West Wales News Review

Economy, environment, sustainability

Archive for the category “Self sufficiency”

Latest One Planet Development Approved in Pembrokeshire

News: Number of One Planet Developments in Wales Continues to Rise

Daniel Badham’s plan for an off-grid One Planet Development (OPD) at Reynalton, for him and his children, was passed unanimously by Pembrokeshire County Council’s planning committee on Tuesday March 10th, although some committee members have continuing concerns about the practicality of the annual reports that OPD residents must submit to prove they are abiding by their business plan and the requirements of the Welsh Government’s OPD legislation. Planning officers are hard-pressed already, and reading, analysing and acting on the reports can be an additional burden.

The location for Mr Badham’s venture is 8.6 acres, including 5.4 acres of woodland, about 100 metres north-east of Reynalton and six miles north-west of the seaside resort of Saundersfoot. The scheme includes a four-bedroom timber-frame house with a polycarbonate roof covered by turf, and a greenhouse at the south wall. There would be a timber store, workshop, barn and two polytunnels, and as well as producing timber and food, the land would be home to chainsaw carving and apple-tree grafting enterprises. The committee heard that Daniel Badham, whose professional expertise is in tree surgery, intends to include the use of a chainsaw powered by solar energy.

In an OPD, the land is supposed to provide for the needs of its occupants within five years. The policy was published by the Welsh Government in 2009, and was followed in 2010 by Technical Advice Note (TAN) 6, ‘Planning for Sustainable Rural Communities’, and in 2012 by detailed guidance for applicants and planners.* The big idea is to live continuously within the resources of planet Earth, thus in a simpler fashion than in countries like Wales, where the levels of material consumption are so high that the planet cannot support them into the future.

This productive holding at Tir y Gafel, Pembrokeshire, given permission under Policy 52, predates the One Planet Policy and operates to even more stringent criteria.

The volunteer-run One Planet Council reports that by winter 2019, Wales had at least 27 successful OPD applications, comprising 30 separate holdings, and 12 ventures on three sites in Pembrokeshire, including nine at the well-known Lammas ecovillage, which received permission under Pembrokeshire’s earlier pioneering Policy 52. Two-thirds of the total of known OPDs are in Pembrokeshire, with most of the rest elsewhere in West, South and Mid Wales, and as yet scarcely any in North Wales.

The One Planet Council organises an annual Open Week, in 2020 from Monday July 27th to Sunday August 2nd, when people curious about OPDs can visit several and ask the occupants about their lifestyles and businesses. Details will be on http://www.oneplanetcouncil.org.uk/open-week-2020/ in due course, and on the One Planet Council’s Facebook page.

The One Planet policy is unique to Wales, and although organisations such as the Ecological Land Cooperative have long lobbied for one, there is no equivalent policy for low-impact living in England.


* One Planet Development Practice Guidance, October 2012, prepared for the Welsh Assembly Government by Land Use Consultants and the Positive Development Trust.




News: One Planet Smallholding Plan Divides Local Opinion

A One Planet Development application for Penybanc, Llandeilo, Carmarthenshire, has drawn criticism from some local residents, as well as warm support from several others who back the project for many reasons such as being ‘forward thinking”, “carefully considered” and “in harmony with our environment”.

Looking south-east over part of the application site, backed by mature woodland.


Manordeilo and Salem Community Council “strongly objects” to the application by Claire and Matthew Denney-Price of Llangadog, Carmarthenshire. The community council cites 11 reasons including worries about water availability, siting of solar panels, lack of public transport, and over-optimism in the business plan.

These concerns were repeated in other objections. For example, if the family’s four children cycled to school they would have to negotiate single-track lanes without paths, and cross the A40 Llandeilo bypass. The distances are not huge – 1.7 miles to primary school and 2.3 miles to comprehensive school – but there are no cycle paths from Penybanc to Llandeilo, and along the lanes, lacking speed limits, vehicles were observed this week travelling too fast to stop quickly in an emergency. The barriers to eco-friendly travel highlight the difficulties of trying to live an environmentally sound lifestyle safely in a mechanised world where roads – even twisty lanes dating from the before the Industrial Revolution – are regarded as existing principally for motor vehicles.

The family has now been assured that their children will be taken to their schools by bus from Penybanc, and so will not need to cross the A40. This removes one of the objections..

The pony in the background will be one of two working on the land and supplying manure briquettes for heating. 


The 8.9-acre application site is at grid reference SN618245, between Cwmwern and Caegroes farms, north of Penybanc hamlet. The land, part pasture and part deciduous woodland, slopes southwards to the Nant Gurrey Fach, which flows into the Tywi north of Llandeilo. The management plan states that rain will be a main water source, there will be a composting toilet, two ponies will be used for work around the holding to avoid compacting the soil and because they will not consume fossil fuels. In addition, their manure will be compacted into briquettes for heating. Other sources of income and self-sufficiency include honey, point-of-lay pullets, eggs, herbs, fruit, vegetables, and salads.

Commenting on the criticisms, Claire Denney-Price said: “I’m in the process of composing a supporting document addressing some concerns raised by local residents. We have a lot of support, including from the One Planet Council and One Planet Centre, which is very heartening.”

Single carriageway lane bordering the site near Penybanc: on routes like this fast motor vehicles can create problems for other road users. 

 One Planet applications must be accompanied by detailed financial projections showing how at least 65% of basic household needs will be supplied from the land after no more than five years. “We’ve had great feedback which all helps our cause,” said Claire.








News: Open Week is Chance to See One Planet Development in Action

In the week starting Monday July 22nd 2019, to Sunday July 28th, a selection of One Planet Developments in Wales will open up to visitors.

In 2018 a similar Open Week familiarised members of the public with One Planet Development, a policy of the Welsh Government.  Although a decade old, the policy still draws criticism from some as a back-door way of building a new home in the countryside.

One Planet Developments (OPDs) are smallholdings from which the occupants have to draw at least 65% of their basic household needs. The policy, explained in One Wales: One Planet – the sustainable development scheme of the Welsh Government, published in 2009, superseded the earlier and even more stringent Policy 52 of Pembrokeshire County Council and the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park.  The nine smallholdings in the televised Lammas eco village at Tir y Gafel, Glandŵr, Pembrokeshire, were given permission under Policy 52.

By late May 2019, Wales had more than 40 smallholdings given planning permission under either Policy 52 or One Planet Development.  The majority are in Pembrokeshire, with rising numbers in Ceredigion and Carmarthenshire and a scattering elsewhere in Wales.

One Planet Developments like this one in Pembrokeshire benefit biodiversity and generally improve the soil, so that fertility increases year on year. 

Pembrokeshire’s Cllr Huw George called in April[i] for a halt to new One Planet permissions, so that Welsh Government can properly monitor and assess whether the smallholdings are being managed fully in accordance with the requirements of the policy. He felt it unfair that applicants could receive permission for eco homes but farmers could not build homes for their children.

This view is not uncommon. The policy was introduced not to spite farmers but to assist Wales’ transition to a One Planet world. The Welsh Government decided that current levels of resource use and the consequent environmental damage are unsustainable given that there is only one Earth and not multiple others. One Planet Developments are off-grid, produce their own energy and much of their own food, and organise their own water supply and drainage. Vehicle use is restricted. Buildings are constructed of local renewable materials. Running a One Planet venture is hard work, the outputs and inputs have to be carefully recorded and sent off to the local planning authority for annual monitoring.

Monitoring, the concern raised by Cllr George, is difficult for local authorities which have been forced by funding shortfalls to cut services every year since 2010. The Institute for Fiscal Studies warned in September 2016 that departmental expenditure limits in Wales in 2019-20 would be 11.6% lower than in 2010-11. The monitoring of One Planet Developments is a task that did not exist in 2010, and as the number of permissions rises, will become more onerous. Between 2010 and 2020 councils in England and Wales will have lost almost 60p in every £1 previously received from the Westminster government, leaving them increasingly reliant on council tax, business rates, and grants from anywhere and everywhere, as well as monies that councils raise themselves from rents, charges, interest and dividends. So Cllr George has a point – when planning departments have less money, how can they monitor growing numbers of OPDs?

This is just one of the difficulties associated with the policy. In theory, if occupants fail to produce 65% of their basic needs from the land, or otherwise contravene the conditions of their permission, that permission can be withdrawn and they would have to leave. This is a harsh outcome if the failures are due to factors beyond their control, such as terrible weather, flood or drought, illness or accident, or advancing old age, and indicates that the policy still needs several tweaks.

Two more OPDs received permission from Pembrokeshire County Council on May 21st. Both are in the area of Mynachlog-ddu Community Council, which objected to both.  Hywel Vaughan, chair of the community council, was critical of the planning officer’s recommendation to approve the ventures, and he wrote about the second: “Although it is difficult to oppose the application because several specialists representing different organisations support the application, residents of the community are worried about the adverse damage this development will have on the area’s beauty.”

Cllr David Howlett said “the policy is being used to plonk properties in rural areas”, and Cllr Michael Williams called the policy “fundamentally flawed”.  Despite these reservations, one application was approved unanimously and the other by a majority of eight to one.

The first application approved, 18/0934/PA, is on 2.7 hectares (almost 7 acres) at Parc y Dderwen, formerly part of Pencraig Farm, Llangolman, for Lauren Simpson’s and Phil Moore’s fermented foods enterprise. Launched in 2018, the business already supplies 16 shops with foods including sauerkrauts, pickles and kimchi. Michael Ritchie of Bryngolman Farm, Llangolman, representing “a number of objectors”, said the business was already established, so there was no need to live on the land. The proposed site for the house was on top of a ridge, he said, and other buildings were too large and strung out over the site with “all the visual appeal of an urban allotment”. “It’s an elaborate attempt to get a smallholding on the cheap,” he said. But the objection did not succeed.

Parc y Dderwen will include an orchard, market garden, polytunnel, workshop and cold store, with bees, poultry, new woodland, hedgerows and ponds contributing to biodiversity. The house would be a design by Mark Waghorn[ii] of Llandeilo, who specialises in One Planet, ultra-low-impact structures.

Lauren Simpson and Phil Moore have both worked for the Ecological Land Co-operative[iii]. This co-op provides land for smallholdings in England, where demand is high but there is no similar policy to One Planet Development.

The second application approved, 18/1126/PA, by Rory Horton and Etta Happe, was for Baradwys, formerly known as Rhosfach, a larger area of 9 hectares (22 acres) near Llangolman. The original idea for a herd of alpacas was broadened to include Angora rabbits when part of the land was revealed as a habitat for the rare Marsh Fritillary butterfly. This habitat will be managed in co-operation with Natural Resources Wales and cannot be fully utilised for alpacas. Angora rabbits need less space than alpacas and also provide quality fibres for natural textiles.

The land will accommodate two polytunnels, a caravan until a permanent home is built, a barn, studio, and agricultural buildings including one for the rabbits and two field shelters for alpacas.

These two enterprises are in their very early stages, but for people keen to visit established OPDs, the Open Week will be a good opportunity. More information about the Open Week, organised through the One Planet Council, will be available before July 22nd.

The One Planet Council / Cyngor Un Blaned, representing enterprises established under the policy, has an informative website at http://www.oneplanetcouncil.org.uk/ and a Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/groups/oneplanetcouncil/.



[i] ‘Put a stop to eco-homes being built, says councillor’, BBC News online, April 29th 2019.

[ii] https://www.mwd.wales/studio

[iii] Ecological Land Cooperative: Our Team https://ecologicalland.coop/contact .

News: Lammas Ecovillage Ten Years On: Revitalised Land, Some Rocky Relationships

Lammas, the 76-acre ecovillage at Tir y Gafel, Glandwr, Pembrokeshire, now has richly flourishing productive smallholdings, but no longer functions as a fully united, collaborative community venture.

The original nine leasehold smallholdings are now individually-owned freeholds. The original landlord, the not-for-profit industrial and provident society Lammas Low Impact Initiatives, is defunct.

At the beginning hopes were high for a long-term co-operative venture. It took more than two and a half years, from December 2006 until August 2009, for planning permission to be granted. The application was under Policy 52 of Pembrokeshire County Council and Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority, for low-impact development. This was the rather less stringent forerunner, in terms of management and reporting requirements, of the Welsh Government’s One Planet Development policy. The long and painful process was documented  by Tao Wimbush,[i] who with spouse Hoppi was – is — one of the Lammas pioneers. Tao also told the story (as Paul Wimbush) in this 2012 book The Birth of an Ecovillage.

Hoppi and Tao Wimbush’s productive smallholding at the Lammas ecovillage. The photos were taken in summer 2014


Once planning permission was granted, nine sets of leaseholders worked hard and creatively to start their low-impact land-based businesses and to build their carbon-neutral homes and buildings of natural materials. Every year, Lammas Low Impact Initiatives submitted a report to Pembrokeshire County Council to show they were meeting the Policy 52 criteria for living from the land and minimising vehicle use.

But by 2017 cracks had split the harmony. Residents on two of the nine smallholdings, who sat on the management committee of Lammas Low Impact Initiatives, wanted to alter their leases. They engaged a solicitor and applied to the Land Registry to register the new leases they desired — but it appears no one else knew until the society received a solicitor’s bill for £2,529.[ii]

The falling out continued. In January 2018 one of the change-seekers wrote to Peter Horton, Head of Planning at Pembrokeshire County Council, accusing unnamed others at Lammas of “bullying and harassment, a total absence of co-operation over the whole site, singling out people and using positions of power to put pressure on individuals to leave and sell up, using public meetings and a wider membership to name and shame individuals, holding large parties without seeking consent of those living close by and bringing in people to drum outside through the night in some cases with large fires and fireworks, allowing damage to properties without liability”.

The letter-writer continued “At times I feel as if others are working to make me leave, while attracting people in with offers of help to find plots”.

The emphasis is on edible plants


The conflict meant that Lammas Low Impact Initiatives could no longer publish an annual monitoring report covering all nine smallholdings. The society had published six annual reports between 2010 and 2015, as required by Policy 52 to show how much income their activities both replaced and earned. Since 2016 individuals have compiled their own reports.

Tao Wimbush wrote to Pembrokeshire County Council in March 2018 to explain the developments at Lammas:

“The plots are due to become freehold (rather than leasehold as specified in the planning application), and the common land (including the trackways and Community Hub) is to be transferred to a private company. Lammas will no longer have any role at Tir y Gafel and the Society [Lammas Low Impact Initiatives] will almost certainly be dissolved.”

In January 2018, after featuring on the Channel 4 programme Grand Designs, the nearly-completed home of Simon and Jasmine Dale burned down, and the devastated couple — who were not in the minority group seeking to change the ownership structure — opted to sell up. Simon’s website, simondale.net, carries this news:

“After nearly ten years establishing our low impact smallholding at the Lammas ecovillage in West Wales, we have decided that the time has come for us to sell the holding and have a fresh start. We are now looking for people who would be interested in the opportunity to buy our smallholding which includes:

  • Earth-sheltered roundhouse
  • Workshop
  • Barn
  • Planning permission for 3-4 bedroom eco-home
  • Large, horticultural glasshouses
  • 9 acres in total freehold ownership
  • Includes 1.5 acres rewilded forest garden and plant nursery stock
  • Renewable hydro-electric supply
  • Spring water supply
  • 5 acres of private woodland and joint ownership of common woodland
  • Community ownership of hub building, surrounds and millpond”

As the advertisement makes clear, ownership of the smallholdings has transferred from Lammas Low Impact Initiatives to the individual former leaseholders. Also the communal woodland, owned at the beginning by Lammas Low Impact Initiatives, is now owned jointly by the new freeholders.

The cost of the Dales’ holding is not revealed in the advert, it is a case of ‘offers invited’.  During 2018 fellow Lammas pioneer Jane Wells ran a Just Giving campaign to raise money for the Dales to rebuild their house, and donors offered £35,270.23. The Dales, though, have decided not to rebuild on the Tir y Gafel site.

Lammas was an ‘intentional community’, a group of people who got together to lead low-impact, living-off-the-land lifestyles. During the initial planning and land improvement phases, the participants pulled together, as they needed to because Policy 52 required a project involving members of more than one family to be controlled by a trust, co-operative or other similar structure in which the occupiers had an interest.

But people’s health, family circumstances and income needs change over time, leading to divergent views about future directions.

Manon Bertrand, of Ghent University, has studied the issue at Lammas. In Conflict and Group Development in a Young Alternative Community: Ethnographic Research in a Welsh Village, translated from the original Dutch and dated 2016-17, Manon writes in the conclusion:

“The findings show conflicts at Lammas originate in external structural features and different values and ideals. Because no clear visions, procedures and guidelines were agreed upon from the start, there aren’t shared meanings and collective goals. This led to different groups with a strong hostility and distrust towards one another. There are a few distinguishable positions among the residents which form a typology based on two dimensions; compromise and investment in conflicts: the invariables, reconcilers and mediators. At Lammas, these are respectively reformists, middle ground people and conventionalists. There’s a strong in-group/out-group thinking between these different groups. Conflict at Lammas is a dynamic process in which recurrent patterns in the group lead on the one hand to consolidation of positions, but on the other hand also to withdrawal and formation of subgroups. This conflict seems to be stuck because no positive, productive group culture was created. Thus conflict isn’t functional in this case because it led to a standstill of the group. Furthermore mediation is difficult because the original conflicts grew into relationship conflicts and there are no procedures or mechanisms to attain a constructive solution.”

“Procedures or mechanisms to attain a constructive solution”: these were not high on the priority list at the start, when a heady sense of pioneer excitement prevailed. By the time their absence was apparent, it was too late to repair the damage to relationships.

The original members of the community invested huge amounts of time and energy in obtaining planning permission. As Paul (Tao) Wimbush wrote in The Birth of an Eco Village (p.151): “The news that we had won planning permission came as a massive, massive relief. In the end it had all been worth it; the anguish, the despair, the long wait had all paid off. We had set a new planning precedent”. For him, it was time to “step back and for others to step forwards” (p.154).

Those steps forwards have followed a different path, towards individual enterprises and away from the initial ideal of a collaborating community, highlighting a weakness of Policy 52 and the current all-Wales One Planet Development policy. The policies assume that people who choose to live off the land will always be able to abide by their management plans and maintain a steady-state rural economy. In reality, over time some One Planet participants will become very successful and want to expand beyond the confines of their smallholding, others will reach peak self-sufficiency and happily stay there, but a number will probably be unable to reach their targets because of accident, illness, infirmity, or even prolonged bad weather.

Pembrokeshire councillor Huw George was on the BBC’s Wales Today TV news programme on April 29th 2019, worrying that One Planet Developments are not being properly monitored and calling for a halt to new applications. Cllr Phil Baker complained about the workload for planning officers.  The issue appears to be lack of capacity in austerity-hit planning departments, and this is not the fault of people trying to provide their own sustenance and livelihood and doing their best to live within the resources of planet Earth – as will be essential if Wales is to comply with its own Environment Act, which mandates a fall of at least 80% between 1990-1995 and 2050 in net emissions of greenhouse gases.

Dr Erica Thomson, chair of the One Planet Council, commented on Wales Today that One Planet Developments are opportunities for diversification of the rural economy, bringing in different forms of income, and she hoped that more applications would come from existing farmers. “It’s not some green hippy policy,” she said.

Despite the relationship conflicts that hit Lammas, the overall impact on the land has been entirely beneficial. The 76 acres of Tir y Gafel have been transformed from sheep pasture to ecologically diverse production on improved soils, with the emphasis on fruit, vegetables and forest gardens. The holdings are off-grid, with electricity from hydro and solar power. These are big, continuing positives, no matter what has happened to the ownership structure.

Array of panels for solar power


Tao and Hoppi Wimbush and their two children, whose Maes Melangell smallholding covers 7.2 acres, produced 68% of their food from it in 2017, plus produce sales of £3,494, and £4,164 from land-based education and consultancy. That was more than enough to live on. They have a private water supply, private drainage, generate their own electricity, and use their own wood for fuel much of the year. If everyone lived as they do, we would need only 0.79 of a planet.

Looking ahead, Tao says he expects the eco village to continue to grow in biodiversity, productivity and wellbeing. “We have already played an important role in exploring and demonstrating the viability of a one-planet lifestyle on marginal agricultural land,” he said. “After 10 years the change in landscape, microclimate and ecology is astounding. The feedback that we get from our guided tours and courses is that Lammas inspires hope that we, as human beings, can transform our relationship with the natural world for the better.

“Having said that, it has not been without its challenges and struggles. Life is full of unexpected twists and turns. Whilst the majority of residents are very settled and happy here some people have still to move out of temporary accommodation into their final dwellings. It takes courage, stamina and resources to build the infrastructure necessary to support a sustainable land-based lifestyle from scratch.”

Lammas has shown that it is “possible to transform depleted upland pasture into a biodiverse ecology that supports a small community in meeting all their basic needs from the land base”, Tao added. “We are not perfect, and we still have a long way to go, and we are walking our talk,” he said.


[i] http://lammas.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/The-Process.pdf

[ii] Affordable Homes and Sustainable Livelihoods in Rural Wales, Calon Cymru Community Interest Company, 2017, p.92


Utopia: The End

Dylan Evans has been living in Guatemala, in the hills above Antigua.  ‘So?’, one might say.

Dylan Evans has written several books including ‘The Utopia Experiment’.

The experiment, he said, failed.

The Utopia Experiment

Back in 2006, Dr Evans – PhD in philosophy — was obsessed with the notion that civilisation was about to collapse. This impelled him to sell his house, leave his job in a robotics laboratory, advertise for volunteers, load up his ancient Peugeot and drive to a valley near Culbokie on Scotland’s Black Isle, north of Inverness.  This was the site of the ‘Utopia Experiment’.

If he was hoping for a homespun paradise, he was wrong. For him it quickly became a hell from which he needed to escape. True, he had not spent enough time learning survival skills, or planning how it was all going to work, or even deciding how to set up  a genuine experiment. He funded the yurts on the campsite, the food, the tools, himself and soon started to worry what would happen when he ran out of cash. Volunteers came and went, his girlfriend didn’t want to live in a communal yurt so he rented a cottage for her and divided his time between yurt and cottage, loosening the connection between him and the project he was supposed to be leading.

He lasted about a year, on and off, before admission to a psychiatric hospital.

The process of ‘recovery’ led him to theorise that he started the venture as a result of mental illness, that civilisation was not in danger, and that he had been over-reacting.

Subsequently he worked on artificial intelligence in Cork, before settling in Guatemala to live frugally and try and make a living from writing.

‘The Utopia Experiment ‘ is more a story of a retreating obsession than ‘how to survive an apocalypse’ and because of this emphasis the message that comes over is ‘Don’t Worry’, which is just as alarming as urging everyone to live in tents in cold muddy fields. ‘Don’t Worry’ could be more a product of medication than genuine lack of concern.

At Utopia, the members of the frequently changing group did not all get on well, although they presumably shared similar beliefs about the looming demise of civilisation as we know it. Co-operation was fitful at best, and the group was really a collection of individuals with their own agendas. Even if groups start off as intentional communities, it is rare for intentions fully to coincide for long.

Channel 4’s ‘Eden’ was supposed to be a series about 23 volunteers trying to survive in a remote part of the Ardnamurchan peninsula on the other side of Scotland, in 2016-17. It was in fact the opposite of Eden. Thirteen of the initial group left and only 10 were left at the end of the year-long experiment, which was largely untelevised because of low viewing figures. There were fights, bullying, hunger and disenchantment. William Golding’s ‘Lord of the Flies’ seems to be art imitating life.

Here in Wales, there is talk of ‘scaling up’ One Planet Developments, which enable people to live in the countryside and build a house provided that at least 30% of their basic household needs are met directly from the land and the balance up to 65% indirectly, for example from running courses. Scaling up into One Planet eco-hamlets, rather than separate single-household entities, would require participants to co-operate to achieve the figures on which their planning permission depends.

‘Utopia’ and ‘Eden’  show that the consequences of scaling up One Planet Developments may be to destroy them.

The Utopia Experiment was published by Picador in 2015.


Too Many Eggs in the Tourism Basket?

I do not believe that we should rely on  ‘tourism’ as a major element of our economic future, here in rural Wales. Why not:


Pat Dodd Racher

Wild Llandeilo

Wild garlic, a culinary treat.

Wild garlic, a culinary treat.

by Pat Dodd Racher

An incredible variety of plants growing wild around Llandeilo station could be used as FOOD, we learned this afternoon (April 21st), on a foraging walk led by Fiona Gallagher. My foraging has never gone far beyond blackberries, wild strawberries, and field mushrooms, but what a lot I’ve been missing.

Fiona Gallagher: wild food  by the wayside.

Fiona Gallagher: wild food by the wayside.

Llandeilo railway station in the rain did not seem a promising departure for a wild-food walk, but Fiona found a new edible gem every few paces, impressing the dozen fellow walkers, ranging from the already knowledgeable (most) to the novice (me). First, on the edges of the station car park, was ground elder, the leaves of which can be steamed or fried, or made into an infusion for tea. Beware, said Fiona, not to confuse ground elder with the poisonous dog mercury (Mercurialis perennis), which to the uninitiated look similar, but the ground elder leaves have a feathery edge. Later in the walk she found some dog mercury so we could make a comparison. Would I be completely sure if on my own? If I had photos with me, yes. Relying on my fallible memory, no.

Lesser celandines have pretty star-like yellow flowers, but the edible part is the white root. On the other side of the roadway was a profusion of ribwort plantain, its leaves offering relief from bee and wasp stings. Dandelions are everywhere, the leaves good in salads, better still when mixed with daisy leaves.

Young common hogweed stems can be boiled and fried — but you need to know exactly which type of hogweed you are looking at. The giant hogweed, for example, has some very nasty characteristics, as do several other plants of the Apiaceae family.

Common thistles, too, are hardly reclusive plants, but I had never thought of eating any. Cook the young roots, said Fiona, and you have a potato substitute. You would have to collect quite a few thistles to feed a family, but it’s good to know it is a possibility. Fiona also found sow thistle, the leaves of which she deep-fries and serves with brown sugar and soy sauce.

Nettles – “toast the leaves over a fire and add to potato soup”, advised Fiona – are nutritious although unpleasant to pick without gloves. Liquidised nettle leaves make a useful liquid feed for plants, at very low cost. In one of the planters on the station platform we found edible bittercress, with tiny white flowers, next to a type of borage, with blue flowers, both bordering a display of daffodils. The planter was also home to spinach, evidently a happy companion of borage and bittercress. Not far off the platform Fiona found cuckoo pint (Arum maculatum), containing calcium oxalate and poisonous, but the root can be filtered in running water – “for a week”, said Fiona – and then pounded and ground into a flour, used in the past as a substitute for arrowroot.

We followed the path across the railway track to a small wood above the river Tywi, the river easily visible through the bare branches. Fiona stopped to point out wild garlic (delicious), a hogweed, the young stems of which she boils and then fries, and new growth of Himalayan balsam, pairs of small round leaves. Himalayan balsam is highly invasive, but the seeds are edible and contain oil.

The toxic, bright green hemlock water dropwort is definitely not one for the kitchen. It can be mistaken for wild celery, and is a warning that poisonous and edible plants are often near neighbours. Groundsel is poisonous too, but the next plant Fiona spotted, jack-by-the hedge (Alliaria petiolata) has a tasty root, with a mustardy flavour that lingers.

Leaving the wayside and woodland plants, we walked the medieval track up into Church Street, and near the council offices in Crescent Road passed a blackthorn tree coming into flower. Another snack: the petals taste of almonds, but blackthorn is not a plant for beginner foragers or novice herbalists, because it contains cyanogenic glucoside from which cyanide is derived.

I wouldn’t forage anywhere that has been sprayed with herbicide or pesticide, or on landfill that may be toxic, and I need to know a great deal more before foraging without an expert companion, but the afternoon’s tastes are startlingly superior to the standard round lettuce or hothouse cucumber. Gain in convenience, lose in flavour.

Wild food foraging walk in Llandeilo: on the banks of the Tywi.

Wild food foraging walk in Llandeilo: on the banks of the Tywi.

Llandeilo Growers to embark on community horticulture

Llandeilo Growers’ questionnaire on public interest in local food growing receives over 350 replies:


Get involved or risk going under

Link to post on sister website:


Politics matter!

Gearing Up for Self-Sufficiency: Learning How Little I Know

I believe in local self-sufficiency, at least far greater levels of self-sufficiency than now, and so this is a mini news report from my West Wales garden. Theory and practice are, unfortunately, poles apart in this promising space.  Previous occupants were noted gardeners, but I am learning by trial and error, mostly error.

Grandad Albert Warinton’s father Thomas was a professional gardener, who rang bells in the parish church alongside fellow gardener William Smithers, the father of grandad Warinton’s wife Lavinia, my grandmother. Albert was a baker and confectioner but cultivated a highly productive garden. His feats included a crop of 86½ pounds of potatoes from one pound of seed.  I remember mostly the vivid colours of the flowers he grew and exhibited: gladioli, dahlias, chrysanthemums, but he grew lots of vegetables too.

86 (and a half) pounds of potatoes from a pound of seed.

Albert died 38 years ago, at the good age of 89, and how I wish I had shown more interest in his gardening skills, which were passed on to my mother but I didn’t ask her advice often enough, either, and now it’s too late. Trying to garden productively, and without synthetic pesticides and fungicides, is somewhat of a challenge.

Caterpillars love the leaves of these Brussels sprouts plants, grown from seed. Brassicas for winter are being planted beyond.

This year the brassicas – a mix of kales, cauliflowers, cabbages, broccoli and Brussels sprouts – have cropped heavily. I have not needed to buy any green vegetables since March, despite depredations of cabbage caterpillars.  Their current hyper-activity is evident in the lace-like leaves of Brussels plants grown from seed.

Plenty of kale in the garden!

Potatoes seem to dislike the soil, and I am lucky to harvest five or six from each seed potato. Carrots failed last year, just a few knarled specimens. This year I planted Early Nantes seed in compost in the greenhouse, and that has worked well, so well that I wish I had sown at monthly intervals instead of waiting 10 weeks to see the results.

Early Nantes carrots grown in compost: better results inside than outside.

While even I usually succeed with salad leaves of diverse types, and do moderately well with tomatoes, the peppers and courgettes have been hard to keep alive. The courgettes have cropped, but are only about three to four inches long. As for the onions, there was huge size variation in the same row, from scarcely any bigger than the original set, to typical ‘supermarket’ size.

Next year’s onions will go where the potatoes were, and vice versa, a slight problem being the large area occupied by brassicas. I don’t know quite where to plant the turnips. Dig up part of the lawn, maybe?

If I were my grandad, or my mother, I could be self-sufficient in fruit and vegetables throughout the year, but currently the self-sufficiency ratio is probably about 50%, much more for herbs (the mint and lemon basil advance like rampaging armies).  So much still to learn!

As for essential, industrious bees, there are fewer this year than last.  One micro-local reason is probably the demise of some lavender plants, due I think to my failure to prune them properly. Gardeners’ World has a helpful list of plants that attract bees, http://www.gardenersworld.com/plants/features/wildlife/plants-for-bees/1107.html, and I will try and grow several of them.

I am very glad that I do not have a new house, built at the compulsory density of at least 12 to the acre, because these houses have tiny gardens which would have challenged even grandad Albert – although I can imagine that he would have devised multi-storey horticulture!

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