Cornerwood Planning Appeal

One Planet Development Appeal Wednesday 17th September at Abersystwyth County Offices.

Rob and I have now endured OPD appeal number 2 (for us)- whilst less well attended and with less local opposition than that of the O’Kane’s, Cornerwood’s was just as difficult if not more so.

Cerdigion appointed consultant from Reading Agricultural Consultants:

Applying his own cultural references of larger main stream agriculture the whole appeal set off in a twisted way and continued to wind itself up into an ever and ever tightening ordeal. Uninformed about OPD, low impact living and ecological foot printing, he picked away needlessly at Cornerwood’s application wasting a whole lot of time and proving a lack of basic understanding about grey water management, soil building and food production in woodland, developing micro enterprises and living at subsistence level, operating in a barter, exchange, recycling world and receiving gifts such as that of animal manure from neighbours: an act he stated was unsustainable. Ceridigion’s chief planner whose name I didn’t get (we were a bit late) openly criticised Paul Wimbush for not advising Cornerwood and other OPD applicants to get a bio-diversity report and a string of other reports from “competent” experts.

The usual call for rigorous and robust evidence for the purpose of monitoring fell on the ears of despairing land workers. Lammas residents Jude, Andy and Jane Wells were present.

Simon Dale ( and Jay Abrahams (Biologic Design) gave verbal reports as competent people on permaculture methods, small scale woodland management coppice work, waste management and buildings.

Cornerwood defended themselves brilliantly, I felt. (Defence is the right word – it was an attack) and Paul Wimbush did a sterling job to support – clearly exercising tolerance and patience to the bitter end although this was clearly becoming effortful as the day unfolded.

The Welsh Assembly Inspectorate man ticked off both sides for bringing information to the appeal at the last minute but seemed especially irritated with Ceridigion – there was a legal question and no legal representative from the council.

It is protocol to complete a land visit which he did the next day. He will go away and as he said tick boxes, “this is just a tick boxing exercise”.

We await the result, due in 6 weeks. Spirits at the hub at Lammas were good when we visited two days later. No one was letting it get them down so I’ll try not to either. A must do experience for the would be OPD applicant but it comes with a serious health warning!



I learnt to put tomato plants in May. The seeds had been sown and the plants brought on in a poly tunnel. When I was introduced to them they were plants of about a foot or so high.
There were three/four of us on the job. In the poly tunnel beds had been prepared and are slightly raised. The centre was marked out with string and beanpoles marked planting distance. Holes were dug a spit deep and wide. The bottoms loosened with a trowel and compost added. A wire/string ran across the length of each bed on the ceiling of tunnel and supporting strings were attached over each hole. Tap out the plant carefully and lower over hole carefully putting string underneath. Pull up the other side. It will support plant as it grows. Create dip/bowl in soil around plant to ensure water doesn’t flow over. Water in.

Water and feed the plants regularly the first few weeks. Debbie taught us to take off the side shoots and train them up the strings gently.

Less watering later will lead to more fruit. There was lots of greenback so although yields were good some couldn’t be sold.

Debbie has been steadily processing chopping, gentle simmering, putting in pots and freezing, making chutney and excellent ketchup.

Take side shoots off regularly and steer plant up strings.

Water regularly (every other day). Add a food such as sea weed or comfrey sometimes.


Everything in the two polytunnP1020197els is hand watered. Seed trays and pots outside, eg :the strawberries for next season and blueberries in pots, are hand watered. Outdoor beds are so well mulched they have been pretty much left alone.

Here’s the routine every couple of days or so!

Bend your back and get to the plant. Observe what is going on for the plant. Count so that each plant of the same variety gets the same amount of water. Be aware that some plants may need less than others.

 If the pants are planted mindfully you will have remembered to leave a dip around them so that not much water will run off.  

 Check pots by testing with a finger. Hopefully the surface will still be damp and the pot will receive water. Water twice if necessary:  once to allow the moisture to get around the soil and second time to properly give the plant a drink. If the pot is bone dry the water may just trickle away. If you are watering a big area of pots, that’s a lot of wasted water.  When the water is carefully harvested I’ve learnt what a precious thing it is.


Plants undercover are watered very routinely.

  Here most things are sown in modules and left on staging in the tunnels or outdoors under protection. Water with a rose on your can. Capillary matting helps keep the moisture in.P1020183

Plants outdoors have managed without beng watered.


Blaenffos Market Garden: Summer 2013

I’ve been a bit remiss about posting so in order to capture the essence of the summer as best I can I’ll post a little a bit more often. A retrospective of our summer here!
Been at Blaenffos Market Garden on and off since May. The home of my long time friends Debbie Rees and Julian McKenny. Of course I’m biased but it’s a darn good place to learn about growing, living with a little, recycling, reusing, working out the right compromises for a more sustainable way of life and getting the job done. Although it is not my plan to be a market gardener I am better equipped as a result of being here to grow fruit and vegetables for ourselves. Inspired by the sheer tenacity it has taken to achieve what is here over the last few years, we will leave more confident. Rob’s learning has been in the building of a timber building that will replace the small stall at the entrance to the property and serve as a shop. Moreover the land here is beautiful and we have been blessed with a great summer!

The following notes are ideas and practice that take place here. (Things I’ve picked up from Debbie and Julian).

 The very best job of all! P1020153


Windrow system

Mark out a straight column of about 1 meter or a good arm stretch and as long as you need. Say 6-10 metres.

Ideally do it in an area that will ultimately become a veg bed.

Gather organic waste.

Layer up – the trick is to keep the sides square and the top flat. Do the sides first and fill in.

Choose waste products for structure ie: the broad bean stems the long lettuce stalks laid flat around the edge can stop the old potatoes falling down etc!

Tear up cardboard (easier if wet). A thick layer. P1020376

P1020374Add a bucket or two of urine if necessary. It is all about getting the nitrogen/ carbon balance right.

When it is a work of great beauty and you are feeling very satisified see it as a signal that it may turn out well!

Cover over when complete and let the composting begin.

Spring arrives at Llananant Farm

Cross over the dual carriageway of the A40 and take a side road down a mile of unsurfaced track and look carefully left for the sign to the farm.

No sign of the house for a while but nestled in there somewhere is the home of Sue Pritchard and family. Her parents live next door and she had her three grown children around when we arrived at Llananant Farm. Indeed our welcome was marked by the smiling faces of younger people, the day after Easter Monday.

For once our timing was right. Here we could witness and be part of the lambing season. Being with a woman farmer, working organically who also earned a living in the wider world felt like a good opportunity to me. Llananant farm has some way to go to providing the family’s needs but the aspiration is there within the context of our ever changing personal and global lives. Sue instantly enquired about our sojourn and took us on a farm tour. That first walk was to be the first of many. Over the following three weeks I was to breathe the air here and know that this was the first time I had actually seen the sort of acreage, with the right amount of woodland, springs, streams, southerly aspect, unimproved land, clay soil for building and silty and loamy good enough for growing,  links to public transport, close to settlements that we were looking for. And whatever that untangible “feeling” is that this place feels good. We just didn’t have the need for the lovely farmhouse in the centre. Other than that – we are covetous.

IMG_177752 acres or so with views over to Skirrid, Sugar Loaf and the Blorenge, 6 Dexter Cows (which I was a bit scared of), flock of 50+ mixed sheep: black and white Welsh Mountain, a few crosses and eight Jacobs. Three KuneKune pigs and two female meat goats, two ducks and chickens, a small kitchen garden, lovely orchard, and mixed acreage of unimproved grassland (very biodiverse) and improved grassland for pasture, two distinct pockets of woodland, water (a very wet site that flooded,  two ponds and streams.)

IMG_1720Lambing was on Sue’s mind, a seasonal month of surrender and this year an especially worrying one. The weather in Monmouthshire was not that of Mid and N Wales where the news reports depicted huge snow drifts and reports of IMG_1786_edited-1farmers losing livestock at disproportionate levels to the extent that farmers had been given special permission by the powers that be to bury their dead stock.  Still, the poor summer and long winter had meant livestock were losing condition. We had heard of the difficulties of running out of hay and the difficulty  and expense of buying in decent fodder repeated a few times. Sue was in touch with local farmers – her stories were of ewes who were rejecting their lambs or certainly the second twin, simply unable to feed them. Higher than usual still births or weaker off spring that weren’t surviving were common. We started to prepare ourselves for a depressing season. But on balance it wasn’t all bad!

IMG_1723Lambing – It started one morning in the field… quite simply… spotted incidentally by Rob 15 minutes after Sue had left for a meeting! Thank goodness for 16 year old Izzy- at least one of us knew what to do! As I remember it there were two dead lambs right off and one live one. The biggest concern was an old ewe who was sick IMG_1798_edited-1and just sitting down. Izzy had medicine and I watched her work at finding enough flesh to inject supplement and medicine. .. it wasn’t easy the creature was all skin and bones. Eventually euthanized this ewe’s surviving lamb was hand reared in the kitchen, named Dave after the vet who intervened! The first of five lambs we tried to hand rear, IMG_1742when we left there were four needing bottle feeding!

Later that day six of us worked to get the flock down into the barn and then separate the pregnant ewes which due to the peculiarity of an especially difficult year, Sue had decided, would come in to lamb. Especially cleaned out with fresh straw and good hay the Ewes would stay here for the IMG_1788rest of our stay.

We watched listened and learned. Often it went right and it was very delightful, when it went wrong a ewe was confused by twins and in one case triplets and would only take one lamb or a dead lamb would be found and we had to try to work out from which ewe. Attempts to use fence hurdles to create an isolated space in the barn for the family sometimes worked but on one occasion didn’t. Death was common place and difficult. We were warned that self blame was common…if only I had tried this or that or maybe I should have or if I had got up earlier or, or, or. Of course for big farms and experienced people there is more reason than this but for me the response was still emotional and sad… I spoke to Sue’s father, from the Rhonda valley – gently he reminded me – “You know what they say… where there is live stock there is dead stock…”

IMG_1747But the healthy lambs grew and did what young off spring seems to do in any species … play, and wind it’s mother up! Within two weeks there were lambs running beyond the fence hurdles through spaces their mothers couldn’t get and into the yard together. There was literally a gang of lambs hurtling round in circles chasing itself, leaping over obstacles… to the sound of annoyed mothers baaing furiously and with absolutely no effect! And then other times I would be around and there would be peace; an afternoon nap or gentle sitting about…order and harmony prevailed. It was a joy.

Eating – In our third week we had dinner at Trealy Farm,  the home of Sue’s friends James and Ruth and joined by their WWOOFers, a younger Australian couple whose first task as WWOOFers was to skin a sheep! We didn’t do our research before we went and simply hadn’t realised just how successful James’ charcuterie business was or that Ruth was running courses to reconnect people with what goes into meat production:

We had taken a vegetarian dish but I requested a few pieces of hogget that was served off the bone on the side. Rob and I quietly sampled and gently experienced chewing and tasting and digesting meat for the first time in over twenty years. Both of us have been vegan for spells. It couldn’t have been at a better place! Ruth explained that the sheep, two year old (a hogget), had been killed the weekend before as a part of a course and hung in her property. She had butchered it. It couldn’t have been more local. It was a weird experience, particularly rare and quite strong, I can’t say I’m needing to do it on a regular basis but I’m glad I’m reviewing all this and feel positive that the rules I’ve lived by are getting a bit blurred round the edges. I’m finding myself reading more widely about the whole land, grain, feed, calories per acre business of meat production and wondering about the implications for ourselves on a very small acreage.

IMG_1733Wood – Rob was given a chainsaw. It’s bad enough assisting him with a fecking hand saw! Get prepared…I’m going to moan, donkey work dulls the mind and mine doesn’t need any more dulling! We need a donkey – period. Barrow loads, arm loads and shoulders full of brash, timber for firewood and timber for IMG_1758fence stakes and timber for hurdles and and and . Hours of work from one hazel stand or one overgrown hedge just processing wood. Never, ever will I take chucking a log onto a fire for granted.

Here’s the satisfying bit: from one stand we got loads of products. I wasn’t great at making faggots- but I did a few and I got stakes for sign posts.

IMG_1756Signs – One of our jobs was to improve signage for the farm walk. I managed to salvage palette wood and on rainy days sawed and sanded and made signs. It took a while but I was pleased with them in the end. The grand finale was to get them in on our very last day with French Marie who returned to WWOOF; a long established volunteer with Sue.

IMG_1725Puddling – The soil here is heavy clay so we gave it our best shot but it didn’t hold water. I’ve read since that in times gone by they would put cattle into puddle the clay, indicating that we just didn’t work it enough. Oh well, pond liner it will have to be and the ducks can paddle in something bigger than basins and buckets, Nice shape though Rob.

And so the weeks passed and we were comfortable and appreciated Sue and Izzy and Phil and Theo. Margaret Thatcher died and we switched off the radio and other than that I, as always, filtered out the external world and came just that little bit closer to understanding the place I’m aheading. Thanks Sue – we hope we will be back.

A visit to Land Matters

IMG_1670We spent a day volunteering at Land Matters. It was a place we had wanted to visit for some time as we knew there was a back story there of some people collectively buying land and getting planning permission. A community of perhaps 8 ish households lives on 42 acres of land. The subsequent position (as I remember) is that the IMG_1657group continues to have temporary planning permission (five more years) for temporary dwellings on conditions such as researching  permaculture and offering education.

There is a range of accommodation here the common area is housed in a great bender and yurt combined. It serves as a kitchen, dining, social area and meeting IMG_1644area. The mix of family units, single person and couple households have set up various structures from benders, yurts, a roundhouse and wooden round chalet style home are all visible mostly around a small area of perhaps two acres. It was good to see the close proximity of dwellings which was very village like. This was largely determined by the change of use planning application which stipulated where on the 42 acres dwellings had to be.

IMG_1645We spent the day putting in a veg bed, a Hugel type, a popular permaculture method. We worked with another day volunteer who had recently learnt of permaculture and was deeply enthused and a long term volunteer. The day was facilitated by Sharon and Charlotte, members of the coop, who generously showed us round and shared information.

I learnt a little about using The Way of Council as a communication tool.  As a coop member everyone commits to spending time on a regular basis “in council”. Something like a Saturday every six weeks and a full week every year. I’d be interested to learn more.

Thanks to Charlotte for the info on legal and financial and the recommendation of Somerset Cooperative Services.  Recently the coop has changed its rules so that members join by a one off membership payment rather than buying shares. Due to there being a turnover, it is common for people to want their shares out when they move on thus causing some problems for the organisation. Another significant factor was that financial transactions didn’t take place over a plot. A new member joining didn’t buy a plot or infrastructure or building from the person that was leaving. Essentially the infrastructure you funded as you live there is one you leave behind.

Lovely land, views, good food and great contacts. We were glad to have had the chance to come here!

WWOOFing – March & April 2013

March:  Monkton Wyld Court – Sustainable Education Centre,  Dorset

On reflection Monkton felt like a place we bedded down for the end of winter and waited for the spring … such a long time coming.

The Art and Craft Room!

Monkton had been a free school in the 60’s and I think the first that Chris Woodhead shut down! The arts and crafts room was a tongue and groove elongated wooden shed that stood in a dark hollow below the house. There were still strange painted paper maché crafted weird things on shelves, odd objects left here and there and stashes of art materials boxed and saved for a time when it would be used again. Closed eyes, opened ears, a little imagination and the sounds of creative and chaotic young people from another era were not difficult to depict. But it had not been used in that capacity for a while, resident artist Gill Baron paints there, tried to run her sign writing course from there and uses it as a base for building yurts for activist groups.

A place like Monkton needs a space like this – but it does need to keep the rain out. One of our jobs was to refelt the roof.

IMG_1568We thought the art and craft room would take us a couple of days. Just like re-felting a massive garden shed really. Alas, it was probably a few decades since it had been properly attended to and consequently there was no quick fix. I hated the pitch roof and wouldn’t go on it. Happy enough to work from a ladder, I painstakingly removed IMG_1616hundreds of clout nails twice… for no sooner had we got the felt off there was another layer! Rob, ex rock climber, didn’t flinch too much about the roof (one side of it anyway)! Just as well really because taking off two layers of felt left gaping holes and rotting areas of the old tongue and groove boarding thus the location of our near futures unfolded – we IMG_1715_edited-1were to spend the best part of three weeks up there around breaks in the weather. We drafted Chas in, who pointed out that Monkton didn’t seem happy unless they got him on a roof every few days! Rob IMG_1718bemoaned the banana shape of the roof and vowed to make everything in the future square sided and a multiple of 8’ x 4’ the standard size for anything in a sheet in the building trade it would seem. Once I had gardened around the outside, de cobwebbed and cleaned, scrubbed the algae away, had a go at painting sections and fulfilled every aspect of ‘assistant’ I skived off preferring to hang out in cow muck piles, making beds or cleaning… anything really!

But it was job well done and Gill’s gratitude as we were working helped keep us going. Great for the yurt making space to be waterproof and in use again – hopefully some other stuff will happen there too!


Monkton is an education centre and ran three courses whilst we were there that I was very peeved to miss. 1) Woodland Management over 5 days! Visits to local woods, the how to s of writing a management plan and charcoal making, taught by Jez who had a wealth of knowledge. 2) Sign Writing – I should have just done this one. I’ve since been asked to make signs by a new WWOOF host so the opportunity to learn from Gill was, in retrospect, daft to miss – maybe there’ll be another chance! 3) Just as we were leaving there was a hedge laying course. Big hedge: lots of wood and after two days it was looking like a very beautiful job.

Tenant Farm

IMG_1637Two beautiful Jersey milking cows, a couple of calves, two pigs and chickens. Twice daily, Simon Fairlie and Gill Barron (co- editors of The Land) hand milk the cows. There is the clatter of stainless steel, sterilising, pasteurising, processing activity every day- twice. Milk is pasteurised or not. Butter and cheese are also hand made. Amazing big round cheeses that form lovely dark crusts when left to mature in IMG_1629the cellar.

A new green wood barn was waiting to be finished and a lovely job for a skilled volunteer.

The Scythe Association is also run from here.



I listened to how you turn rough grassland full of ragwort and other perennial weeds into pasture for the cows. I played a part in possibly improving it.  Reseeding patches, scraping away cow pats, barrowing manure, flicking it about with a rake and spraying seaweed solutions will hopefully make some difference! I discovered the Lazy Dog to remove thistles – it’s on my Christmas list as is a four pronged muck fork and maybe a Jersey cow!

The Community

Monkton is run by a resident community and overseen by the trustees of the charity. The community members fulfil specific roles to serve the house. There are years of expertise amongst the members which complement each other. Long term volunteers supported this, not least woodsman and gardener. An 8.30 meeting orientated us for a 9 ish start.

  • I liked that Marky 11 ish grinned with glee when he received renumeration for mole catching from Simon.
  • I liked that Wenna at 15 cooked a two course meal for the community and paying guests (say 20+ people) on her own. (Both home educated).
  • I loved dancing to rock and roll music in an 8×4 shed: The Pub with lots of us and laughing.


  • I liked the view from our room: “Willow” with a view of gentle Dorset pasture.
  • I like cow muck (I know it’s weird but it’s pretty damned important stuff).
  • I liked visiting the Jurassic coast: pebble beaches and cliffs
  • I liked lemon curd and chocolate spread on oatcakes!
  • I liked being around Catherine and her ability to cobble great food together and her Yorkshire expression of “it’s dead easy”.
  • I liked that Lyndon and Sarah had a baby!
  • I liked that Noah 2 ish was just around.
  • I liked the woodland day despite the weather. Carting logs back from piles to the trailer better than prozac for the mind I’m sure. We do need to learn to work with horses though.
  • I liked Chloe’s rallying of everyone to join in cards or whatever, Michael’s laugh, Rocky’s description of what was “ridiculous” and where did Chas disappear to?
  • I liked listening to conversations about the 1980s road protests.
  • I loved watching the video about horse drawn people.
  • I liked that I finally got a back strap made and the basics of a back strap loom mastered: maybe the beginnings of bringing my own arts and crafts leanings up to the surface.

I didn’t like the limitations of my skills and using space heaters in rooms. (I know I shouldn’t have! But it’s hard to tolerate the cold!)

On politics

It’s a privilege to be in a position of exploring what we are doing. It doesn’t always feel like that. I have become quite closed off from politics and activism- trade union meetings and demonstrations, small local anti privatisation campaigns, massive anti capitalism, anti globalisation campaigns have left me feeling helpless rather than angry and fighting. Moving into doing things at a very local level has been where my energy has been. Politics hinged around land rights and food politics is becoming ever pertinent. A meeting for a UK  Via Campesina:  took place in Bristol whilst were at Monkton. And as we were leaving there was a weekend gathering of Reclaim the Fields.


Five Penny Farm

IMG_1675A walk across the fields from Monkton is Fivepenny Farm without a doubt the most inspiring place I’ve been to in terms of local food production.

Jyoti Fernandez was giving a tour to a Bristol permaculture group so we tagged along.My notes are here – Five Penny Farm_March 2013.

WWOOFing – Winter/Spring 2013


A community in a rather red mansion! Great to see these buildings built from foundations of total inequality accommodate loads of folk who have worked out or who are working out how to live cooperatively together as well as housing organisations of WWOOF and LILI.IMG_1474

As always we had a warm welcome here; literally first evening the community of 23 folk huddled around bonfires (two!), marshmallow for the children and champagne to celebrate a long term visitor’s success. Not long after a birthday tea and everyone was preparing for a weekend of visitors for combined birthdays – definitely a sociable community.

IMG_1477Two other volunteers left after the weekend and Rob and I enjoyed a range of jobs from daily sheep feeding, mulching veg beds in the walled garden and poly tunnel, pruning fruit trees, cutting back and laying hedges, sorting lots of big brash piles, filling a skip with scrap metal.

We ate communal meals in the grand dining room every night – home made bread daily. James D showed his archives of photos on all things community. The main reason for us choosing Redfield was because it is a long standing community; it celebrates 35this year. One member told us it is rare for a conflict to become so unwieldy that others in the community need to get involved. There is a very solid policy of a long joining process. A definite preference that everyone has the same status and lives under the same roof; having tried a cohousing type of arrangement with members in the past.

Perhaps most significantly we decided to buy a yurt from David a community member who built them as a business. We bought the display model! No surprise. We had been talking about it for ages Just a month or so sooner than we had been planning!

IMG_1499The blue Kangoo left laden! Ropes, knots and tarpaulins. We took it to a field in Pembrokeshire owned by good friends and waved goodbye to Redfield.




Blaen Cwm

We spent a week at Blean Cwm. We chose this small holding because it was only 4-5 acres, they kept 5 sheep and had a ¾ acre willow patch and Glyn has an interest in using the sheep fleece for spinning and weaving. We are exploring whether growing willow for basketry, living structures and bio engineering is a possible income for us.  We were grateful to Nick for his generous knowledge on this.

I am keen to find out as much as possible about growing wool; just for wool. That is to say the bi product might be the meat every few years. It’s a difficult one to get my head around having been vegetarian for the last 22 years. But we are both fully aware that what we want to do is likely to unvegetarian us.

IMG_1523Thanks to Glyn for getting out the spare spinning wheel and getting me going! A way to go yet but good to play. We also maintained a fedge; a willow hedge fence that Nick had planted for a garage owner who had bought a little extra land from the local farmer on condition he created a barrier.


The Yurt!

IMG_1543-1It’s up! Took Rob a couple of days getting the base level but once that was done the rest of it went up in a morning. The weather was perfect – mostly sunny and one day was warm (for Feb) we were very happy when eventually we had a shelter. Thanks to D + J for supporting us.


Tom O Kane Hearing.

We went to our first planning appeal in February. It was a gripping event that had us on the edge of our seats, and held our concentration better than a Harry Potter movie. Well actually I seemed to follow the narrative better than that; perhaps because I was so much better prepared; being quite au fait with all things One Planet Development policy. We kept our infuriation to ourselves at the objection from the national park authority and felt suitably encouraged at the range of excellent support the application got. My notes of the proceedings are here (Tom OKane_2_unedited) for anyone with an interest.

The rather depressing outcome is also available (Decision 2184276). Lots of food for thought for us.

What goes round comes round

by Gwen Sanderson. Cross posted from Transition Network.

It’s not difficult to get my dad talking about the past and the first story he remembered about times before flush toilets was a tale about his brother and his friend who snuck round the back of the earth closets in their Lake District village. Via the back entrance they took delight in brandishing stinging nettles at the backside of some local character named Mad Jack!

The point is that earth closets only go back a generation. A useful question might be what was wrong with them that we gave it all up for water based sewerage systems?  Memories of history lessons refer to the emptying of the night soil and the epidemic of infectious disease based on unsanitary conditions, (see The public health issue was clearly a matter of being organised about managing the waste.

Always seen as a job for the ‘lower’ people, my dad recalls the “Thunderbox”, the bucket in the joiner’s workshop where he served a long apprenticeship. The job of emptying it fell to the apprentices. Again I remember my school history lessons or maybe it was RE, in India the job of managing the public toilet pits was the job of the lowest caste the  “Untouchable or Dalit” groups.

On being invited to blog about community structures it seems the toilet, whilst not being the most sociable of places, is as essential as a building or space gets. Here are a few jottings on my own transitioning toilet knowledge! I’m no expert on this but this is my understanding and experience so far.

Toilet Types

The Tree Bog: The one that needs the least management

Plant willow and other nutrient hungry stuff to take up your compost around your loo? What could be simpler? Often simple wooden structures, sometimes on stilts over a straw bale in a pit perhaps. See here on how to build a tree bog composting loo

The wheelie bin toilet

Of which there are many examples:

1) Monkton Wyld Court: a centre for sustainable education in Dorset has set up an aerobic system for composting human waste that is P1010902careP1010905fully managed.







The beautiful wooden structure made from locally sourced timber stands over two wheelie bins used in succession. The bins are emptied into managed heaps close by and kept and monitored for several years before being used as compost.

Consideration of your user can determine your choice of loo. The transition from indoor WC to outdoor compost loo is made as easy as possible as the designer and builder of this loo has made it comfortable and just like you would get at home for the many folk who come here for events and courses.

2) Karuna, a permaculture  project in Shropshire, however offers a different experience. Advocating the squat toilet as a much healthier way to eliminate your waste, they’ve designed and set up a simple, effective and dare I say it elegant system which also makes excellent compost, also managed in wheelie bins. This is a much more outdoor experience and reminds me of that liberating thing of being in the hills and peeing with the sheep!

compost loo allotment.img_assist_custom-356x4003) Writing from Lancaster the wonderful community allotment toilets at Ambleside Road have to get a mention.

Organised by LESS this loo got in the top five picks for the 2011 Permaculture Magazine award for best loo.  A truly great accolade!!




The dual piP1010807t system

Many loos are built over two pits and the seat and box is designed so that it can be moved from one side to the other, once the first is full. Most systems are anaerobic or cold systems and need to break down and compost over time for orchards etcetera.  A soak such as sawdust is usually provided.  UIMG_1573rine separation systems can be set up and often a urinal can be simply a bale of straw. My understanding is that aerobic systems that break down the waste at high temperatures over periods of time and carefully monitored can be used on food crops. The best source of info on all this seems to be : . A free pdf download of this entire book is available online. The example pictured: during construction – August 2012 course at Monkton Wyld Court and after – February 2013.


The bP1010724uilding bit: wood working skills

There are lovely examples of fine woodwork and creative responses to the special everyday ritual of peeing and pooing. Building a small structure such as a loo or shower is a great opportunity to learn and practice woodworking skills. There are great examples of traditional timber framing and green wood work as well as more contemporary methods. I love going to loos that are not only neat round the edges and comfortable but also a work of craft (the picture above is from Denmark Farm, nr Tregaron, West Wales.


Felin Uchaf on the Llynn Peninsula also offers courses and volunteer opportunities to build with others. Try this little U tube clip for Felin Uchaf’s  heritage building skills, showing examples of stone stem wall, straw bale and cob building for a toilet cubicle housing a very posh loo.


Loo1Decorating from salvage

In contrast to all that natural building stuff here are some examples of glam compost loos from entirely recycled materials at Rainbow Futures, a wonderful festival venue in the Forest of Dean.

Take the shell of dreadful chemical loo, place it over a large, deep hole, find a few inspired arty types, offer them no end of loo2recycled gubbins, discuss your themes as retro and kitsch as you can get and away you go!


Get global and think aid, a small charitiable donation can mean that your toilet twinned with another in a poor country means a community can get more sanitary conditions.




And finally : A children’s book!

Look out for Mandy Burton’s new book “The Loveliest Loo… the story of a compost toilet” published by Low Impact Living Inititives.

What goes round comes around. Whilst we are, in a way, moving ‘back’ to managing our waste using waterless systems hopefully we’re moving onward with a bit more sense. That the management of it all is not someone else’s job.  It’s our very own waste and our very own responsibility. Managed properly our waste composts into an invaluable resource..

Let’s hope that the small boys with stinging nettles have gone away and that the deposits of the Mad Jack’s of this world and all the rest of us are treated with the true respect they deserve!

Time off WWOOFing – Christmas & January 2013

Dec 20th 2012, Christmas and January 2013

We spent the last six weeks in Lancaster staying in friends’ houses. We like it here in Lancaster – it’s hard to think of leaving – we have good friends, lots of network, family up the road. Sometimes it seems crazy that the only thing that is dragging us away is a planning policy.

Visit to Felin Uchaf 8th January 2013


Felin Uchaf is an amazing social enterprise on the Llyn Peninsula where we’d like to volunteer. How beautiful is the Llyn Peninsula? Utterly! Sunsets and surfing in January! Shame about the plastic rubbish chucked up by the tide on the wonderful Hell’s Mouth beach; so named because of the history of ship wrecks there.IMG_1468

We met Daffydd and volunteers and Alice who seems to be key to coordinating the greenwood barn build which will ultimately be for boat building. To think that this amazing structure was built pretty much by volunteer help is impressive. Many volunteers stay for long periods. The iron age round houses are beautiful and for IMG_1464the hardy that’s for sure: lots of blankets. Residential volunteers eat and socialise in the little farm house where there is also an office. Seems that architectural drawing takes place here as well as the fund raising, volunteer coordinating and other admin.


The poly tunnels and outside beds were all ready to go for spring. Local volunteers oversee them and tend them. We helped lug barrow loads of gravel to help with a drain they were putting in. More flooding had prompted attention to channelling water out of the tunnels.  In the space of a long morning we spoke to local folk, native Welsh speakers (alas not in Welsh), volunteers from York, Paris and Ukraine! If we want to make a start to learn Welsh this is definitely a good place to come.


CANW (Rob’s bit)

Early on a frosty Saturday I was up with the Sunrise and on my way to a volunteering day with the Coppice Association North West.  I’ve been thinking, more and more lately that our future livelihood would depend on working the woods and planting short and medium rotation coppice for our heating needs and for our land based income. So I jumped at the chance of volunteering in the woods.

So our task was to clear the track either side by 5 metres, mostly Hazel and some Birch. Mostly this was achieved with a billhook and a hand saw but one or two of the larger stands were removed by chain saw. We cut, stacked and bundled the wood by product.  Hazel hurdles 1 ½” to 2 ½” in diameter,  8-10’ in length fairly clean no knots. Hedging steaks 2” to 3” in diameter,  5’ in length. The larger diameter Hazel was cut into shorter lengths for the production of bobbins. And the thin branches of Birch were bundled up for Besom brooms, and the brash was bundled to make Faggots (used in natural flood defences). Other products were pea sticks and bean poles. All in all there was not much left over.

CORK RD allotment

After a year of being the secretary here I handed over at the AGM on the 29th. Feels like it has been a good role but hard work especially since I have been absent for a while. Fingers crossed for a positive 2013 and some community spirit to make things happen. Our chickens are lovely! And the veg beds are looking ok.

Our respective livelihoods

I managed 8.5 days supply teaching mostly secondary English but a little primary experience! Rob did a little electricianing and passed his Part P electrical assessment! He is now able to sign off his own work.  It was the main reason we stayed in Lancaster through January. So with the bank account recharged we are keen to set off again – first stop Redfield.