Apple Day in Angmering

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It doesn’t get any better than apples at this time of year . . .  especially when there’s a chance of cider . . .

Well, I did purchase 10 litres (roughly 2 gallons) of freshly pressed apple juice and have since been letting it ferment in my kitchen. The apples were brought over from France (the rubbish UK summer and lack of Angmering/West Sussex input meant that we were struggling to find anything more local) butyou can’t always be so picky!

If you’d like to to start your own Apple Day, Common Ground is a pretty good place to begin.

It was certainly good to see the first stirrings of our local CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) scheme through a cider-tinted focus. I did sample a little bit a ‘Wild Thing’ cider, made in Sussex from ‘apples from trees on the Downs, on common land and abandoned orchards and along the roadsides in the Brighton, Haywards Heath and Lewes areas’



Hope Blooms Despite All

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Bad news hits the town. In a big way.

It’s easy to feel despondent walking around Worthing.

Litter swirls around my ankles in the unseasonal wind; the grey forboding skies look ready to open at any moment, threatening to drench the concrete of the 70s brutalist-design multi-storey car park; and people shuffle by wrapped in their own worlds, insulated from the unpleasantness courtesy of ipods and mobile phones.  The local paper concentrates on ‘important’ (see above as an example), but ultimately negative, local issues. In summary, there’s often not a great deal to feel cheerful about.

And then, turning a corner away from a busy road and a roundabout that for some reason often causes the meekest of drivers to morph into road-rage perpetrators, I see this:

Tree with knitted cardigan.

Now there’s a surprise. A garden that has been created on a verge on the edge of a redevelopment site. A few months ago it was weeds, litter and rubble. Now it’s got colour, life and beauty.

Flowers: Better than old MacDonald’s wrappers and empty cans of Red Bull. Discuss.

I originally thought that this might be an example of guerrilla gardening, but no. It has been done by a local church charity group who have gone through all the proper official channels (and months of red tape) to make this happen. Good on ’em!

What’s through the square window?

For me, it shows how even a small location can transform the feel of an otherwise drab, forgotten street into something that explodes with community spirit, life, and hope.

Creativity amongst the concrete

We’ll need more spaces like this in the future. With more veggies than flowers, too. But, then again, I’m pretty certain I noticed a few leaves of Swiss chard amongst the blooms . . .

Houses v Fields

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When I listed to this on the BBC (Houses v Fields, Archive on 4, available until Saturday 2nd June), I started thinking about how the countryside could change in the future. Debate over loss of countryside to build houses (and other) has long been a big issue in the UK, especially as more and more land has been covered in tarmac and concrete, but I wanted to think about it within a future scenario of peak oil and energy descent.

My own position is that I have long harboured a dream of having some land, a few acres, to nurture. I feel that the angle of this debate should be much wider, and not just about houses. It is about our relationship with the land, which has diminished as we have urbanised and lost a connection with the land, as well as all those skills that previous generations had.

It’s more about what we want our countryside to be or become in coming decades, and less about the blinkered vision of unspoilt fields versus urban sprawl. Why do we have to think about Houses versus Fields in such stark and absolute terms? To think in these terms alone fails to realise an alternative approach which could be much more relevant to a post-peak oil society.

Here is the original synopsis provided with the radio programme:

Which is a better use of our land? A beautiful green field, or a human home? We have long tied ourselves in knots trying to answer this question. Anne McElvoy ploughs the BBC archive to unearth the tangled roots of one this country’s great, eternal inner conflicts.

Anne listens to a stinging mid-century polemic against new ‘ribbon developments’. And she finds out which writer was so incensed at suburban sprawl that she burned cardboard models of suburbs in her garden.

But she also hears interviews with those who had managed to flee the slums and who were enraptured by the fresh air on new estates. One ex-EastEnder is agog simply at the fact that she has running water upstairs.

In this new, planning-friendly world, Prime Minister Winston Churchill broadcast to the nation on the virtues of the new emergency pre-fabricated houses – complete with “excellent baths”. He expresses impatience with those who would “plan every acre” to ensure the landscape was not spoiled.

But she also hears the rough reception that greeted the Minister who ventured to Stevenage to extol the virtues of the coming new town.

This opposition to new building on ancient fields came to a new crisis in the 1980s when the boom in the south east led to extraordinary tensions. Environment Secretary Nicholas Ridley backed plans to build new settlements in the Home Counties. Protestors burned him in effigy in a Hampshire field.

And with the Coalition Government now introducing fresh plans to encourage development while empowering local communities, Anne asks Planning Minister Greg Clark how he is trying to resolve the struggle between houses and fields.

So, houses get a rough deal, but surely, people have to live somewhere. Why not the countryside? It doesn’t mean that we have to build ugly boxes that are destined to become the slums of tomorrow. We could allow a reconnection of people and land by enabling a radical re-appraisal of land-use. What if it was possible to buy a few acres and then live on that land too?! It sounds logical, but current planning restrictions make this all but impossible for most of us.

How we use land in a future shaped by climate change, resource deplation and energy descent is going to be radically different to today. ‘Fifty million farmers’ is the title of an essay by Richard Heinberg which suggests that in the future we will need far more people producing food than today. Fifty million is the rough estimate of how many farmers would be needed in the USA if we couldn’t rely on fossil fuels for transportation, chemical pesticides or fertilisers. This equates to about 15-20% of the country’s population.

Current UK agricultural workers number around 123,000. If we were to use the same ideas developed above for the UK, we might be looking at just 5 or 6 million farmers out of a total working population of around 29 million.How would that start to change the landscape? How would it impact on what gets taught in schools? This is where things start to get interesting and we can begin to construct a whole new vision of the countryside and our relationship with land.

For example, how about the Land Matters Project in south Devon?

This is a 42 acre community, low impact and off-grid. There was some local opposition, but it finally got temporary planning permission for 3 years for 8 low-impact dwellings, after support from The Land is Ours, (campaigning for a planning system which actively encourages sustainable, low impact and affordable homes).  In April 2011 they were given a further 5 years’ permission. Former agricultural land was transformed into a community. Is this the future?

Yesterday, I drove the through some of southern England’s most breath-taking countryside. From Arundel I took the road that runs between Arundel Park and Dalesdown Wood, went through Houghton and Amberley, taking in some spectacular views of the South Downs. It was hard to think of landscapes such as these covered with housing. But, gorgeous as the fields were, they were empty of people. There were a few small villages, plus a handful of isolated dwellings, but mostly fields.

Covering any landscape in huge housing estates/suburbs makes no sense if we fail to plan for future resilience. If the housing is car-dependent commuter villages with little scope for self-reliance, then it would be a wasted opportunity and one which has no future. We need to revisit our attitudes on how we use land in the future.

Increasing use and dependence on fossil fuels over the past two hundred years has moved people away from rural settlements into urban ones. This happened in England during the 19th century and continued into the 20th century, making rural living either the preserve of the wealthy or of the isolated minority clinging to a moribund existence. Those farms that remain have often been consolidated into large holdings (500+acres), whilst the smaller-scale family-run, mixed farms have mostly disappeared. Access to land has become increasingly skewed during this period. As explained in the current issue of The Land: ‘Currently, in our “property-owning democracy”, nearly half the country is owned by 40,000 land millionaires, or 0.06 per cent of the population, while most of the rest of us spend half our working lives paying off the debt on a patch of land barely large enough to accommodate a dwelling and a washing line.’

At present, much of the rural economy is based on tourism and heritage. In effect, some of the most fertile land in the world is being used as a backdrop to a version of the countryside that is static and more about visitor experience than about life and food; more concerned with conservation than creativity. It amounts to a Disneyfication of the countryside. Ugg! Is this something we can afford in a future of energy descent?

Speaking personally, I moved to a South Downs village just north of Worthing, five years ago. I am now living in a National Park (?!)  I wanted to enjoy the countryside and all it offered, but five years on and I am still on the waiting list for an allotment. I am surrounded by land, but there is none available for me to use.  Transition Findon was set up partly with the aim of starting up a community allotment or garden, so we’ll give it our best shot.

How many urban dwellers long to live in the country? Having a smallholding is unfortunately beyond the means of most of us. Even a modest dwelling with a few acres in SE England is likely to set you back £600,000+  However, redefining landuse and farming could be a key feature of how we could use the countryside in coming decades. To see a patchwork of productive small farms of five or ten or twenty acres, creating food, livelihoods and skills would be wonderful. Seeing some human life where we now have industrial-scale monocultures would change the countryside. It’s not Houses versus Fields. It’s imagination versus no imagination.

Woodland for Energy Descent

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‘Trees have the capacity to rise to the heavens and connect us to the sky, to endure, to renew, to bear fruit, and to burn and keep us warm through the winter . . . When W.H. Auden wrote “A culture is no better than its woods”, he knew that having carelessly lost more of their woods than any other country in Europe, the British correspondingly take a greater interest in what trees and woods they still have left’

Roger Deakin, Wildwood (2008)

A Google search for woodland in Worthing brings up street names, guest houses, even a stables. What is missing is real, living woodland. Places are often named for the natural world they have ‘displaced’ (destroyed). The fact is, Worthing has little in the way of woodlands.

The Woodland Trust recently started an initiative (‘More Trees, More Good’) which suggested that no-one should live more than 500m from an area of accessible woodland less than 2 hectares in size. For Worthing, only 0.1% of people live within 500m of such an area. This compares with an average of 14.5% in West Sussex and 15.6% nationally.
Woodlands are an essential element in the transition to a low carbon, post-oil future. In fact, a community with healthy, sustainably managed woodlands could be regarded as one which is more resilient and able to respond to external shocks such as resource depletion and climate change. Not only does woodland provide a crucial green lung for urban communities, it also offers a source of renewable energy, building materials, food in the form of nuts and fruit, as well as opportunities for countless crafts, skills and opportunities to reconnect with nature. Beyond this, we could add that woodlands play an important part in the carbon cycle . . .

Other Transition communities in the UK are involved in woodlands: Lewes is running a Woodland Skills youth training programme and a Living Willow project, Totnes are planting 4000 native trees by the end of March 2011 creating a coppice, they are also attempting to become the ‘nut tree capital of Britain’ with sweet chestnut, walnut, almond and hazel trees being planted, Ladock-Grampound Transition in Cornwall is creating an’edible woodland’ area. (There are many more: check the internet!)
For TTW, we already have well-established groups looking at Local Food, Energy, Re-skilling, and Heart & Soul, whose members may find in very worthwhile to consider woodland as part of Worthing’s future and think about how we can enable this to happen. We are making the first moves towards developing an Energy Descent Action Plan, investigating what is possible and needed in Worthing to break our addiction to oil, adapt to climate change, and create a thriving local economy over the next few decades. How might woodlands be part of Worthing in 2030 and beyond?

A local site is being considered as a possibility for woodland regeneration. It was formerly used as a landfill for many years, but could be brought back into use as a productive woodland, subject to various checks and agreements. We clearly need to identify more potential sites for this purpose.

Part of Worthing’s EDAP vision for 2030 desperately needs to include new areas of woodland, and this will go beyond purely recreational space. Seeing woodland as a living natural, renewable resource and relearning all those skills such as coppicing and pollarding that enables managed woodland to be one of the most productive relationships between people and nature. In addition, we will need to make fuller use of existing spaces where new trees can be planted. Roadside verges and roundabouts for a start. How about the Offington Roundabout planted with a copse of sweet chestnut? Or the huge car parks at Lyon’s Farm dug up and native tree species planted on the edge of the Downs? All that land we’ve previously used for the car will be looked at with fresh eyes when cars are just too expensive to run.

So, Worthing in 2030 will contain more woodland than it does in 2011, but trees don’t grow overnight! If we want a ‘wooded Worthing’ for the future we will need to work out how this can happen. What are the steps necessary? There is a long list for ‘backcasting’ for woodland as part of an EDAP: land availability; partnerships with existing organisations; council support; volunteers; and so on . . .

There is a Chinese proverb which says ‘the best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago; the next best time is now’ Well, I guess we’ll have to go with ‘now’ then!

Angmering Community Supported Agriculture

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Did you know that Transition Town Worthing is supporting the formation of a Community Supported Agriculture scheme on our doorstep?

What is it?

Community supported agriculture (CSA) is a big name for a simple idea. It’s where a community – large or small – makes a financial pledge to support a local farm. Together the farm and community share the ups and downs, risks and rewards of farming and growing – and help each other out.

By making a financial commitment to a CSA scheme, people become ‘members’. They pay for a season up-front through weekly, monthly or even annual payments. In return they receive a share of the farm’s produce.

As that history and ethos suggests, CSAs help to directly connect local farmers with their communities, and to support the development of local food supplies and culture. There are lots of benefits to becoming involved, from knowing where your food comes from to helping to develop a secure market for local producers.

The UK imports 50 % of its food, with the rise in the cost of fuel, food prices are rising. What we need is sustainably produced local food so that we can enjoy good quality fresh produced at a reasonable price.

What can I do now?

You can support the CSA by registering your interest . . . an by ordering weekly veg grown in Angmering!

If you are interested please send your name and contact details to Martin at Culberry Nursery, Dappers Lane, Angmering BN16 4EW email: or phone 01903 784107. All veg is sold to order please email for latest list, we can arrange delivery in the Worthing area.

You can also sign up on the TTW website here:

All produce grown at Culberry is compost grown and pests are controlled using natural predators and benefical insects. Because we pick to order our produce will be as fresh as possible which tastes better and contains more vitamins. We like to grow a wide range of vegetables but we will have a selection of locally grown veg as well.

CSA is helping rebuild local resilience and reduce oil dependency in our local area. It will also be an important part of our Energy Descent Action Plan. Food security is one of the fundamental aspects of the EDAP.