Wild Productive Field, Hampshire, UK
Enhancing habitats, increasing biodiversity and producing food on a small-scale site where humans and nature can thrive in symbiosis.
Shantha and Ped, the proud owners of this soon-to-be paradise, had a dream to do their bit for nature and spread this passion with local communities… So, without any prior experience, they jumped in the deep end and decided to buy some land – learning on the job, loving every second and sharing the good vibes with all!
A permaculture-inspired design based upon a small field (approximately 3 hectares) somewhere in rural Hampshire, this project aims to greatly improve the local biodiversity through careful landscape management, while also producing plenty of healthy, organic produce. In addition, no permaculture project would be complete without some simple, yet smart technologies like a solar shower, compost loo and the main multi-purpose hut where the fruits of your labour can be enjoyed, surrounded by the tranquillity of nature.
The project starts by taking a good look at the land itself and how the current residents, wild animals, use the site. Deer tracks weave through the field and birds feast in the surrounding hedgerows; in the stream and marshier areas, amphibians enjoy the bounty of insects attracted by wildflowers and mature Oak trees, while reptiles bask to warm themselves in sunny spots.
Of course it would be counterintuitive to degrade any of these natural habitats, so we have been careful to not only preserve what is already there, but to actively enhance these habitats using a range of tried and tested regenerative ecological and agricultural techniques…
Hedges will be allowed to grow out and thicken naturally, with native tree species such as Hazel, Willow and Alder being planted next to them. As the trees grow, a coppicing system can be established to not only generate a source of sustainable timber, but also provide suitable habitats for a wide range of woodland wildlife. Dead hedges, made from waste woody material and foliage, offer additional shelter to small creatures and also help to compartmentalise the mosaic of habitats. Rare species such as bats will also be encouraged to roost on site with nest boxes installed in suitable locations around the land.
As suitable habitats for prey animals such as mice, voles, shrews and lizards increases in size, so too will the population of predators like owls, kestrels and stoats. Inspired by the amazing rewilding work carried out by Johnathan and his team at Underhill Wood Nature Reserve we decided a luxury barn owl box was needed to entice these magnificent creatures to nest on the land.
The design and north-facing orientation of the owl box at Underhill prevents unwanted disturbance from prevailing winds, while providing plenty of space for the young owlets to explore the nest and strengthen their wings without the risk of falling from the tree.
Water will become an essential part of the project, with swales, streams, dykes and scrapes dug to irrigate the land for crop production while also acting as a vital water source and habitat for numerous amphibian, bird and insect species. The existing meadowland will be enhanced using traditional hay cutting methods in order to increase the floral diversity and create a wildflower haven, perfect for pollinating insects and their predators.
In terms of food production, a forest garden area will be designated to growing fruits, berries, nuts and herbs, with swales capturing and storing water for irrigation. This orchard-style of food production is UK biodiversity priority habitat, with 60% of it being lost in recent years. Orchards provide excellent nesting habitats for numerous rare birds, attract pollinating insects with blossom, while dozens of species feast on fallen fruit.
Companion planted ‘guilds’ will also be made, with a careful selection of plants chosen so that they all benefit each other and fill their own niche within the system. In addition to this, a more intensely planted vegetable growing area will be assigned with a fence around it to protect the crops. This zone will utilise the highly effective ‘no-dig’ method of marked gardening to obtain high yields of organic produce while improving soil health and sequestering carbon. These methods of growing help to provide healthy, nutrient-dense food which cannot be found in regular supermarkets. Many modern health problems are related to this deficiency in nutrients, therefore, growing your own food is more important than ever!
Nothing is wasted in the cycle of nature and death is an important part of any organism’s life cycle. Dead and decaying material is essential in any healthy ecosystem, with a whole army of decomposers ready to break down whatever comes their way and repurpose it so that it can create new life and begin the cycle again. Dead wood is an important part of this project, being incorporated into many elements of the design.
‘Hugelkultur’ beds work by burying wooden logs, twigs and leaves of various sizes underneath a growing area in order to improve soil health by encouraging fungi to grow and form hugely beneficial mycorrhizal relationships with the plants above. As the logs break down, the carbon dioxide they absorbed during their lives will be stored in the soil, helping mitigate climate change.
As well as this, dead standing timber will be put up around the site to encourage decomposing insects to break it down. In turn, these insects will attract numerous birds such as woodpeckers, who will eat these insects and nest in the logs, with the holes they create providing additional habitats for other creatures.
This project recognises the need for collaboration and education and in the future, we hope to run various courses to teach enthusiastic volunteers about the regenerative practices and growing methods on site. These courses will range from, pond digging, to coppicing, to dead hedging, to sowing, growing, harvest and cooking – truly a project for the people (and critters)!