Biodiversity Havens Anna Locke describes how permaculture polycultures provide food and support Nature to an unexpected degree
I have two food growing projects: one, a large forager’s garden developed in a clearing within a pine plantation; and the other, a very steep north-facing field which is slowly evolving into a permaculture farm. Both projects are essentially about growing food on marginal land in a holistic way and include lots of tree crops.
I started both these projects by focussing on creating low maintenance, productive gardens on challenging terrain, but have recently been surprised by some unexpected outcomes.
The Forest Forager’s Garden The forager’s garden at Hornshurst Wood, Rotherfield, was started back in January 2015. I had spent the winter designing the landscaping, the overall pattern and the first planting for the garden. We sculpted a lunar landscape of ponds, trenches and hugelkultur mounds. At this time, there were literally only three species to be found – brambles, sedge and seedlings of silver birch.
The site had many challenges, like no organic layer, acidic soil, off-grid water and difficult access. I had to think carefully and design ways to solve these problems. Using the principle of multiple elements fulfilling the same function, I developed several ways of collecting water and distributing it to our fruit trees, such as gathering rainwater from a forest ride into an overflow tank that filled ollas1 buried next to individual fruit trees, harvesting rain directly into IBC tanks that had timers for drip feed irrigation, simple swales and a couple of large ponds.
Despite including all these irrigation strategies I could never quite keep up with the prolonged periods of drought that we have been experiencing, which for England has been quite extreme. The trees have understandably taken a long time to establish. The shrubs and vines have been easier and I have lots of forest fruits and a lovely walkway of hops to show for our efforts. However, it has been these more structural layers that have taken most of our time and energy, consequently neglecting some of the other layers.
On the herbaceous front, I initially sowed clover, black medic and mustard as green manures. Today, I still have generations of these cover crops interspersed with other plants. Any attempts at intentional herbaceous herbs, edible flowers or annual vegetables were simply swallowed up by the wildflowers that moved in. The front entrance area and the meditation walk have effectively become a wildflower meadow. Now, when you walk through it, insects jump up, creating a wave of noise and commotion ahead of your route.
This summer I had ecological surveys done on both sites by ecologist Andy Phillips, who found some exciting and significant biodiversity increases to be shared and celebrated.
Andy found over 50 wildflower species, 10 different butterflies and moths, five types of bees, five types of grasshoppers and bush crickets. He heard six species of birds, saw 12 sorts of spiders, over eight types of hoverflies and four species of dragonflies and damselflies.
He said, “Highlights included the jumping spider, Evarcha falcata, on heather, the rare pine aphid wasp, Passaloecus eremita, nesting in dead pine and birch trunks, golden-ringed dragonfly hunting insects attracted to bramble, knapweed and Hypericum flowers. A personal highlight was a male Heteropelma amictum, a very large orange ichneumonid wasp and parasitoid of moth larvae. The first time I’ve seen one!”
This is a snapshot of one day in July when we did the survey and it shows a picture brimming with life. Though he missed the spring and early summer flowers, the tadpoles, spring chorus and other things (we once had a clutch of 10 ducklings, and there are always loads of mushrooms in autumn), this really isn’t bad when you consider that the plot started as a pine plantation desert. So much life has awoken from the seed-bed and by providing unique habitats. Through the creation of only a small clearing (just under an acre) and managing it sympathetically, Nature has returned.
s t a t e d i s e o t h e r w l e s s u n
Lo c k e
A n n a
l l p h o t o s
Jumping spider, Evarcha falcata
Golden-ringed dragonfly, Cordulegaster boltonii, female i a i m e d i k i re / W
i l h a m p s h
; g a i a i m e d i k i t i s / W
J o n a
Lu k a s
P h o t o s