Category Archives: Cae Bodfach food forest

GCSE Photography Students at the Community Orchard

We have just received some more photographs and a little write up from Louise Bass, Photography Teacher at Llanfyllin High School:

My year ten Photography class have been working with the Llanfyllin Transition Project to produce banners and a booklet cover. Very kindly Jack Hunter came in to introduce the project to help fuel ideas to do with Permaculture. Students spent time discussing environmental issues and ways of encouraging cultural changes to work with nature to help support green practice and ways of working.

Students also benefitted from a visit from a past textile student who is now studying at university. Marianne Terrill spoke about her project using digital images of green foliage inspired by environmental issues. Her sketchbook showed the digital manipulation of images to produce beautiful printed fabric designs. Bringing the outside inside on soft furnishings.

On a damp Thursday morning Mr Hunter and Steve Jones kindly agreed to show the students around the Wetlands and Community Orchard. Here students had the opportunity to photograph the environment in detail. Steve spoke very inspirationally about using nature to heal the damage we have done. The space is a beautiful location providing fun for all the community and a real environmental mini ecosystem. My favourite comment was that there is no such thing as waste in nature only another resource!

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In lessons students plan to use their new found knowledge to combine with images captured to produce real banners, posters and a booklet cover. I look forward to seeing what they produce.

GCSE Photography Students at the Community Orchard

We had a lovely morning taking Llanfyllin High School photography students down to the community orchard and the wetlands as part of the Llanfyllin Transition Project. It was really good to see them getting up close to nature. We are really looking forward to seeing the fruits of their efforts!

Plant y coed

Investing in their future: community orchard work, March 2017

Forgive my poor Welsh but the image of children planting fruit trees in the Welsh spring (Children = plant, wood = coed) is too perfect a pun opportunity to miss out on!

There is wonderful soil down on the flood plain at Cae Bodfoch by the river Cain. Millennia of alluvial deposits have built a wonderful fertile soil there, it’s a little heavy with clay but with a high carbon content so it is open and aerated, perfect for growing. The presence of moles, who feast on worms whilst tunneling through the rich soil open up drainage and air-ways confirm its excellent fertility and potential.

Willow coppice, volunteer Lesley harvesting by the Afon Cain, Llanfyllin

Fertile soils, moisture and full sun make an excellent space for growing. Over the last 3 or 4 years via local permaculture initiatives we have been able to  introduce several willow coppice beds as well as establishing a heritage orchard there.

Willow plays many more important roles than just providing biomass for burning or materials for basketry.

The river is a spawning ground for trout who are very sensitive to silts and mud on the gravel beds where they choose to lay their eggs. Planting trees along riversides reduces the soils washing from surrounding farmland into rivers by filtering and cleaning any surface flow. Riverside plantings also stabilise soils on the banks with their roots, whilst the trees also provide habitat and food for insects and birds.

Project volunteers planted 80m of willow along the edge of the field for coppice two years ago using salix viminalis, a fast growing shrub willow long used for basketry, biomass and water filtration. We also designed the planting to provide a wildlife corridor from the river across the field in a way that also offers wind shelter to the wetland/ picnic area adjacent to it.

coppice This is a small part of the 10 acre area that has been given over to community use by the landowners at Bodfach hall, a little further up stream. There are a range of plans for how to use the rest of the field but protecting and enhancing wildlife and biodiversity was always a key consideration in this sensitive area.

The process began a few years ago when the land first became available, people across the community were invited to submit ideas as to how it could be used for long-term community benefit. A variety of ideas were submitted, some fanciful but not practical, some practical but beyond budget and in many ways suggestions fell between the two but failed to have an overall coherence.

I took the proposition and gave it to a group of permaculture design graduate students in 2013 and again in 2014 and from that we evolved a plan that took into account the key potentials from a wildlife and biodiversity perspectives whilst aiming to create relationships and connections with the surrounding community at the same time. This is the nub of permaculture design, designing for personal goals and needs in a way that compliments, benefits and includes community objectives whilst working to maximise the benefit to and understanding of our place in the wider natural world.

Development vs enviroment
We could be forgiven for thinking that achieving development objectives entails sacrifice of the environment, because industry and developers always present habitat disruption as a necessary cost of progress. Permaculture design however refutes that view asserting that until we can reconcile the two objectives we will never achieve any degree of sustainable development. Furthermore Permaculture asserts that every development is a opportunity to enhance the environment and wider ecology, ceasing this continual erosian of natural capital.

Whenever we are creating something we should be finding ways and approaches which benefit community and ecology, whilst of course achieving the original objective.


A plan for Cae Bodfach

With all of this in mind a plan evolved; the two groups of Sector39 students sifted through the minutes, plans and notes from the community and town council meeting and chatted with various stakeholders of the project before producing a design for the field. The student’s design had many elements in the final plan, so when it came to submitting it to the council we removed more speculative elements and concentrated on the backbone of the design, locating the key elements that fitted the brief given us by Llanfyllin town council, representing the community.

cae bodfach plan

Cae Bodfach planting plan as submitted to the Town Council, based on survey work by S39 PDC students

The orchard/ food forest is placed centrally to the field on the highest and richest ground on the flood plain. It avoids the power lines that cross the field and is arranged as a single island that the tractor which crops the hay each summer can easily navigate around.

We have added to the orchard each year since we began, firstly with support of the Cwm Harry Get-Growing project and latterly with help from the Welsh Cider and Perry society as well as this project. Year on year it is developing towards something we hope will be of real lasting value to the community and the wildlife of the area. We have planted some 50 heritage fruit trees now, with hundreds of support plants. Herbs, shrubs, bee-friendly flowers, berries and more have all been added to support the overall effect.

The vision fo the Cae Bodfach food forest is a community able to harvest useful quantities of fruit for its own use with surpluses available for juicing, jamming and fermenting – all of which could potentially be resold to generate income for community projects in the future.

Of course these plantings only take up a small part of the space available and are either at the extreme edges or in the middle of the field furthest away from the picnic areas and entrances. So those plans as yet unrealised and calling for more physical investment, skate parks and natural amphitheatres still have plenty of available space to evolve into but hopefully at least we have created something that makes the area more interesting and inviting to both the community and the ecology of the area.

Local students planting trees as part of the first phase of development in 2014/ 5

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Get Involved!


Community orchard at Cae Bodfach

Strong communities need shared assets and ideas to bring them together. This was the idea behind the Cae Bodfach community orchard. The land has been generously donated by Bodfach hall to be managed by Llanfyllin council for the wider benefit of the communty.


Garden volunteer Grace practising her formative pruning technique at Cae Bodfach this weekend

We first submited design ideas to the council in 2010/ 11 and have been working down there periodically ever since. We have won support from Keep Wales Tidy, Cwm Harry’s Get-Growing project and now the Welsh Cider and Perry Association suported by volunteers from the community, Llanfyllin High school, Junior school and now via the Llanfyllin trnasition project have all leant a hand. Over the next few weeks helpers from a team doing community reparatrions work are working on the wetland area, thinning ut the reeds and mosses and providing some ideal mulch materials to support the trees. This is the key to ecological thinking, no waste, the outputs from one system are the inputs for another.

We are planting heriatge varieties of apple, plum and pear in what will become a commuity orchard and forest garden in a space where anyone will be welcome to harvest the fruit and enjoy the herbs and pollination plants we have also introduced. This is an open ended project, we hope to adding to it for many years and in doing so create someting of lasting value and beauty for everyone to enjoy.

We will be down there on alternate sundays over the next weeks, pruning and mulching, cropping the willow and making plans for the next phase of the garden development. Please join us if you feel like helping out.. we are there from 10.30 am on alternate Sundays.. not 5th as I am teaching in Reading but we will be back on the 12th Feb, so please join us.

Tree guild designed by Ysgol Llanfyllin students Hannaha and Kate for thier GCSE land based studies course work

Tree guild designed by Ysgol Llanfyllin students Hannaha and Kate for thier GCSE land based studies course work

Llanfyllin High School students from the land based studies GCSE group have been our most regular volunteers and they have designed plant guilds for the garden as part of their GCSE studies, we hope to broaden out involvement in this project to other subject area across the school. Jack from the project team is meeting with the Art department this week, so watch this space and please contact us if you wold like to be involved.

Land-based studies Llanfyllin High School GCSE group

We are working with the Land Based studies GCSE group as the first part of the Transtion project. Below is a resource created for students in support of sessions on soil carbon and biochar.

Assignment, biochar and wood pyrolysis

  1. Draw a diagram based on the information below explaining the process of creating charcoal/ biochar.
  2. Can you explain how biochar used as a soil improver could be a useful tool in combatting climate change and in reducing inputs in farming.

You may want to watch the BBC video below about lost civilizations in Latin America as well as the short one afterwards on the same video on biochar applications to support and develop your ideas in question 2.


Here is a simple diagram of a wood gassification stove similar to the one demonstrated in class.

Here is a short video of such a stove in action, cooking on wood gas whilst making biochar at the same time.

The Secret of El Dorardo.
Maybe the farmers who lived in the Amazon basin in what is now Peru and Brazil centuries before Columbus and other Europeans arrived there  were some of the most sophisticated cultivators of the soil ever.


Biochar as seen under the microscpe. The scale of 100um is 0.1mm so very small indeed. The micro cavities and fissues in the char provide the ideal home for soil microbes and trap air and water making the soil much more fertile and alive. Could this be the secret to their farming methods?

Tropical rainforests produce very poor soils, not suitable for agriculture yet these farmers in the Amazon from well over 1000 years ago supported a population of millions, how did they achieve this remarkable feat?

They worked the land for over 1000 years and left behind fertile, stable black soils that are still extremely productive even today. The farmers themselves largely died out 500 years ago as a result of contact with western diseases like smallpox and influenza after Spanish explorers arrived in the region in 1530.

Watch this video of the discovery of these lost civilisations as well as the shorter one on bochar and its applications on the same clip to help with this assignment. It talks about the discovery of Terra Preta, or black soils that can only be explained as man made and that defy our understanding of amazonian history and culture.

Other resources:

Please explore these other resources if you would like to find out more.

Wild stoves manufacture and retail the model we demonstrated at school

The British Biochar foundation undertake research and collect information about this remarkable material.

The Soil fertility project, lots more information can be found here about biochar, its potential and its application.

This locally based initiative has been developing mobile kilns for biochar production and we plan to work with them to produce biochar for our school orchard project.

Cae Bodfach, creating a community food forest for Llanfyllin

Students at work planting pahse two of the garden

Students at work planting pahse two of the garden

Llanfyllin is a typical Welsh market town in many ways, it is home to the regional High school with over 1000 students and is therefore widely known in the area, yet it faces many challenges as a community as well as a shrinking resource base with which to address them.

Since the Spar supermarket up-scaled its operations last year we have seen the Bank, Corner shop and Bakery close, along with one of the pubs previously, and suddenly the high street is looking distinctly quiet.

You could almost be forgiven for thinking the global climate catastrophe wasn’t happening here as, despite the economic challenges, life carries on pretty much as normal. We are a community based on farming, an important industry also being shaped by market forces forcing farms to become ever more capital intensive and increasingly impactful on the landscape.

Yet we know from Peak Oil theory that the oil industry, which underpins agriculture, is increasingly precarious and with our Paris Climate Accord commitments we have a double incentive to be exploring pathways to a rapid decarbonisation of our economy. Food and transport are the area most exposed to the climate and energy threat so it seems a good place to begin our own local resilience plan.

To that effect we began working with the High School’s Land Based studies GCSE department two years ago, establishing a community food and withy forest using heritage varieties of fruit trees and fast growing viminalis super willow. We have plans underway to greatly enlarge this resource and to work with many more community partners to expand the scope of the work.

Species map of trees planted in Phse one of the garden

Species map of trees planted in Phse one of the garden

This year, adding momentum to previous work, we have commenced a three year transition project, funded by the EU, to work with the school to use permaculture design to create a community vision for transition to a Carbon negative economy within the time frame advised by the Paris Accord. Saving the Planet One school at a time, funded by ARWAIN rural development partnership is our vehicle for community led change in Llanfyllin.

We have taken the position that the climate debate is over, with 195 countries having committed to keep emissions well under 2 degrees our focus is now on how we are going to achieve this ambitious yet vital target.

The intention is for the school and the emerging generation to lead the way, to allow those most affected by these monumental changes to set some of the goals themselves, and to engage directly with the processes required to make the change.

Follow our progress on

Steven Jones, Sector39 Limited, Dragons Co-operative, Llanrhaeadr Ym Mochnant.