Big Potential for Horticulture in the Heart of Wales

Calon Cymru — the Heart of Wales — suffers from a lack of economic activity and from an exodus of young people and an inflow of retired folk. Calon Cymru Network, a community interest company set up to foster low-impact development in the region, sees horticulture — producing fruit and vegetables — as an essential part of regeneration. Wales produces hardly any fruit or vegetables, but could do so in the corridor of the Heart of Wales railway. There is big potential, as AMBER WHEELER suggests below.


The Heart of Wales corridor

Present population of the corridor is 35,000, with potential to double in 10 years to 70,000.

35,000 people’s fruit and vegetable needs (at 5 a day excluding potatoes), and including 35% food waste from farm to fork (a typical level, which should be much lower) = 0.2 tonnes/per person/per year = 7,000 tonnes per year, rising to 14,000 tonnes  in 10 years time for a population twice as large.

Achievable yields in Wales = at least 10 tonnes/hectare average for mixed fruit and vegetable cropping.

10 tonnes per hectare/per year from 700 hectares could yield 7,000 tonnes, and from 1,400 hectares, 14,000 tonnes.

Calon Cymru Network is concerned with a 130 km length of the corridor, 4 km wide, containing about 36,400 hectares of undeveloped rural land of all types.

To be able to grow 100% of the corridor’s current fruit and veg needs would require 2% of the rural land, rising to 4% if the population doubled. Hardly any land is used for these purposes at present.

Obviously this is a simplification, but the Heart of Wales corridor could support a larger population and produce much more of those people’s food needs.

And this is one of Calon Cymru Network’s ambitions.










How the Eucalyptus Tree Empties Wells and Feeds Forest Fires in Portugal

Once upon a time in the mountains of southern Portugal, a British sociologist and apprentice peasant, Robin Jenkins, arrived in a hamlet called Alto. The year was 1976, a quarter of a century after a surfaced road had, for the first time, connected Alto to the little town of Monchique and thence to the World Outside.


Dilapidated property for sale in the Monchique Mountains. The price of €790,000 for 6.26 hectares is set to appeal to the dreaming foreigner who has no need to live off the land — which can no longer feed a local population.  Photo:

Slowly the apparent opportunities and real demands of the World Outside reached Alto. Subsistence farming was replaced by cash crops, the most demanding of which was the eucalyptus tree. Robin Jenkins wrote about the transformation, which worried him deeply, in ‘The Road to Alto’.*

The new eucalyptus trees thrived on the mountain slopes, and after 10 years initially, then every six or so, each tree that is felled yields about 10 metres of timber. That is 25,000 metres from the 2,500 or so trees on one hectare. The timber left on lorries travelling on the road, and cash rolled in.

Unfortunately eucalyptus trees are extremely thirsty, and their roots syphon up the underground water, until springs and then wells dry up and farming is no longer possible.


“Ten per cent of the Portuguese state has gone up in smoke in less than a generation” —, ‘Monchique and Eucalyptus in Portugal’, December 20th 2013. Photo:, April 24th 2009, ‘Algarve: governo duplica equipas de sapadores florestais’. 

The oils in eucalyptus trees are flammable, the plantations are dry as a bone, the winds blow in and a small spark becomes a raging forest fire.

Fire have obliterated thousands of hectares of eucalyptus trees around Monchique. The wells are empty, and soils where food crops used to grow are infertile, damaged by years of over-intensive application of synthetic fertilisers and pesticides, products which were carried in on the road.

The peasants, who used to understand that they were part of the ecological balance which enabled them to survive, generation after generation, have mostly gone to the towns. Their mountains have been invaded by tourism, but tourists are afraid of forest fires.

The word ‘peasant’ is a colloquial term of abuse. There is no modern respect for knowledge which successfully sustained enduring local economies. Our modern knowledge has resulted in damaged soils, depleted water supplies, and raging forest fires. Clever, eh?

Pat Dodd Racher

* ‘The Road to Alto’ was published by Pluto Press in 1979.

More information about eucalyptus and forest fires in Portual from:



The Erasure of Rural Wales Edges Closer

Reblogged from West Wales News Review

Policy to Revitalise Rural Areas — Where Is It?

Llansawel Show was yesterday. Sheep, poultry, ponies, giant vegetables, odd vegetables, flowers, jams, cookery, arts and crafts. Burgers (local), beer (from local pub), ice cream (local). The weather was kind, all in all a very pleasant afternoon. Most people, certainly most older people, were chatting and conducting the business of the day in Welsh.

One field to the east is Llansawel School. The word around the village is that the school will close in 2016, and under-11s will be bussed to Cwmann on the outskirts of Lampeter, between 12 and 13 miles from Llansawel village along twisty roads. The AA calculates that the journey is just on half an hour, without any stops. Add in the numerous stops made by school buses…. You get the picture.

Read on:

Fatal Impacts of Short-Term Thinking

Short-term thinking and narrow cost-benefit calculations are killing the countryside:

Schools are not self-contained financial units but are — or should be — part of the surrounding community. In rural areas especially, if the school is closed the community is damaged, sometimes fatally.

Ireland’s Narrow Roads Benefit the Foodie Town of Skibbereen

by Pat Dodd Racher, September 18 2012

Ireland has 96,029 kilometres of roads, according to Whitaker’s Almanack says 96,036 kilometres. That’s a lot of road for a small population of 4.59 million, in fact only about 48 persons per kilometre.  The UK in contrast has over 158 persons per kilometre of road. Ireland’s roads are well maintained considering their length and the financial crisis besetting the country, but there are lots of potholes, and just as importantly for big lorries, the roads are overwhelmingly single-carriageway.

Down in the far south west, the big supermarket chains are refreshingly absent. Although Tesco has moved into Ireland’s cities, there is no Tesco in Skibbereen, West Cork, Ireland’s most southerly town. The German discounter Lidl has arrived, but otherwise the food stores are independent or co-operative. The Spar at the Drinagh Co-op in Skibbereen has a coffee shop selling amazing cakes, and the other big central supermarket, SuperValu, is independently owned by local firm Fields. SuperValu is a symbol group, the name franchised from the Musgrave Group of Dublin (which also has the Centra name in Ireland and the Budgens and Londis names in the UK).

Attractive buildings, free parking, a buzz: Skibbereen

Skibbereen is a vibrant town, which this month staged the Taste of West Cork Food Festival. Restaurants, pubs, shops, hotels, the Heritage Centre, in fact virtually the whole of Skibbereen, created a foodfest with almost 50 events. The town’s population is only about 2,000 people, and they show how much a community can achieve if everyone works together. Fair trade, organic produce, community gardens, farmers’ markets, Skibbereen fuses town and country and has a long history besides.

The famine of the 1840s, mass starvation and emigration are commemorated in the Heritage Centre, constructed from the former gas works. The now-closed Mercy Heights convent, near the cathedral, is on sale for development but, like sites all over Ireland, is languishing on the market. There are vacant shops, closed restaurants, but most of Skibbereen is soldiering on, surviving, celebrating the survival. Parking is free, and shoppers’ spending mostly stays in the locality. That changes if remotely-owned retail multiples come to dominate. Then money is sucked out, never to return.

Those potholes and narrow roads are protecting Skibbereen from the articulated trucks which deliver just-in-time to superstores. I never thought I’d start to applaud potholes as community saviours!

Plenty of public space, independent shops, flowers and bright paint: recipe for lively small towns

Building Regulations Strangle Low Impact Development

The opposite of joined-up thinking is…. what?

Two sets of mandated policies which are mutually exclusive, maybe. We are talking about Low Impact Development and Building Regulations as applied in the UK and specifically at the Lammas project in Pembrokeshire, Wales.

Wales has a One Planet Development policy to encourage sustainability. Pembrokeshire has its own Low Impact Planning policy with the same objectives, but there is an elephant rampaging all over the policy woodpile – an implacable elephant called Building Regulation.

Simon Dale and Jasmine Saville are smallholders living in an experimental eco-village in Pembrokeshire. They wrote that they were “delighted when Pembrokeshire introduced its Low Impact Development planning policy. As well as bringing Low Impact Development out of the shadows, it offered us an opportunity to use our recent but modest inheritance to get a piece of land and home of our own with the security of planning permission “.[1]

Needless to say, and despite its own Low Impact policy, Pembrokeshire County Council refused permission. That was in September 2008. The planners decided that the Lammas project’s proposal for nine smallholdings and a community centre near Glandwr in the north of the county could not generate enough income to be financially sustainable over the long term. Of course, the planners were assessing the business plans against traditional agricultural benchmarks and not against low-impact benchmarks because there are none. This low impact proposal was not about financial profit and loss but about resource protection, year after year, a perspective that conventional business plans ignore.

There was another application, another refusal, an appeal and, in August 2009, the planning inspector at the appeal overturned the county council’s refusal. The eco-smallholders, including Simon and Jasmine, were given five years to meet the productivity targets which they were obliged to set out in their plans for the new village, named Tir-y-Gafael.

The tortuous process since then is documented in Simon’s and Jasmine’s paper, ‘The Compatibility of Building Regulations with Projects under new Low Impact Development and One Planet Development Planning Policies: Critical and Urgent Problems and the Need for a Workable Solution’, published in November 2011.[2]  The clashes between building regulations and low impact development policies were so serious that Pembrokeshire County Council opted for a criminal prosecution against Simon and Jasmine because their home at the eco village does not meet building regulations.

Building regulations are a sort of consumer guarantee that a home purchased from a developer is constructed to specified standards. Simon and Jasmine point out that “if all projects under new Low Impact Development/ One Planet Development policies are expected to include buildings reaching full buildings regulations compliance in the same way as we have been asked [to do], the vast majority of established approaches to low impact development will be prohibited”. This would include carrying water to one’s home in containers and heating it on a woodstove; using an outdoor composting toilet; or not connecting to a mains electricity supply”. One of the barriers they crashed into was the requirement for a smoke alarm connected to mains electricity – because they did not have mains electricity. Another was the absence of electrically powered ventilation, again because they were not connected to the mains.

An additional hurdle relates to applications for relaxations of specific building regulation diktats. These applications have to be backed with evidence from acknowledged experts, or by the applicants’ own research completed to professional standards. This pushes the costs beyond the pockets of many smallholders, and is rather like being involved in lengthy legal proceedings – the total expense cannot be predicted at the outset. Simon and Jasmine obtained some quotations from professionals, and realised that fees would be twice as much as the £3,000 their home cost to build, or even more.

Planning permissions under Low Impact Development policies usually come with what Simon and Jasmine call “ambitious targets” for the output from smallholding land, which would be hard to reach in the best possible circumstances, let alone when having to cope with the pressures and conflicts imposed by clashing planning and regulatory requirements.

In January 2012, almost two and a half years after the grant of planning permission, and a couple of months after Simon and Jasmine published their excellent paper, Pembrokeshire’s building control department, responsible for compliance with Building Regulations, accepted in Haverfordwest Magistrates Court that the regulations could not be applied strictly to innovative structures that are designed to minimise environmental impact and carbon emissions, in pioneering new ways.[3]

A candle in the sustainability gloom, lit only after years of effort, disappointment and refusal to give in.

The saga makes me wonder whether planning authorities adopt Low Impact Development policies to make them look ‘green’ but, at the same time, rely on Building Regulations to ensure that nothing really changes. Simon’s and Jasmine’s experiences are like those of Merav and Janta Wheelhouse at their Karuna permaculture project near Picklescott in Shropshire. The Wheelhouses battled for seven years for the right to live on their 18 acres in a sustainable way, their home and farm emitting not much more than one-seventh of the carbon emanating from nearby homes.[4]

Next door to Pembrokeshire, in Carmarthenshire in 1974, the first of a changing population of tent-dwellers moved onto remote land at Llanfynydd, in the hills east of Carmarthen. The settlement became known as Tepee Valley, and the local council tried for years to evict the people living there. In 2006 the Welsh Assembly granted, retrospectively, a Lawful Use Certificate, but only for three tents and one caravan, and not for any experimental Low Impact dwellings. The authorities continue to see Tepee Valley as some sort of threat to established order, not as an opportunity to experiment with low-carbon, self-sufficient living.

The struggles faced by would-be smallholders who want to work their land contrast with deference that so many planning authorities show to Big Business applicants, like Tesco, Sainsbury’s, and wind farm operators. It comes down to power differentials in the end. Big Business has the money and clout to persuade planning authorities that if permission is withheld, there will be appeal after appeal until it is granted. Meanwhile, young families who want to live the sustainability agenda have to fight every step of the way.




[4] ‘Council obstructs family’s ethical land project’ by Paul Evans, The Guardian, November 19th 2008.