The last EPRG event of the year was an inspiring visit to Blaeneinion farm – home to a reforestation project, organic farm, and one male European beaver. After a transnational effort at organizing with the three group conveners in Wales, Mexico, and Serbia, we successfully car pooled to the Artist’s Valley that is the home of the 75ha of the farm. We were welcomed by Sharon, the founder and director of the project, and after some tea and biscuits in the beautiful on-site lodge, we got a detailed tour of the many things that are happening at Blaeneinion. Sharon’s enthusiasm, dedication, and ability to manage such a versatile project kept us going despite the rain clouds that gathered over Artist’s valley in the afternoon!
The project started as a reforestation project – bought as an old sheep farm, the site now has more than 70,000 trees planted. With the help of a grant from the Forestry Commission in Wales and hardworking volunteers who take ‘planting holidays,’ the barren pastures are slowly being turned into a young forest.
Because of the harsh climate which includes 100 mph winds and frosts well into April, the project was marked by many losses in the early years, but also a sharp learning curve. Choosing trees fit specifically for high winds and long winters, and developing her own know-how on saplings, spirals, and planting techniques, Sharon is creating a deciduous forest that will not only help recover the lost soil quality but also provide food from walnut and chestnut, elder, wild pear, wild cherry and plum trees. In the years to come, it will also provide timber for fuel, building materials, furniture making, sap for wine production and much more. One of the most educating experiences of the tour was comparing plots in different stages or re-wilding: seeing a plot that has been free from grazing for just a couple of years, next to a plot that has had more than five years to start its recovery, shows the true extent and importance of soil recovery in mid Wales.
One part of the farm is slowly being turned into a forest garden, following the principles of agroforestry – plants are planted in ‘stories’ or layers to create an edible and medicinal ecosystem. This system mimics natural systems, is highly productive, and bypasses many of the problems that monoculture systems face.
Producing food with many challenges like poor acidic soil and endless armies of slugs was a challenge for Sharon, but she used her experience from two decades of permaculture projects in London and started a producing and selling food at Blaeneinion. We took cover from the rain in two poly-tunnels built by Sharon and volunteers at Blaeneinion – the humid air and comfortable temperatures extends the growing season for a crucial few months and allows a steadier income. Sharon’s beautiful produce is now a part of the Green Isle Growers’ veg box scheme and also sold at the Community Shop in Machynlleth.
The biggest reward at the end of the tour was seeing Blaeneinion’s Mr. Beaver come out for the night and have his breakfast of apples, carrots, and willow. Mr Beaver lives in a 2.5-acre enclosure at Blaeneinion and attracts crucial guests needed to keep the project going.
If you would like to get closer to Blaeneinion, there are two ways to spend more time on the farm. If you want to actively contribute to the re-planting project, you can take a working holiday and help out Sharon by planting trees and doing basic farm work. Food and accommodation in a yurt provided!
If you would like to use Blaeneinion as a quiet escape, you can also stay in one of the lodges at very affordable prices. More than just comfortable accommodation, these lodges provide the crucial funding needed to keep the project going. You can check out the website and find out more info by e-mailing Sharon directly at: 01654 781215, email@example.com.
This was the last EPRG event for the 2015/2016. We will spend the next month developing the programme for next year. If you want to get more involved or have ideas that we could work on together, please do get in touch with coordinators Katarina Kušić (kak12), Danielle House (dah20) and Justa Hopma (jmh23). We are looking forward to seeing you all again in the autumn!
“Many thanks to the EPRG and of course to amazing Sharon. I found Blaeneinion to be impressive and inspiring; the evening was most enjoyable, despite the rain. Looking forward to seeing Mrs Beaver next time!”
– Professor Henry Lamb, DGES, Aberystwyth University
“Thanks to the EPRG for organising the outing to Blaeneinion Farm near Machynlleth yesterday. It’s an ambitious permaculture project set on 75 acres and includes reforesting the open pasture with native broad leaf, nut bearing and fruiting trees and the reintroduction of beavers. I found it really inspiring. Taking back the Earth!”
– Mike Fincken, Greenpeace captain of the Rainbow Warrior