Woodland Crofting…

Outline proposal for woodland croft- Kilfinnan community woodland.

Who we are:

Rhyddian Knight and Laura Gamwell hold family, community and environmental resilience as a foundational ethic. We see locating our home, lifestyle and enterprises within our woodland croft as fundamental to realising our ambition to live sustainably in times of profound changes in climate and geopolitics. We have a daughter, Megan; currently in her second year of life.

Rhyddian holds a degree in outdoor education and has been working in this field, primarily with marginalised young people since 2001. Nowadays, he is invested in settling into a region and helping establish nature connection and mentoring relationships for all life stages within a defined local community context. His specialism lies in providing adventurous wilderness rites of passage experiences for teenagers transitioning to young adulthood.

Laura holds a degree in environmental biology and has been working as a community gardener, market gardener and latterly as a youth worker/resident gardener at Camas. Laura has co managed a number of extended households including a large housing cooperative. Laura follows in the families footsteps and has run a small business, inherited from her father, in sharpening bandsaw blades for mobile sawmills.

Current situation:

As part of a small team, Rhyddian and Laura have been managing a remote outdoor centre and its 3 hectare grounds on the Ross of Mull for the past four years. Over this time, Rhyddian co-conspirited a crowdfund to deer fence and oversaw the replanting of a 1.4ha area with native trees donated from the Woodland Trust. He has since managed the aftercare; & also established a small nursery raising hazel saplings from/locally foraged seed for restocking and for sale. Laura manages an acre of vegetable garden which comprises two polytunnels, a runrig system, small fruit cage, poultry and copse.

The centre is powered by a 4kw wind 2kw solar array with which we manage the centres operations according to capacity.

As well as the busy demands of running the centre activities, kitchen, maintenance and volunteer management, we enjoy cottage hobbies such as producing wines, jams, beekeeping, bread-making, coppice management, building with cob and lime; all of which are scalable given a secure land base Prior to this phase, Rhyddian and Laura operated in a self employed capacity whilst undertaking an apprenticeship with a the Highland nursery known as Inverness Trees.

Rhyddian and Laura share a passion for natural building. Together, they have led a number of projects using their facilitation, workshop and community facilitation skills to complete two small buildings, a number of fireplaces and rocket mass heaters as well as several community bread ovens throughout Scotland.

Long term vision.

We see our woodland croft as a mixture of short rotation coppice and wild fruit and nut tree crops providing the majority of tree cover. These will border managed terraces of vegetable and mushroom crops; with ponds supporting a variety of aquatic plants and amphibious species.

Biodiversity flourishes alongside two successful microbusinesses: i) Medicinal mycelial-tinctures and powders for export to an expanding UK market, and ii) a tree nursery supporting replanting schemes across the West Highlands and Islands.

Our home will practice a variety of cottage industries and productive raised bed system that will support a healthy and extended family and community. We see the ethic of cooperation and emergence of mutual benefits with the Tighnabruich community as integral to our designing for self determination.

Proposed/phases for woodland croft development:

Phase 1: Lead in.

Our current contract ends in November 2019 with social housing becoming available in Taighnabruich in March 2020. Should this outline proposal be satisfactory with committee and we satisfy the criteria for woodland crofting; we would move into the area and Rhyddian would return to self employment as a freelance outdoor practitioner while Laura manages the household and establishes suitability for her blade sharpening business. This would allow us to begin establishing/links with community and start our daughter at nursery school.

Phase 2: Live off croft at social housing. Establish micro businesses.

  1. Mushrooms & Mycelia- Based on existing skillset, we would import purchased Pleurotus species as liquid cultures and inoculate locally available substrates indoors. We hope to establish a market with local hoteliers/restaurateurs during the tourist season. The spent substrates would be incorporated into soil mixtures for the tree nursery.  In parallel with this, we will undertake research and development into the production of  ‘health supplements’ from myceliated bulk substrates of species with known health benefits; in the form of powders and capsules.
  2. Seed collection and tree nursery- Based on existing skillset and practice, we would fence a small area for growing hazel from locally provident seed in root trainers on pallets. Seed sources will be foraged in line with Forestry Commission FRM guidelines from pre specified areas in Argyll. A proportion of foraged seed would be sold directly to more established and larger scale nurseries. One year old saplings will be sold in boxed units of 160 trees to woodland Trust or professional tree planters.  As business develops, we hope to add value to our product with the addition of planting zone adapted strains of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi to our compost mixes as well as ectomycorrhiazal fungi as developments in the field present.
  3. Biochar- Following clearfell operations, we anticipate the management of brush to be significant. We will begin the clearing of brush left by producing biochar. Larger trunks will be retained for raised bed construction in Phase 3, with experimentation in Wolifporia Extensa sclerotia cultivation while a significant portion of remaining brush will be utilised for char production.

Phase 2 would operate with minimal infrastructure. We envision a polytunnel/polycrobm, static unit and shipping container for tree and oyster business plus a small tunnel for food growing served by a small scale solar DC array. Toileting and handwash facilities would be low impact and not attached to the buildings. Administrative work for these microbusiness would take place off site/at home.

Toward the end of phase 2, subject to local planning regulations, would see us moving partially into a static caravan for the busier periods of seasonal operations. Concurrently with establishing these small enterprises, we envisage that I would continue contracted and self employed work to raise capital expenditure for next phase.

Phase 3: Hard landscaping.

  1. Terraces, paths and embankments.
  2. Ponds and water management.
  3. Raised beds.

Prior to moving forward, this phase involves careful observation of the site. This phase would involve both a detailed topographical survey and careful assessment of soil conditions, elevation, climate, exposure, relief, drainage basins, previous use of land and plant growth. Once a cohesive vision and mapping process is complete, we envision hiring in contracted plant machinery in Springtime over a three year period to undertake the extensive earthworks to terrace the croft and maximize the potential for building soil structure. 

  • Terraces, paths and embankments.

Establishing terraces, which can also be used as paths, will provide us with a large area for cultivation of a range of products, whilst still providing for >80% woodland cover on the embankments between them.

The terraces will also protect valuable humus from being washed away or otherwise lost. Using an excavator will makes it possible to loosen the soil to a greater depth and to introduce biomass. Unwanted plant growth and roots can easily be removed and worked into the soil. The beneficial effects of this technique are long lasting and the area will not need to be dug over every year.

  • Ponds and water management.

We want to maximize rain and spring water as a resource, channelling, draining, utilizing it in ways that work for the woodland croft. If the land is suitable. Excess water woiuld be retained in a series of ponds, which work compatibly with the terrace systems. Aside from irrigation, we anticipate the primary function of the ponds to enhance biodiversity.

  • Raised beds.

Closer to the croft entrance, we anticipate clearing and fencing an area for food production. Initially this will be managed as a kitchen garden and later expanding for sale. We would hope to collaborate with other food growing initiatives in the area. This system will be distinct from the terraces, but be incorporated into overall scheme for water management. They will be comprised of large raised beds sheltered by cultivated fruit and filbert tree species.

Phase 4: Subject to season and grant assistance.

  1. Hazels on embankments with fruit trees and perennial shrubs/bushes.
  2. Mushroom business to expand to wood-chip and hardwood log production on Terraces. Sow green manure crops when not utilised.

The embankments will serve to stabilise the terraces and will comprise the bulk of the tree cover on the woodland croft. We hope to use trees from our own nursery to replant as well as utiising grant aid for fencing, stakes and guards. The small woods, depending on management, will be used as short rotation coppice or a mix of wild & locally adapted cultivar nut species; as well as providing a range of material for craft projects; with the fruit trees and shrub layers providing seasonal forage. Other native tree species will comprise the marginal and wilder areas of the site.

The terraced areas will be used to expand and diversify the mycelia business. We would establish Turkey Tail, Red Reishi, Lions Mane and a number of other species as high cash value yields; in the form of medicinal mycelial tinctures and powders and (some) including shitake for culinary use. As well as income, this enterprise will serve to build biomass, with the spent substrates used for the mushroom business improving soil fertility. In rotation with green manure crops and experiments in polyculture where time and available grant subsidy allows, It will give us an area of land we can sow, plant and use to grow crops.

As demand for time ‘on croft’ increases; we anticipate that the tree nursery business will transition to concentrating on seed selling, with lower cash value seed being grown in own nursery for our own terraces.

It is anticipated that I would continue with some bigger value contracted residential work on a self employed basis with young people over this phase. We would aim to have phone and internet installed on the croft; and transition from administrative work off croft to on site.

Phase 5: Established businesses flourish and family live on site.

In an ideal world, in the fullness of time, we would enlarge our premises for the tree and mushroom micro businesses. Subject to local planning regulations, we would also seek to self build our family home.

Rhyddian would seek to localise his work with young people but otherwise work solely on croft and as a family we would focus on regenerative ideas for businesses continuation after our retirement!

[Rhyddian Knight & Laura Gamwell. 21st September 2019]

 
 
 
 
 
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