SPG Summer Camping Trip to Cornwall: Wildly Brilliant and Towans Forest Garden

Three of us went to explore the demonstration, Permaculture Land Site run by Manda Brookman near St. Ives this year. We are rather belated in relaying the experience, but I guess late is better than never.
The site is on high ground half way between St. Ives and Penzance, so really well situated for exploring that part of Cornwall.

We (Liz, Annie and Heather) spent time with both Manda and her mother and father in law (Alan), who left London inspired by ‘The Good Life’. Alan bought the land in the 1970’s (about 30acres?) as grazing fields which he let re-wild. He started planting many trees and plants – most of which are productive of fruits. There is a National Trust hill opposite the site which we clambered up. It was amazing that you could barely see the two houses hidden in the mostly native woodland below. Alan and his wife very generously spent time with us on Sat. morning, plying us with coffee and biscuits, whilst regaling us with how they developed the area and the difficulties encountered along the way.

Both of Manda’s parents are truly charming people who live completely off grid, as does Manda and her 2 children. Both of the houses that they live in were self-built, and surrounded by what is now woodland. Manda’s Father-In-Law had had to cut down bracken etc. for us pitch our tents. This was true ‘wild camping’ with water fetched from the stream and filtered through a British Berkefeld gravity filter.

Manda won an award for the most sustainable living (South West) in 2016. She aims to address environmental, people and economy issues. This taken from her website: www.permanentlybrilliant.com

“We run a green therapy Wild Tuesday group for members of the community who just need a green boost by spending time outside in the orchard and workshop with us; We run a network for sustainably minded businesses and organisations called Coast ; and we get proper stuck into the mountainish inhumanity (Shakespeare coined that phrase .. prescient bloke, he was) of the refugee crisis with our Million Acts of Sanctuary website: and we’re developing our thinking around positive activism in times of crisis and what makes it happen.”

We met her 2 working pigs who are constantly rotated around the area to clear the next piece of ground needing to be worked on. Manda also encourages ‘Woofers’ who either camp or stay in a little cabin in return for work on the land.

They have a regular stall at the local country market where they sell fruit and vegetables produced for the income they need to buy the extra little things that they cannot produce for themselves, and hence be self-sufficient.

The work on this site is truly inspirational. For anyone who is interested, Manda is happy for you to come to stay on a Woofer style arrangement, or for donation to the site (which is what we did). We can thoroughly recommend the visit.

Towans Forest Garden Visit

Manda had kindly organised for us to visit Raymond Yarwood’s food forest nearby in Hayle – Towans Forest Garden. Over the last 30 years he has developed just one acre to be intensively productive of fruit and vegetables. And what is significant is that he has achieved it on what supposedly had no agricultural value as it was once sand-dunes. Over the 30 years the plants have created rich soil on an area that had previously only provided very sparse grazing.

On his website, Raymond describes his purpose  as follows:

Towans Forest Garden is an ongoing project to restore a plot of land described as “land with extremely severe limitations that cannot be rectified” in the official soil survey of 1979. Started in 1982, the project follows the principle of Permaculture, and uses the techniques of Agroforestry to intensify the production of food on the land.

I would recommend people read Raymond’s website – www.towansforestgarden.co.uk.  It is a treatise on his commitment to Permaculture, and an inspiration.

Raymond is 80 now and told us that 80% of his food comes from his food forest. And what a lively man! He spoke of his alarm at seeing so many neighbours of both his age and younger, being ill with various conditions, and put his good health down to variety and veganism.

To draw a picture, the site is crammed with plant-life, with just a narrow path weaving through it. It has a feel of a forest rather than a garden, the dense planting being crucial. Using the ‘chop and drop’ method he has simply let nature make a good soil. Chickens once roamed the site and kept the green-houses healthy, but now there is only one, and they won’t be replaced. Many of the species he has planted are recommended, researched and available from the Agroforestry Research Trust (www.agroforestry.co.uk) which he has worked with over the years.

I was also so impressed with the number of moths and butterflies present the day we were there. I hadn’t seen so many since growing up in the 50s. Even the dividing privet hedge to the neighbour’s property had several functions (but I can’t remember if one of them was edible, sadly), although he did talk for sometime on the benefits of the privet species, and we were there when it was in flower and so fragrant.

Raymond is a man who notices so much, and at the end of our visit I asked him how he sees himself, as a gardener or a farmer. His reply was decisive – a Natural Farmer.

Heather Slater, Annie Page, Liz Child

Firewood preparation made easier

Removing some of the pain from preparing firewood for your stove.
I have a very large room to heat with only a 4Kw multi-fuel stove to do so. My
choice is to use wood as I have space outside to both store and process quite a lot, which I have done over the 6 years I’ve lived here. But, my age and arthritic-i-ness have forced me to review my firewood cutting and splitting methods to reduce aches and pains. So, here is my process and methods I’d like to share with all those who have aching backs.

In the spring I buy in 4 cubic metres of green ash billets (a billet being the
term for a split length of log), and stack them to dry through the summer months. The picture below shows the last of the stack for the winter of 2012/2013. At roughly weekly intervals through the winter I spend an hour or two to prepare at least a week and a half supply, and the clamp in the picture below has been my aid. This prevents me having to do the whole job in one exhausting go, at the beginning of the year, and allows me to regularly enjoy the satisfaction of that out-in-the-woods feeling.


Working on the Coppicer’s principle of minimal movement of timber, I built
the billet clamp as close to the stack as possible and for the most part was able to slide billets into it, reducing lifting. That and the chainsaw cutting could be done within waist to shoulder heights.

The billet clamp uses six posts stuck into the ground, with cross bracing on
each side at the suitable height for me not to have to do any bending. The distance between front to back relates to the length of chain blade on my small chainsaw, allowing me to slice right through the billets in one go without the chain end catching.

Sacrificial timbers were placed across the braces to support the billets, fixed at
one end only allowing movement of the poles to clamp the billets tightly, and as clear of the chain cut point as possible so as not to damage the saw chain. The paired posts are pulled tight using three bicycle inner tubes.

The distance between the poles determines the length of firewood piece you
need for your fire, and mine takes 6-7 inches, too small for suppliers to like making.
So, you need to set the poles according to the size you require.
Slice through the outer sections of billets first and then slice between the posts.
The clamp effect, for the most part, holds the firewood pieces firm, but also allows enough play for the chain not to catch on the loose pieces. For some reason of physics the pieces move away from each other rather than towards each other, and prevents clamping on the chainsaw blade.

Three clamp fills, and four ‘slicings’ each time, are all that are required for a
weeks and a half’s firewood. This saves a great deal on fuel and chain oil over the
year, I have found, and the smaller the section of the billet the greater the physical economy achieved by the reduction in splitting the firewood lumps as well – if you have a small fire like mine.
Each morning I make a little kindling and bring in the evenings firewood to
dry any residual dampness. This gives me a quick start to the fire and no need for
firelighters. Wood shavings and dried bark work just as well.
This year I am redesigning the clamp with the aim of the firewood lumps
falling straight into my wheelbarrow to reduce the need for bending my back, even more so. It will be a smaller clamp as Elcombe Firewood supplied me with shorter length billets this year.
Below shows this years stacking method (after the German conical stack
system). Recycled plastic sheet topping rather than thatching, I’m afraid, qualifying as sustainability rather than traditionalism, and that’s good enough for me.

Using Ash: You need to ask suppliers specifically for billets. Green Ash is
useable in one season. Other woods need more years to season, so you need quite a lot of space. In terms of the swings and the roundabouts: Ash plantations are traditional in this area (even Laurie Lee helped his uncle plant an ash and beech woodland in the Horsley valley, according to my Mum), and despite diseases we ought to encourage even more plantations to be planted for future fuel use, in my opinion. Fast grown ash gives a hot fire, so if you already have other forms of heating, you may favour a different wood. However, the greater consumer demand will spur a desire on woodland owners to supply it or an alternative with similar characteristics. I’m sure
the disease issue will be a hiccup rather than a long-term extinction. I’m hoping so anyway.
Suppliers I have used: Simon at www.valleyforestry.co.uk and Steve at

I wish you happy firewood chopping.
Liz Child. [Oct/2013]