes of attracting a pair of cranes soon.

In 1987, ‘Capability’ Chris – as he had become known – was persuaded to open the 22 acre Nature Garden to the public.  He celebrated this by making a ‘Peace Arch’ at the entrance from the car park, which is covered with climbing roses in summer.

towntree peace bell feb18

Following the yellow arrows, the curious visitor traverses the winding paths.  It’s not just the peaceful atmosphere and nature that bring people here, though.  The trail is dotted with statues and sculptures, left to gradually merge with the wild.

towntree slab urn

As the path meanders, bordered by ditches, you can see inaccessible alcoves.  Further on, the twists and turns suddenly bring you out into that very clearing!

There are benches made of stone slabs, or of dozens of horseshoes welded together.

I don’t know what the huge dead flowers behind this chair are; I’ll have to return later in the year and see them growing.  Their leaves are the size of umbrellas!

 

The decaying greenhouse lends an apocalyptic air to the place, along with the greening statues.

I’m definitely coming back in the summer for a picnic in those shady groves!  If you’d like to visit Towntree Farm, and marvel at how much difference one man can make, there are instructions here.

 

Compared to a grass pasture of the same size, the Nature Garden clearly holds a lot more water.  This is restrained by the natural features re-created here, protecting land further downstream during times of flood. 

The Towntree Farm project has always been a hobby, laid out simply for the delight in nature.  Using permaculture and forest gardening principles, other such gardens could justify their existence with some financial return.

 

 

Malta – Transport and Trees

We thought we had come well prepared for the challenge of hiring a car in a strange country after arriving late at night. We’d printed out a full list of Google directions to the hotel at the far end of Malta. Luckily my colleague, Linda Benfield, had also bought a map at Bristol Airport.  It was a very valuable last minute purchase!

The directions relied on street names. We found one later, sixteen feet up a wall in inch high letters, some of which were missing. Navigation was a challenge even with the Marco Polo map. Signage seemed optional, the names of towns changed as you got nearer and EU funding had inspired a proliferation of new roundabouts. There was even an extra tunnel to the ones depicted!

Hedgehog sign
Beware of the hedgehogs!

Being resilient, we had a torch to do map reading with, and made it to the hotel. The ‘Riviera’ sign lights up blue at night and is something of a landmark as you drive the the hairpin bends of Marfa Ridge. There was no need to worry about Reception closing, as a coach full of German tourists had just arrived.

Discovering it only took ten minutes to go from really close to our sought after destination in central Mdina, to being confused on Route One at the northern edge of the island was a revelation, and explained why we spent the first few days visiting sites at random as we stumbled across them. We were simply expecting too much distance.

Malta is a small island with a long history. Everyone knows their way around. If you’re able-bodied, there’s an excellent bus service – without, alas, the iconic yellow buses, which were stood down in 2011. Walking is a good option too. Some of the important Neolithic sites can only be accessed on foot. Remember the summer sun can be merciless in this open landscape; take water and a hat.

Land here has been cultivated for centuries and deforestation is a problem. On their arrival in 1529, the Knights of St John – soon to be the Knights of Malta – reported ‘an island without trees.’

Rural landscapes are divided into tiny vegetable plots, there is neither space nor water for many large trees. Although it was only 20 C in January, the impact of the summer heat was baked into the very stones.

The contrast with Buskett Forest Gardens was startling. Here, we found open water, running streams, cool and damp air. This reforestation project dates back to its use as a hunting preserve by the Knights in the 1600s. It’s now a Natura 2000 site. Native tree species from Malta’s once extensive forests support a variety of rare wildlife, including many migratory birds.

Buskett Forest Gardens, Malta 2016
Open water in the forest

On Sundays, as we discovered, many Maltese families come here for picnics, and the car park becomes very full. We were hoping to find the famous cart tracks and caves, which were surely just at the top of that hill, but couldn’t find the way. Perhaps it was signposted from the other side of the plateau. I recommend hiring a guide!