Current Events

This page follows on from previous years, and will be updated with the most recent developments at the top. So for an idea of the history you will need to read downwards and back in time. It will get more out of date the further you go. OK?

UPDATE Oct 7th 2020

Here's a nice little project I gave myself during the severe lockdown of April and May 2020. I took down our old original woodshed and rebuilt it with a new roof of shingles made by hand from ash and alder logs sawn here during the winter. The pictures show making the shingles, fixing them by screwing to a frame of larch, and putting on a rubber ridge and glass front.

UPDATE April 27th 2018

A new addition of another 255 watt panel and controller, to add to the one we already have from last year, means that now we have enough electricity all year round. We can read, listen to the radio, charge mobiles and laptop, and, through March - October at least, charge cordless tool batteries and electric bike batteries. We still have no electric kettle, fridge, TV, cooker, washing machine or high use stuff like that, but are happy without them. Here is Sion, a friend and energetic volunteer, helping us put up the panels in January.

Sion fixing new panels in place

A project I have been working on as tutor this Spring has been the construction of a roundwood woodland shelter near Scolton, Pembrokeshire, as a course for Tir Coed. Richard Sylvan was the other tutor, and we were fully aided by Jerry Roberson, the site owner, who provided the wood and most other materials used. Here the participants are working on the skeleton. Thanks everyone.

working on the Scolton woodland roundhouse

This is constructed using my favourite natural building system these days : linking six braced arches, with fitted cedar benches, together in a circle, standing on twelve oak blocks set in the ground. The skeleton is larch, with some cedar here and there. The northern sector is extended to allow a spacious log store. The central roof hole is open to allow smoke out from a central fire. A nice funky structure.
A cautionary note however: if you want to build something like this in a climate like that of Wales, don't start in February as we did. It was very wet and cold. It would be more fun and save a lot on boots and clothing to start in, say, April or May.

We are now starting work on a workshop here, which will be an oval structure incorporating an insulated wooden floor; sawn planks with 180mm of raw wool underneath. The floor structure is mounted, as with the above Scolton build, on oak blocks set in the ground. I reckon this causes the least damage to the ground, as you leave any slope untouched, but use oak foundations for longevity. We are using blocks from the oak woods behind the roundhouse here, and our gratitude goes out to some good helpers, like some of the Shift Bristol students, and Pat Malone, our superman friend from Cloughjordan, Ireland, who helped carry and roll up some of the heaviest oak rounds. Here it is just taking shape:

the new workshop taking shape

June Cordwood Build

The top structure will be a roundwood skeleton with cobwood infill, and we have sawn a few hundred 400mm long logs of different species and thicknesses from our winter coppicing for the purpose. We hope to have a work week in the first week of June, so if you"d like to come and camp nearby and help, that would be great. Please let me know you would like to come, 00447971749765. I am not calling it a course, as there is no expectation that we will finish anything, and I am slow these days, but it should be a good week if we have some sun.

UPDATE Dec 3rd 2017

Here is a small video I made last week on making a rug on a peg loom:

UPDATE June 10th 2017

Following on from the wind turbine improvement mentioned below, there have been several months where we have been making improvements to our One Planet technology, if you will forgive such a grand phrase for such simple things. One Planet is the overall term for the Welsh government's desire to keep all developments, and ultimately all activity, within the bounds of sustainability for one planet, as that is all we have. In the roundhouse we are not attempting to live in total simplicity, but to live off grid within nature's means. As technology is changing fast to facilitate this, I am on the lookout for ways that technology may help us live sustainably. So this spring has seen a binge in spending from savings, on upgrading some of our stuff. In particular, we were offered a higher mast for our turbine by renewable energy guru and friend Bobby Bazalgette, so after several emails to and fro to get ready, he came down for a day and we now have a mast of 10 metres, instead of four. Thanks Bobby. We now catch a lot more energy from the wind.

the new wind turbine tower

The porch has been great as protection from strong winds and now contains a mass of greenery. Grape vines and tomatoes are coming on very fast there. This pic was taken six weeks ago.

the porch in April 2017

At about the same time I was offered some second hand big batteries to replace the 200ah we had, and a new 250w solar panel for £80, so I accepted both and we managed to bring the panel down the track on a wheelbarrow and the batteries by horse and cart courtesy of kind neighbour Jim. It became obvious that my old wiring system was no longer adequate to the task, so I spent a week looking at the spaghetti of wires going back nineteen years, and gingerly removing and labelling bits until I could instal the big new 1000ah battery, a new controller, and a more effective way of dumping surplus electricity, on very sunny and windy days, into the hot water tank. To you, dear reader, this may look a terrible mess, but to me it is simplicity itself compared to what went before.

the battery, controllers and stuff

Following on from this, we were talking about how our transport options were getting limited as we get older. The upshot is two new electric bikes! They are fantastic. So far, at this time of year, we have been able to charge the batteries OK.(There is a bike battery on the charging table in the pic above.) We shall see how much the new additions work in the winter. Maybe electric bikes are mainly for the summer months. Here is me with mine in its new funky shelter.

me and my new ebike

The most recent bit of alternative technology has been the purchase of a new Alpine scythe and peening jig made in the Czech republic. If you want to know more about peening and scything, check it out on YouTube. Some of the best videos are from Eastern Europe, and often in Russian. Scything keeps you fit in the nicest way. Here is the kit in the porch.

new scythe, other sharpening stuff, and peening jig in foreground

UPDATE Feb 2017

A simple life sees cycles of events, some annual and some in longer phases. This winter we have had to address one of the longer phases as our wind turbine started behaving very erratically, and I decided to buy a new one, since there are good simple wind turbines coming out of China these days for half the price of ten years ago. So here it is. A third of the weight of the last one, for the same power of 300 watts. Lovely to watch.

the garden facing south east in Feb 2017

The other cycle has been the annual one of coppicing. This year we have done some in the alder coppice, but also cleared an area closer to the house that has been an impenetrable mass of fallen willow, brambles and birch. Wild life lovers, don't worry, there is plenty of impenetrable scrub left, and we have been able to create a small pond suitable for frogs to spawn in, down in the swampy bit. It is nice to see more clearly this fine pair of old willow trees, and a view down to the meadow.

this year's coppice area

UPDATE December 2016

UPDATE November 14th 2016

vine leaves in autumn

UPDATE Sept. 29th 2016

This might not look exciting to you, dear reader, but I have been for years bemoaning all the small amounts of electricity generated by our solar panels in summer that we don't use. We are not connected to the grid, so often, on a sunny day, the panels got the battery up to 14.5 volts then our small controller cut them out. Now, at last, I have got round to screwing a 200w 12volt immersion element into our oak barrel hot tank and connecting it up to a new controller that I bought on eBay and has been installed by Bob Robarts, a professional renewable energy person who lives nearby. We have fitted it up so that when the battery hits 14 volts, a little LED goes on to let us know, and the excess electricity goes over to the immersion element, usually for about half a minute, until the battery comes down to 13 volts, when the load to the immersion cuts out. It has been going on and off like this every five minutes or so for most of the afternoon. Although, compared with a 'normal' immersion heater on the mains, the current is quite low, it is enough to warm the water and I hope will save us some firewood on sunny days. Here it is this afternoon, with the light on and a good load going to the immersion element.

the controller sending excess solar electricity to our hot tank

UPDATE July 22nd 2016

Back this week from Ireland. Here is what we were doing:

UPDATE June 24th June 2016

UPDATE June 19th 2016

The garden is very fruitful this early summer:


Grapes in the greenhouse

Elder flowers

Loganberries on the house eaves



We have this week submitted a planning application for renewal of our permission. Hopefully if we get it, it will be for full permission. Fingers crossed.

UPDATE march 27th 2016

This week I have constructed a 1/5 model of a roundhouse skeleton to show the basic elements of the type of design that we use nowadays. Here it is under construction:

six arches of roundwood, with sawn bench or floor supports attached.

Six arches of roundwood, with diagonal bracing jointed into the frame and a sawn bench/floor support in each one.

henge completed by linking each arch with a lap-jointed down-facing crosspiece

Henge completed by linking each arch with a lap-jointed down-facing crosspiece. There is also a hollowed out groove over each post to receive the rafters.

the first three rafters are up

The first three rafters are up, the first being tied to the Charlie support, and each rafter tied at a specific place to the previous one.

the complete skeleton.

The complete skeleton, Charlie having being removed.
If you don't understand any of these words but would like to, check out here or buy my new book A Simple Roundhouse Manual for the full picture.

UPDATE Feb 25th 2016

Here is a video I made over a year ago that you may like. It is a time lapse recording, without sound (no synthesizer muzac! You'll have to imagine it), of four months in our greenhouse; May - August 2014. A photo is taken every fifteen minutes during daylight hours. At first not much happens - salad crops grow and are picked, so disappear. Then the grape vines sprout leaves and start exploring. I love the way their tendrils whip around until they find something to cling to. Then tomatoes, and finally, cucumber make their appearance.

UPDATE Jan 13th 2016

We have had a long period since Oct 18th when it rained every day for 75 days! Things are damp. The track is a small river, and the footpaths are all streams. Still, we have just enough wood under cover to dry clothes and more wood, so are surviving well.

view inside the roundhouse at winter solstice 2015

The white grapes growing in the greenhouse proved to be very good for wine. Small quantity but great quality.

white wine ready for bottling

I have been in the workshop during December and again this week turning fresh sycamore logs into bowls. With the assistance of a friend Sonia, from Brithdir Mawr, I made a small YouTube video enclosing the photos as a slideshow showing the process called 'Turning a Bowl from Green Wood' so here it is if you are interested in that sort of thing. Part 2 will be finishing the bowl in the summer when it has dried out.

The process generates a lot of damp wood shavings so I leave them to pile up and dry naturally before bringing them back for the fire or the compost toilet.

fresh sycamore to turn

This winter has seen some strong storms, now with classy names like Desmond and Frank. These have generated just enough power via the wind turbine to allow us to read in the evenings and use the tablets and wifi. They have also thrown up good quantities of seaweed which we gather as a good source of minerals for the garden. Last week we collected about fifteen sackfuls, of which three went in the compost toilet, six will go to the fruit patches, and the remainder to be composted for general garden use.

Faith gathering seaweed from Newport beach

UPDATE August 30th 2015

A full summer has been and gone. In June I supervised the building of a forest school roundhouse at Leigh Woods National Trust site near Bristol with the Shift Bristol Sustainability Course. In July we were band leader and circle dance teacher at the Earthsong Dance Camp in Ireland, which was a beautiful camp again. It is now so popular that this year tickets for it sold out in four hours! It has the best demountable showers we have ever seen on any camp. The drumming workshops and Fire night were exceptional. In August we went to the Unicorn Natural Voice camp in Wiltshire/Somerset and enjoyed meeting so many old friends, and singing and listening to fine songs. Now we are home again in the garden, harvesting veg and fruit and fighting back nettles and brambles. Tomorrow we need to empty the compost toilet, as shown on a previous occasion:

Nowadays it looks good with ivy hanging down over the front. If Tarzan used a compost toilet, as I am sure you will agree he did, then it might have looked like this:

Tarzan compost toilet


red onions grown from seed

I grew our red onions from seed again this year, as it is so good not to have to worry about them going to seed early in the summer, and they keep better as well. They grow easily as big as from sets. I had to buy in a little bag of seed compost for starting them off in the greenhouse, as my cold-method compost is much too seedy for weeding round the delicate grass-like early onion shoots.

A colourful line of washing is a cheerful sight! I admit to quite often arranging the colours to my taste, rather than just pegging them up as they come out of the bucket. I try not to care too much that most stains do not wash out with the mild soaps we use. They smell good and clean, though, after all the wind and sun and rain coming off the Irish sea!
Sometimes my washing line (which is at the other end of the garden from Tone's one) looks a bit like a sort of bunting/Tibetan prayer flag string. That is when I have washed a whole lot of hanky-sized squares of cloth - from old quilt covers, blouses, T-shirts etc - that I use as all-purpose hankies. I try to always have a couple or more with me, one for noseblows and one for peewipes, and one for other uses. I once had to tear one into lots of strips to tie together for an emergency string. When I still had periods I used them for the same purpose as our foremothers did, but more easily than them, now that tight knickers had been invented, as well as plastic bags to carry home the ones to soak then wash, after a change. It was a eureka moment in my mid-thirties when I realised there had always been this simple alternative to "S.T.s" for "the Curse", as my Mum called them. I like the many colours that my rags ( "shmatters" in the East End) come in. Good prayers in them too!

a colourful laundry display

UPDATE May 24th 2015

If you are a regular viewer, sorry about the delay in updates. You will notice that this website has no Java stuff or anything fancy, and is in fact carved out of a simple lump of wood on an old faulty laptop which I only ever use to update this site, since I can talk HTML to it. It does mean, however, that long periods elapse between updates. If you are a new reader, WELCOME!. I hope you will find this site of interest.

Our newish greenhouse continues to deliver wonders. In 2014 two grapevines grew the entire length of the greenhouse, and this year they look to produce beautifully. The greenhouse also gives us very early salads in Spring. Here it is this week:

the greenhouse, May 2015

The second major event has been the publishing, at last, of my second book 'A Simple Roundhouse Manual', a new book of 274 pages and over 100 colour photographs showing in detail how to make a simple roundhouse, through the stages of planning, design, site preparation, building the henge, reciprocal roof, etc. It is geared to people wishing to build one with a group of people, as this is the way I know and like best. If you want to do this, you will need to spend at least £3,000, and maybe more, on materials, plus the land and tools, so I hope the relatively high price (for a book)will be seen as a minor cost in the build. I have written it to help you achieve a successful build as simply and cheaply as possible, and most of the roundhouses I have focalised have been done for £12,000 or less, so if you really want the detail to build one, this book is for you. It is available on Amazon or as an ebook on Kindle.
Here is the cover painting, by Sarah Latham. Great picture, nÕest ce pas?

the new book cover

UPDATE September 17th 2014

Most of the summer has been spent in the build camp in France. An excellent crew assembled on a farm near Vausseroux, in Deux Sevres, at the beginning of August and built a shelter, compost toilets, solar showers and a field kitchen and then proceeded on work to make a roundhouse from local natural or recycled materials. We drew chestnut posts from the wood, stone from old piles, clay from the ground, old tiles from the farmyard. We avoided using any metal in the construction of the skeleton, and used some copper and small metal nails to pin on roof slats. There is no roof membrane here, as we placed roman tiles so as to make the roof waterproof. The walls are cobwood, using oak and chestnut. The skeleton is of chestnut, with manila and jute rope and pegs made on site from oak and chestnut. It was a tough call, but we made it, and thanks to all who took part.

the crew at mealtime - food cooked over the fire

making joints in crosspieces to take pegs at top of posts

skeleton using wood joints, pegs and rope

internal view of diagonal bracing and bottle mandala


view from the north

UPDATE April 21st 2014

I have been on a build with the Shift Bristol Sustainability course, and we were catered for from three brand new, excellent, rocket stoves that the members had made the previous week. On returning I determined to rebuild my primitive 'fox fire', built into a bank outside the roundhouse, using better rocket stove principles. One aspect I decided to play with was the custom of splitting an inlet tube horizontally to allow fuel in at the top half and air in at the bottom. I didn't have suitable pipe for this, but why not have one bottom tube for air, and a higher one, at an angle, for sticks? So this is what this one is. It also boasts a small metal ledge which warms up so can be used to keep pans warm while other stuff is being cooked. We are very pleased with it. In the first picture it is in 'Dalek' mode, with a rain hat on, and in the second I am cooking lunch and adding a piece of wood. Look how little smoke there is!

earth sheltered rocket stove in Dalek sleep mode. Note air inlet under fuel inlet

feeding in fuel while cooking

UPDATE March 23rd 2014

The Spirit House in the next field is looking fantastic. Traditional thatching being done, using local reeds.

Spirit House being thatched - fifteen rows to go

UPDATE March 14th 2014

Last winter

Now the rains have stopped lashing down interminably, the gales have eased, and we can potter around our homes and homesteads again in the Spring sunshine, I would like to take a quick backwards peep for any lessons learned, before last winter becomes a distant memory. Feedback is increasingly important to me and, I think, to all of us. As the status quo looks increasingly tatty, as climate change kicks in with the promise of much worse to come with no end in sight, and as our politicians and business leaders continue to procrastinate and spout bland half truths, it becomes more necessary to me to try to say what I feel even though such openness used to be socially unacceptable. Anyway, to cut out the chit-chat, here are some ways in which our roundhouse low impact setup worked this winter and some ways it did not. If you are in a similar situation to us, or would like to be, I hope the following comments are of help to you.
So, in no particular order:

Thanks to the wind for keeping our lights on. As the skies darkened and our solar panel source became a tiny trickle, so the wind picked up. The big wind turbine up in its exposed position at Brithdir Mawr was blown clean off its mast and crashed to the ground in a wreck. Our simple 200 watt one, however, with a modest 4 metre mast, withstood all the gales and fed big gulps of energy in to our hungry battery when it needed it the most. So our lights did not go out once! Yes, this is a record. The wind also blew down some enormous oak branches which will keep us in firewood for a whole year in three yearsÕ time, if we cut it up now, if you see what I mean.

Thanks to our big 220 amp hour leisure battery. It cost a painful £150 a couple of years ago but it has soldiered on through all this. I used to have five small batteries linked in parallel, but when one or two start to fail it is such a game sorting out which ones to replace, or what. One big one has been great. I am still learning a lot about 12 volt systems and what little gadgets you can get to avoid inverting 12 volts to 230 volts to charge some small thing like a phone or a laptop, which need 5v and 18 volts respectively. I now have a neat little thingy and cable which clips on the battery terminals and ends in a car cigarette lighter socket. This socket sprouts four other sockets, into which I can push adapters to run the internet router (I had to get that from the USA) and to charge all phones, ipad and laptops without needing to waste electricity going up to 230v and back down again. All our lights are LED warm white wide angle bulbs, so we can have three lights on for the same 10 watts that one bulb used to use. I donÕt know what our energy consumption is relative to the average household, but it must be less than 5%. We keep hearing how energy bills will continue to rise, so it is nice not to have any.

I am glad we built on a slope, because the quantity of rain was such that if we had been on the flat we would have been flooded. I feel great sympathy for all those who live on flood plains, but, after this winter, and reading scientific predictions of how worse it may get, my advice to you is move. It is useless asking the authorities to put this right for you. The climate is beyond their control. If you are still looking for where to live, go over 150 metres above sea level.
BUT this house only just coped with being built into a bank. The drainage pipe in the turf on the roof was useful, as the pipe and earthworks at ground level also helped to take water away and down to the stream and swollen river. Where I had overlooked any part of the outside wallsÕ drainage, however, the water made sure to come in. Springs opened up on our front path. Our track became a running permanent stream. We had to improvise diversions of this stream to prevent complete inundation, but this is very easy to do on a slope. Closer to home, however, was more tricky. I had failed to dig a full drainage ditch all the way round the house, and over the last eight feet or so at the West, where the back fill comes down to the open air, the water came easily under the bottom of the wall and onto the wood floor. Not seriously, but enough for us to realise that if water can possibly get in, it will.

I am glad that Faith and I spent so many days last year, in that long cold dry spell, sawing short term coppiced willow, hazel and alder and laying it up to dry on pallets covered by tarps. Most of the wood was about wrist thickness, so very easy to cut when green, but the warm summer dried these piles very well. It is heating our water now, for a bath tonight. It seemed that we were interminably cutting wood, but after a while the view and your thoughts take over, so it was not drudgery. We ended up with four piles of maybe a cubic metre each, all on pallets and covered, and this wood was fully seasoned by this winter, when we needed the fire on all the time to dry clothes being wetted continually by any outdoor activity. Talking of whichÉwould I site a compost toilet nearer the house than the fifty metres we have at present? Well, yes. Ten would be nice, along a covered walkway or at least not through a swamp.

I am grateful to have flexibility of work. I have a wood workshop in the cowshed of a neighbouring farm, and even when the rain is falling in sheets I can struggle there through the woods, kick open the door, light a fire and do a bit of craft work. For me this was important as a reminder to being more than a wet bear in its cave.

Lastly, I am grateful for something to do this winter. I found the continual buffeting and soaking very wearing, and many others did too. So I started to write a new book. Searching for pictures to illustrate points in the book kept me in touch with past times of community and fun in the open air. Each week we go to a community choir, despite awful weather conditions, if we possibly can, and singing with others is a great way to renew your spirit even when the flesh is weak.
Bye for now
Tony Wrench
March 2014

me outside the roundhouse, March 14th 2014

UPDATE October 19th 2013

In late September we achieved a long held ambition to insulate the outer circle of floor in this house properly. Adrian of Brithdir Mawr, and his Woodmiser mill, cut us 200 2m long tapered 25mm boards of Douglas Fir as flooring. Under that we now have a 200mm depth of Foamglas, supplied by Ty Mawr. Foamglas is made by forcing air through recycled glass bottles melted to a high temperature, and it is light like pumice, is excellent insulation, does not wick water, and will hold weight. So our new wooden floor floats on 200mm of foamglas, supporting 50mm sq (2" x 2") battens. We had to remove the various floor coverings, mainly wood rounds, to get down to the bare earth, and simply laid the foamglas on the earth. We are grateful for the hard work and fun time had with our skilled helpers Simon, Paddy, Louis and Chris. The house feels noticeably warmer and drier. Here is the bath space before, during and after.

the bath with exposed earth underneath

floor has 8

the finished bath with foamglass all around it and underneath too

UPDATE September 3rd 2013
It is a good year for garden produce. Here are yellow tomatoes in the greenhouse and grapes over the front door:

yellow tomatoes

grapes growing over roundhouse front door We have decided this autumn to improve our floor, which, apart from the middle living area, is still basically an earth floor. Bracken still comes up every spring in the kitchen, and loganberry and mint plants have made their way up from outside in our sun bit. In the winter this house probably loses a fair amount of heat into the ground. So we shall insulate the outer circle with 200mm of foamglas and then a wood floor floating on that. I'll put pics up of progress, if you are interested. Foamglas is a newish product made by blowing air through molten recycled bottles. It doesn"t wick moisture and is very good as insulation, though having embodied energy from the heating process.

Our hot water system has also needed repair as the old whisky barrel started to leak, so I have replaced it with a new second hand red wine barrel from Burgos, Spain, imported by a firm near Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire. It took three days to drain the system, drill holes in the new barrel and plumb it all in, but we had a lovely bath this Sunday and it's up and running and looking beautiful!

three holes near the bottom of the barrel: cold in, cold out to solar, cold out to back boiler

new hot water tank - red wine oak barrel

UPDATE June 12th 2013
Had a good week at the beginning of this month on a course building a fire shelter near Cardigan. A busy group just managed it in a week. Here it is from above in a great pic by Dan Jones, one of the participants

UPDATE June 11th

new grape flowers and young grapes. (I like grapes)

UPDATE May 3rd 2013

About twelve years ago I noticed an old grape vine, with pink grapes, in a dilapidated greenhouse attached to a house in Llechryd, in West Wales, that had been sold and was empty. The grapes were delicious, with a taste like sweet strawberries. That winter I returned to the greenhouse and took some cuttings from the vine, in the hope that one day I would be able to grow grapes like these. The cuttings flourished into several vines that produced one excellent crop in a big polytunnel before a storm completely destroyed the polytunnel. I took cuttings and the vine still persists in one of the Brithdir Mawr greenhouses. I transferred some cuttings to a small cheap polytunnel three years ago and gave some cuttings to my son, who has since moved house, leaving the thriving vine in the conservatory. When the cheap polytunnel was destroyed by a storm in 2012 we took the momentous decision to buy a new wooden frame greenhouse. I transplanted two of the young vines from that same plant to the new greenhouse this January. Now, for the first time in twelve years, there are fruits forming from that initial vine in a decent space for them. Aaah!

Strawberry flavoured grapes budding in their new home

UPDATE April 8th 2013

A fine new roundhouse has come into being in Parkend, in the Forest of Dean, England. It was built as a course over two weeks, and is intended as a shelter for play groups and other groups using the grounds. Thanks to Ian from the Forest of Dean Field Studies centre for the space, the warm rooms, the showers and the kitchen. Our cooks produced astonishing meals each day and the weather was below freezing much of the time but it didn't rain, so progress was good. Here we all are last Friday, the last day (with extra pic of Jen and Nicki, who weren't in the group pic). There are a few more pics in the 'courses'page.

the members of the course outside the roundhouse in the Forest of Dean

Jen and Nicky

Here is a brief video I made using pictures from the course to illustrate the steps in building a simple roundhouse:

Building a simple Wood and Cobwood Roundhouse

UPDATE Jan 9th 2013

Updates are very infrequent when we have so much cloud and rain - almost no solar electricity. Sorry about that. Two major developments have taken place recently.
The first is the mission to build scientist and Multiple ChemicaL Sensitivity sufferer Gillian McCarthy a heatable den for the winter. This has been a very interesting and challenging project in Somerset which still continues, thanks to the efforts of a stalwart band of natural builders. More updates, pics and info on the Facebook page Gillian McCarthy Den, which may be here

. The project is still desperately in need of donations for materials and expenses, but is going well. Please help if you can.

The other exciting development is a brand new greenhouse, bought in response to the terrible weather we had last year, ruining most of our produce and encouraging an army of slugs. The greenhouse is made by Perity's in Suffolk, a good old English manufacturer. It has a wooden frame, is 20 ft by 10 ft wide, and is fabulous. It cost nearly as much as our house! Here it is in its brand new glory, with just a few lettuces and some new grape vine cuttings in:


UPDATE Nov 10th 2012

Kevin and Marion, brother and sister French wwoofers, have plastered the south wall section with limecrete. Wonderful.

Kevin and Marion finishing the limecrete wall plastering

UPDATE October 21st 2012.

First the exceptionally GOOD NEWS for low-impact and off grid people everywhere, but especially in Wales.
The Welsh Government has published its One Planet Development Practice Guidance. You may now build an ecohome in the countryside in Wales if you are committed to a one-planet lifestyle that gives you a sustainably low eco-footprint, and have a business plan showing how you will meet your basic needs from the land. It is a long and well thought out report that has been years in the making (and has a picture of a particularly attractive roundhouse on the cover).

Access it here.

Now some rather more mundane activity for those who are interested in feedback on natural building methods, rat proofing etc. For the first time in fifteen years we have this week lifted the rubber flap that has protected the south east front of our house and had the woodpile stacked against it. We knew some rats have made passages through the wall so wanted to block them and see generally how the wall is. The answer is that the wall is in surprisingly good condition - dry and structurally sound. The four hay bales that I set into the wall as an experiment (not straw - there are straw bales in other bits of wall) are still strong and dry and thick, but they are also the places where rats have chosen to burrow through, rather than the cob seal between logs. On the picture below notice the holes near where the spade is pointing, in the bale by the pink baler twine, and on the upper left part of the wall under the sill. It is also evident that the most difficult place to get a good thick wall is as cobwood comes up to a post. The cob is falling away from the posts in several places. I no longer build cobwood walls in between posts, but around the outside of the skeleton, on a low stone stem wall. As the cobwood passes in front of posts or braces I make sure to screw the logs to the posts. This is much easier than filling in between posts, and should be longer lasting. See the courses page on this site for some examples.
What we shall be doing to our old wall over the next week or two is to fill the holes with limecrete (sand and hydraulic lime), then fix a sheet of metal 1/2' mesh to the wall with staples, taking it down below ground level, then plastering the wall with hemp/lime (2.5 parts sand, one part lime putty, one part hemp shiv. I will put a picture up of how it looks when it is finished. Hemp/lime has been the subject of long term experiments at the Centre of Alternative Technology (CAT) and has high insulating properties, as well as setting very hard. We will also use it to improve the seal around some of the windows.

the cobwood wall revealed after 15 years - note generally good condition but rats find hay bales easy to burrow through

UPDATE August 13th 2012

Rainy day - playing with a USB microphone:

Tag end of "The Shadow of your Smile"

UPDATE July 23rd 2012

We have returned from the Earthsong Drum and Movement Camp in County Tipperary, Ireland, where we helped put on daily circle dances with live band and choir. The weather was terrible, but the spirit of the camp and the quality of the workshops and gatherings was fantastic. Here's part of the site in a rare sunny moment.

the big top at the Earthsong Camp

UPDATE June 5th 2012

We had a busy musical weekend, playing a big ceili with Rasalila in St Dogmaels, and having a smaller but beautiful circle dance a mile from any road at Carn Alw in the Preseli hills.

dancing at Carn Alw

acoustic circle dance at Carn Alw

UPDATE March 11th 2012

It's Spring now. That's enough coppicing for a while.

wood to chop and store

UPDATE Jan 30th 2012

After about six weeks of very little sun or wind over the winter solstice period we have got used to living on tiny amounts of electricity, having only one or two 4 watt LED lights on at a time, no use of the laptop etc. Then we had a storm and the wind turbine blew down. The next day was sunny so I spent all of it trying to find a replacement blade for the one that broke. They were made in China but are now obsolete. After several very dodgy episodes erecting the mast with different combinations of blades up there I have now found a good source of blades, made in California, supplied by Spa Garage in Huddersfield. So now, with 150mm steel blade extensions, a new hub, ten new blades, and new rigging, the wind turbine is back in business with Chinese turbine, Californian blades and Welsh stays and fitments. A new setup would have cost at least £540 and this cost £310, so a good deal. I have said negative things about wind turbines in the past, and yes, they do drive you to distraction sometimes, but it is sooooo satisfying to see it going round again and to watch the amps creeping up on the dial when a wind blows.

me happy by the revamped turbine

UPDATE Jan 8th 2012

Gathering seaweed at dusk last week:

Faith gathering seaweed on Trefdraeth beach

UPDATE Oct 24th 2011

window view

a dragonfly holds on into colder weather Faith takes a quick Indian bath herbs hanging up indoors to dry

UPDATE May 16th 2011

bee and mayfly on comfrey

They came from space - and this time they were hungry...

slug dropping on a thread from the roof to the ground

UPDATE April 5th 2011

Here's a nice video from the Guardian:

And, while we are about it, the sister video on Lammas:

UPDATE March 26th 2011

This month has seen the sprouting of a new roundhouse at the Boiling Wells site near the St Werburgh's City Farm in Bristol. We have had a large team of volunteers and members of the Shift Bristol one-year Sustainability Course. Here it is after day 5, being inspected by Albi Pugh, one of the younger volunteers.

Albi checks out the new roundhouse in Bristol

And here at the end of day 6:

starting to lay turf and topsoil on the carpets over the membrane - Shift Bristol Sustainability Course

UPDATE FEB 13th 2011

We have had a productive weekend in partnership with the Shift Bristol permaculture and Sustainability Course groups. Ed, Tim and Patrick spent two days in our alder coppice felling and cutting up several trees with great energy (in response to the request below). Last night we had a good meal and knees up with the whole group and members of the Brithdir Mawr community, to our acoustic music of course, and today we went to Newport beach to gather seaweed with the permaculture group, bringing it back for the compost heap, the compost toilet and the raspberry patch.

gathering seaweed on Newport (Pembs) beach

UPDATE JAN 8th 2011

Would you like to help us coppice this year? (Here is how we go about it). We shall be devoting most of the first two weeks of February this year to it, and would welcome two fit and strong people with tough clothes who would like to help us with it for three five-hour days in those two weeks. We feed you and you stay in the den. Let me know by email as soon as possible. Thanks.

This has been a great winter for survival, has it not? We have used more firewood than usual, but had some spare set aside from 2008 coppicing, so we have had enough firewood, and kept fit pulling it through the snow by wheelbarrow and rope, a trick we learned at Matavenero.

moving logs in the snow

Another couple of exciting events concern electricity. At times mid-winter is difficult as solar panels really need sun so if we have many non-sunny days in the row, the battery gets too low. We are constantly trying to improve this situation, by the installation of low wattage LED lights, for example, of 3.5 watts each. Now I have bought a big new heavy duty 220 amp-hour battery which will help ease the load from sunny to darker days, hopefully, and also I have found some units on the internet which you stick on your woodstove and which provide a small amount of electricity. I have been looking for something like this for years, and they are now on the market. Whoopee! ( You need to employ an interesting permaculture principle for them too - turn your problems into solutions. Problem: an underfloor draught of cold air. Solution: These units need one side hot and one side cold, so channel the cold draught over the units! Well, it might work. I'll let you know.

Don't bother to try this. Here's me sticking ten of them on the side of our woodstove. The pipe on the left by my hand was fitted to take a draught over them and up. They are linked in series so I was hoping for 20 volts and up to 1.4 amps. At max. bath-preparation heat, ie approx 110 degrees C, they produce 5 volts and a tiny current that doesn't even register on my meter, so it's no good for charging our main battery. I have fitted it up so that I leave it over several days to charge up one AA battery at a time! Hey ho. You win a few, lose a few..

UPDATE 23rd Sept 2010
Making raspberry wine:

UPDATE Sept 18th 2010

Faith harvesting pumpkins apples

UPDATE Aug 19th 2010
Back from the Unicorn Natural Voice Camp in Dorset, where a variable group of between 6 and 20 people built, in a day, a drumming kiva from 150 straw bales and 15 long poles. The space was well used by teenagers, drummers and singers, and drastically reduced noise from drumming practice over the camp area and beyond. Here are some pics taken by Clio Wondrausch, to whom many thanks:

making a small window in the straw bale wall tripod and Charlie to erect a reciframe the Charlie is lowered by moving its legs apart, and the roof finds its level pulling tarps over from the inside the entrance

I just love this pic of onlookers gathering at the door:

onlookers and workers watch the roof going up from a place of safety

UPDATE July 15th July
As a celebration of the badger cull being called off, here is something exciting taking place:

UPDATE July 4th 2010

This is an exceptional year for redcurrants. Here they are on the bush, and being juiced on our large wood gasification stove. (The flame is visible, but no smoke.)

redcurrants Juicing redcurrants over a wood gasification stove

UPDATE June 4th 2010

We visited the Lammas project on one of their open days yesterday. Their website is here.
All of the members are now on site, trees and vegetables are growing, structures and houses are springing up. It is a great vision of a sustainable future growing right here in West Wales. Here is a view into Simon and Jasmine's new house, with the conservatory visible on the left:

View inside Simon and Jasmine's new eco-house

and here is Paul Wimbush outside his growing barn house.

Paul and Hoppi's barn/house

UPDATE May 2nd 2010

This is a glorious time for new growth and blossom.
Here are crab apple, Sun Tan apple, chestnut, blackcurrant, violet, gooseberry and cherry.

crab apple buds

Sun Tan apple buds about to burst into blossom

a young chestnut tree opening its leaves

blackcurrant bushes in flower

a violet

gooseberry flowers

cherry blossom

Last week I saw the Brithdir people ( - up the top of the track) sitting having coffee in the open around a small awesomely efficient wood stove made from two tins, one inside the other and drilled with holes in special places. It is called a wood gasification stove and design plans can be obtained on the internet, including YouTube. You can cook on them or place your storm kettle on top, which will boil water almost as quickly as an electric kettle, using only a few twigs. I made this copy in half an hour after finding appropriate tins, and here is me cooking lunch on it the next day ouside our back door.

cooking bacon and eggs on a wood gasifier stove

UPDATE FEB 27th 2010

We have nearly finished this year's coppicing in the woods.
Here is a video explaining how we coppice:

UPDATE JAN 1st 2010

We emptied the compost toilet yesterday, an annual half-hour maintenance job. Here is a video of us doing it:

UPDATE December 10th 2009

The woodshed is still going strong after 12 years and, having supports of growing willow trees, has grown over a foot taller. Bioarchitecture - you know it makes sense.

the woodshed, Dec 2009

Did you know jays steal potatoes? Neither did we. Here is one filmed in the act.
a blurred jay stealing a blurred potato - a blewit looks on

We had a fine crop of blewits, edible mshrooms, appear in the potato beds this week. About fifty, dried, fit into a Barleycup jar.


Congratulations to Anthony and Jenny Cutajar on winning their planning appeal for their smallholding near Crymych. It is time that Pembrokeshire County Council started saying yes to Low Impact livers round here rather than waiting for the Welsh Assembly Inspectorate to do it for them.

UPDATE Nov 15th 2009

We have had strong storms recently and heavy rains. One of the few benefits of this is the large amounts of seaweed washed up on the beach. So today we went down and brought back twelve sackfuls of seaweed for the compost heap. Sea weed is very rich in minerals, many of which have been washed out to sea from the land. Composting seaweed is therefore great for remineralising your soil, and it acts as a good compost activator. I put a couple of sackfuls straight into the compost toilet as well, as the raspberries and other fruits love it, eventually. Here is seaweed straight onto a veg bed.

a vegetable bed deep mulched with seaweed

UPDATE August 31st 2009

Really, extremely, good news! Lammas has won its planning appeal and now has permission to build an ecovillage ten miles from here in Glandwr, Crymych, Pembrokeshire. This is a groundbreaking success, and must inspire people everywhere. The inspector's decision is a fine piece of intelligent writing that also rejects a lot of the bureaucratic conditions Pembrokeshire County Council sought to impose on the project. Congratulations to all the Lammas crew, and particularly to Paul Wimbush, who has spearheaded the campaign through thick and thin. If you want an eco-hero, look no further! Well done again to all of them and may this project prosper and be an example to us all. Check out the links here.

Here is a video made recently by Undercurrents after our own planning success:

UPDATE July 27th 2009

We have just finished a round wood shelter course in the woods at Longwood, near Lampeter. Twenty of us camped on an iron age hill fort with magnificent views and awful weather. Here is the woodland shelter below.

 Leo watches Skinner larking about after spreading forest floor litter on the shelter roof

And here we are building it:

UPDATE July 13th 2009

Now picked

Redcurrants before being made into jelly last week

UPDATE June 11th 2009

Everything in the garden is growing fast.


Elderflowers Elderflowers

Bees are abundant on the comfrey:

bee on comfrey. What kind of bee is this? There are hundreds here but few honey bees.

There are also plenty of things that grow on a turf roof besides turf:

Wild strawberries on the roof

UPDATE May 11th 2009

Ed, one of the stalwarts of last year's den course, who cycled to West Wales all the way from Brighton on his bike and home-made trailer,
Ed smiles by his bike
(he's the smiling one in the centre)
has written to say he is now living wild in Sweden:

'The sun was shining, a rainbow curved across the sky, the frozen lakes glistened, the snowy landscape covered in animal tracks. It felt like I was coming home. It was still getting down to around -10 degrees and it was amazing to hear the lake booming in the mornings and the evenings as the temperatures changed and the lake melted and refroze. The locals say that this is the sound of spring!

I was very glad for the Spring when it did come. To be able to be naked in the forest, to swim - and drink from - the lake, to make things outside without my hands or feet hurting. It has been amazing to see and learn about all of the life that has come with the spring. I've seen moose, hares, deer, woodpeckers, snakes as well as so many types of birds and plants. I've been fishing some pike, gathering greens as well as learning to make different things, from baskets to hide glue. I've even started making every fire with a bowdrill ( - it feels great to learn to be independent of matchstick and lighter corporations!

Lots of people have been visiting the camp (including some with children) but I've also spent days on end by myself in the forest - often quite a spiritual, if sometimes lonely, experience. If anyone wants to come and visit they are more than welcome.

If everything works out, I'm going to Denmark in a few days till the 16th June to learn more about bow-making with a friend and am afterwards planning on staying in Sweden. Lots of people are coming in July when I hope to build a winter shelter (and dry foods) purely out of what we find in the forest (although if it isn't waterproof I'll throw a tarp on top!). I'm also helping out with a wilderness gathering from 3-16th August (the updated info will soon be here:

Currently, and when I come back from Denmark, I am scouting out locations for a new camp. The forest company has found out about the camp after it being here for a few years. Nothing has happened about it yet but we feel that it's time to find a new home. It has been amazing, if tiring, walking for days on end in new areas. The security of squatting the land definitely comes from knowing that we can fairly easily move and set up camp elsewhere if trouble comes our way (although if we were moved in the winter it would be more difficult - one reasons why I am thinking of saving up some money to buy some land with others in trust).

If any of you are interested in any of this then just come along. It would be great to have any help you can give, share knowledge or to just hang out in the woods.'

Ed's email is here.

UPDATE April 12th 2009

Fine enough weather to cook outside today!

Faith cooking over an open fire redcurrant flowers

new buds on the grape vine

This valley now has a monthly ecotour that visits several places on a seven-mile Sunday walk, whose members stop to look round and have a packed lunch at the roundhouse. Here they are last Sunday, the 5th April. Email here to book on future tours.

the ecotour visits the roundhouse, April 2009. Photo Vicky Moller

putting in Sharpo Mira blight-resistant potatoes

UPDATE March 23rd 2009
A few of us are collaborating on a Google document, still in its embryo stages, which will act as an add-on to the Plan mentioned below, and will hopefully integrate the visions for Pembrokeshire of many green individuals and organisations. We need to have it done and delivered by May 7th. It is available for viewing here, and will be updated as it changes.

UPDATE March 15th 2009

World Premiere of 'The Age of Stupid', see below.

Pembrokeshire County Council have just produced a draft of their new Local Development Plan which will be the blueprint for planning decisions from 2011 - 2021. It is called the 'Preferred Strategy' and can be found on the Pembrokeshire website.
This is a most extraordinary document. At a critical time in our civilisation where we have just a few years to turn around our overconsumption and wasteful habits into living in a sustainable way, cutting out CO2 production from homes, vehicles and industry, and making a transition into a non-carbon, fossil-fuel free economy in order to survive, many of us are wondering how we can play any part in the big decisions. Whether anything we do or say counts. I imagine what it would be like to have the power and opportunity to be a planner in these times - to actually be able to read the writing on the wall and convert it with genius into real workable policies that will apply here, locally, on the ground, and will truly shape our future. These people have a real chance to make a difference at this critical time. What an opportunity!
What do we find in this lengthy, detailed document?
No mention of peak oil or transition towns.
No mention of organic agriculture, carbon-free or even self-build housing, co-housing, ecovillages, permaculture or even low-impact development.(Are they planning to drop their new policy so soon, this radical new policy which asks for an alliance between low-impact builders and planners in agreeing new formats for sustainable living? Without saying yes to anyone applying under the existing policy? What is going on?!)
They use the word 'sustainable' all the time, but nowhere is there an attempt to define what they mean and at the point in the report where they are supposed to give objectives for sustainability they refrain from giving any. The so-called 'Sustainability Appraisal' has nothing to do with ecological sustainibility.
No mention is made of ecological footprinting.

There are a few mentions of climate change, but only implying that it is something that is happening elsewhere and may impinge on Pembrokeshire. There are a couple of mentions of 'sea-level rise' but no suggestions as to what actions to take. (Not even to preserve their own shiny new council offices at sea level, we might note!). The nearest they get to a sentence on climate change is 'Prepare for and reduce the impact of Pembrokeshire's contribution to climate change'. At no point does the report say what that contribution might be, nor propose any way of measuring it or reducing it. This obviously cannot be consistent with the Welsh Assembly Government's commitment to reducing CO2 emissions by 3% per annum. How are the Welsh Assembly Government going to achieve this reduction if its own counties ignore any mention of it?

This document could be giving a blueprint for a county that could aim at self-reliance in energy, fuel, food and shelter. Pembrokeshire could indeed be exporting renewable energy, food and renewable building materials to the rest of Wales and beyond. The report could propose the supporting of transition towns, permaculture ecovillages, and emergency planning should the economy collapse or should the county find itself to be a haven for refugees from economic or ecological breakdown elsewhere. This county could be a leader in showing the way forward to a new green way of being and living. There must be some planners or elected members who see the need for this, but obviously any attempts at thinking this way have been stifled at birth.
The whole document is a disgraceful attempt to ignore any of the really big issues facing us all in the next few decades, and to pretend that planning is just business as usual.
There is a short window, until May 6th, to file any comments you have with them. You don't need to live in Pembrokeshire. So if you have the urge to tell them what you think and what you would like to see in the plan, please do it. Thanks.

UPDATE March 10th 2009


For the last month we have been clearing a patch of bramble and willow close to the house. Now Faith is making new beds for potatoes. The rotted straw mulch is the walls of the old strawbale den.

forking rotted straw as a mulch for new veg beds

Here are barnacles on a rock at low tide last week:

barnacles and limpets, Newport Beach

UPDATE Feb 26th 2009

We had an interesting morning this week visiting Alan Heeks, campaigner for planning policy to take account of super-sustainable settlements, and co-founder of the Threshold Centre, the first mixed-tenure co-housing project in the UK. If you are interested their website is here. A new cohousing group has been formed in Bridport, Dorset.

UPDATE Feb 12th 2009

sawing up a dead oak log in the woods

the roundhouse, Feb 3rd 2009

UPDATE 31st Dec 2008

Happy New Year and New Moon to all our readers!

New moon seen from the roundhouse eaves

UPDATE 26th November 2008
What a good month it has been for apples.

Sun Tan Apples on the tree:
Sun Tan apples before picking

Apple rings being dried on a rack over the wood stove:
drying sliced apples on woodstove

Making juice on a Juicing Sunday at the Growing Heart collective, Hen Parcau:
 Juicing Sunday at Growing Heart Collective, Hen Parcau

New jars of crabapple jelly:
new jars of crabapple jelly

UPDATE 27th October
Here is The Denmark Farm Roundhouse build that I have finally got to put on YouTube. This shows the construction of a roundhouse based on a wooden henge. More details in courses page.

UPDATE 20th Oct 2008
Here is a short film on YouTube of the building of our new den:

UPDATE OCT 12th 2008
Several people have asked our opinion of what this decision in our favour could do for the mainstream planning system. Well, maybe it is the first seed that could grow fast. But it needs to be very fast.
Here is something I am contributing to a book by Larch Maxey and Jenny Pickerell on Low Impact Development in the Planning system.

UPDATE SEPT 25th 2008
Here is a good article by Patrick Barkham in today's Guardian. on Low Impact Developments and Planning policy.

UPDATE September 22nd 2008.
Here are details of the composite planning application which had approval last Monday:

Low Impact sustainable settlement to include
Tir Tsbrydol Phase 1 & 2 (2008-10)
(Emma's project across the field)

2 retrospective residential huts
2 new residential huts
2 visitor roundhouses
1 communal roundhouse
1 wash house
3-4 compost toilets
Agricultural structures:
1 haybarn
1 workshop
Camping activities:permission for
up to 50 days camping from May-Sept

The Roundhouse Trust
(that's us)

Retrospective permission for:
1 residential roundhouse
1 visitor roundhouse
1 compost toilet
1 logstore
1 wind turbine.

The Pembrokeshire Coast National Park press office have issued this statement, together with a 42-page (!) report of the decision which can be accessed here.

'Brithdir Mawr low impact development approved
At the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority’s Development Management Committee on Monday September 15th, Members considered an application at Brithdir Mawr for a low impact settlement, including the original roundhouse owned by Tony Wrench [and Jane Faith].

Members resolved to grant temporary consent for three years.
This is the first application of its kind in the National Park that has been approved since the adoption of the Authority’s policy on low impact development.
The policy requires development to meet eight stringent criteria in respect of the sustainable elements of structures on the site; the long-term sustainability of the management of the land and the livelihood of residents. It also requires applicants to make a positive environmental and social/economic contribution to the area.
The temporary consent will enable Officers of the Authority to monitor the site in the long term. A spokesman for the National Park Authority said it was pleasing that support could be given at this stage for this long-standing, complicated case.

Bit more info from Cathy Milner [Senior development management officer]
The application that Members considered was a joint proposal by both the Round House (Tony Wrench and Jane Faith) and Emma Orbach's much larger land holding. We thought that it was right to deal with the whole rather than two parts (there is in fact a third part which consists of the original buildings )

There are two issues; 1) the JUDP has introduced a new policy, Low Impact developement making a positive contribution. Policy 52. that sets out 8 very robust criteria that anyone making an application has to address and hurdles they have to get over if you like. One of those, though they have to meet all of them, requires that the proposal will make a positive environmental contribution.

2) the work that particularly Emma has undertaken over the years has resulted in a huge environmental improvement to the land that she manages and visiting the site you can clearly see this.

The permission has only been granted for three years and will be subject to annual monitoring to ensure that the benefits continue. They will have to produce returns etc and Jane and Celia [ecology adviser and woodland officer], along with the planners will be keeping a close eye on the scheme. The permission will also be very tightly tied to the two Trusts that the applicants have set up, so it is not an open door for others to join in.' (End of statement)

This is a great result and marks a breakthrough in many ways. There have been other cases where settlements have been given approval retrospectively, usually on appeal. In this case we have received retrospective permission for what we already have here, but the permission for new roundhouses and huts is a first for Britain, and marks a significant advance in planning terms. There will be many conditions attached, and the approval is under the Low Impact Development policy 52 covering the whole of Pembrokeshire. It means we must use only renewable energy, reduce transport, use natural materials in building and meet 75% of our basic needs from the land.(See below on this page for more detail). It is radical in that it offers an alternative to the growth-or-bust mainstream option of working all your life for a mortgage to pay for something you didn't build or design and isn't sustainable so won't keep you warm and fed when the crunch comes anyway. If you want a policy like this (preferably a simpler one so bureaucrats don't take years to say yes to you) ask your local planning department to draw one up, and if they won't, ask your central government to tell them to. Who makes the rules? Well usually it is landowners and big house building companies, but there's nothing stopping all of us being involved and saying what we need. Sun Bear said 'All I ask of Western Civilisation is that when it collapses it don't collapse on me".

Here is a small visitor roundhouse warming party Faith held yesterday outside our replacement den:

dancing outside the new den a shared meal in the clearing

Once again, thanks to all who helped us build this den, which is now liveable in.

UPDATE September 19th 2008
It has been a great week. The committee decision marks a breakthrough in giving permission for several low impact roundhouses. We shall put details of the committee decision here in the next couple of days.

I visited the Czech republic this month. It was great to see a tradition of building houses of natural materials being kept up, and also to see some fine examples of wood burning stoves. These people will survive. Here is a house, over 200 years old, made mostly of big wood beams dovetail jointed together, stone, mud, and with wooden shingles on gable ends:

a traditional wood built house in the Orlicky region, East Czech Republic

This week also celebrates, by co-incidence, the first delivery of the new edition of the book "Building a Low Impact Roundhouse" by Tony Wrench (me writing). This has a new chapter on building a den from load-bearing straw bales, and a chapter on feedback after ten years of living in this roundhouse. Several people have built their own roundhouses following this book, so if you don't want to stay square, the book is available at £15 incl. p&p from me, and from Permanent Publications , or Amazon.

new exciting edition of Building a Low Impact Roundhouse

If you would like your local shop to stock it, please ask them to request some from Permanent Publications. Thank you. End of Commercial.

UPDATE August 13th 2008
We just heard that the decision on our re-application has been deferred yet again til mid-September. Sometimes I am not sure whether to laugh, cry or put the kettle on.

UPDATE July 27th 2008
It is proving a very good summer for peas.

inside the stand of peas, July 2008

UPDATE July 23rd 2008
The replacement guest hut is coming on well. It is made of cobwood, unsupported by a henge, but with several Y-supports (Charlies) around the eaves. Thanks to all who have helped us with it (see courses.)
It has a floor of local sitka spruce planked by a friend, Stefan. The skylight is two used coach windows, one on top of the other. The porch is also roofed with a large coach window. Windows are double glazed and reused.
We still have to instal a fireplace and chimney, surround the fireplace with cob, finish the windows and water the turf a bit, and it will be sleepable in. The whole thing has cost less than £1,000 in materials.

the den with new turves and skylight

UPDATE July 3rd 2008
Constant but slow negotations over land management between Faith (was Jane) and Emma, on the one side, and officers of the Park, on the other, have been going on all Spring. The new application has been prepared and agreed and registered, and the Newport Town Council visited us this last Monday to view the whole place, including Emma's huts and our new replacement den hut which we have been building with the help of a crew of able volunteers. (See Roundhouse Building Courses). The application may go to the Park planning committee at the end of July.

UPDATE Feb 9th 2008
Coppicing again for a month or more in the woods. Coppicing involves cutting down hardwood trees for fuel and craft timber, and letting the sun in to a new glade. Here is the scene where we are working, with hand tools only:

Tea break in the woods coppicing coppicing

In case you're worried about cutting down trees, these trees, ie birch, willow, ash and alder, all grow again from the stump, and live longer than the original tree. The big set of stumps above was one tree coppiced about forty years ago. Firewood really is a carbon neutral renewable resource! It's not just words - it grows again! Here's me standing by an alder that we coppiced in 2000.

regrowth of an alder tree coppiced in 2000

And now here's an interesting thing. About 7 metres above us, on an oak branch, hangs this nest built by wild bees. They made it last year, and the frost killed the last of the bees off. Probably some honey in there, if we were foolhardy enough to climb the tree to get it. But what a thing of beauty!

wild bee nest on oak branch

UPDATE December 21st 2007
As we enter this winter solstice five years before the end of the world, according to the Mayan calendar, we are still here and the house is in good shape. As you may have noticed from the home page picture, we have a new chimney replacing the metal outside one. This was done to make the house look a bit better (or at least more acceptable for most people's taste) and to reduce the need for frequent cleaning by having the flue go up more directly. I took the advantage of this change to build in a wacky diversion for the hot flue gases to be diverted manually, when the fire is going well, along a four-metre floor-level tunnel through rocks and cob before it rejoins the chimney. This should provide more efficient warming and allow a larger area on which to place logs for final drying. Here is the work in progress:

metal diversionary flue on clay floor

And here is it finished:

the finished flue diversion

The other work in progress is with the planners. I, Tony Wrench, have decided to take a back seat from now on with these negotiations - call it burnout if you will, or dissillusion with the bureaucratic process of reducing everything to figures to allow us to do what we have been consistently doing - so Jane is working with Emma across the fields to produce a working management plan and a new planning application covering our joint areas that the planners can say yes to. The woodland officer at the National Park has been working with them, and it remains to be seen whether they will come up with something that the higher echelons of the planning office and the councillors can approve. We will continue to let you know of progress as it happens, and will start a new page for 2008.

UPDATE September 24th 2007


sharpening the double handed saw

UPDATE August31st 2007
As Autumn creeps in, the garden is a world of great beauty:

grapes ripen under the eaves


dragonfly resting on a log

fruits of the guelder rose

cherokee beans

Autumn Bliss raspberries

UPDATE August 2nd 2007
Had a very pleasant visit from Jane Fryer of the Daily Mail. Her feature should be in this Saturday's issue, Aug 4th.

There has been extraordinary media interest in this recent refusal decision, and we have had very supportive articles written in the Times, the Sunday Express, the Guardian, and many others. Interviews also on Radio Wales and You and Yours, BBC Radio 4 (probably to be broadcast on Monday August 6th). What stays with me two weeks after the decision is, first, the complete absence of facts produced by the Planning officers to back up the assertions that this house and garden have a " negative impact on biodiversity and the environment" and that "degradation will occur to the woodland". We've been here for ten years! Can they not come up with any evidence of "degradation" so far? I despair that councillors buy this nonsense without asking for evidence.
The second thing that rankles is the very last sentence of Cath Milner's report, thrown in just so that a lazy councillor might pick it up and run with it, as one actually did:
'5. The National Park Authority considers that consent for the proposed development could lead to further applications of a similar nature, prejudicing proper planning to the detriment of the amenities and character of the area.'
'..of a similar nature..' I have written to the National Park's solicitor to ask him what he thinks it means.

UPDATE July 29th 2007
Here is a good article in the Guardian:
Article by Patrick Barkham

There were two nice pictures with the article, but we can't reproduce them here.

Someone isn't too worried, anyway.....

Savvy sleeping on the skylight

UPDATE July 19th 2007
We attended the committee meeting yesterday morning and were allowed to speak for three minutes. (The first time we have been allowed to address them since this saga began in 1999.) Several members spoke in our favour - one being concerned that, after all this negotiation, refusal could be based on the advice of just one officer. Another acknowledged what I said about lack of any facts to prove damage, and a third remarked that they will not be able to learn from experiments in sustainable living unless they allow some through the net. Our local councillor, Robin Evans, gave a very disappointing speech in which, despite the advice from the solicitor that they should ignore the history and concentrate on the planning merits of this application, he came out with a version of the old argument 'if we let these people get away with it who is to stop other cases springing up' as if we are some deadly disease. This was a great shame since his predecessor Essex Havard was a great advocate for sustainable development who stood up for us strongly in the early days of this case. In the end they voted for refusal by 7 votes to 4. So we shall appeal.

On the broader front, I still don't understand it. In this summer's e-version of The Land magazine (see Chapter 7 in Links page), there is an article about how few owner-built houses there are in Britain (less than 10%) compared with other countries. In Austria the figure is over 80%, Italy over 50%.... Do you think the British bureaucrat may feel uneasy at someone who builds their own house, just like that? Especially if it is a warm, comfortable, secluded eco-house that only cost £3,000? What if everyone was allowed to do it? Is that it?

UPDATE July 11th 2007
The Senior Development Management Officer of the Planning Dept of PCNP has emailed to say that the officers are recommending refusal to the committee, which sits on Wed 18th July. This house is so beautiful to be in, and the garden so fruitful and bursting with life of all kinds, that I still cannot believe that in a world of such environmental spoilation and with spreading patches of such ugliness, there are still people paid to work on having this home demolished. The relevant part of the officers' report, dealing with the ecology officer's assessment of whether we can sustainably live off and manage our woodlands, can be read here.
What low impact proposal will ever withstand this level of nit-picking? With an attitude that interprets an organic permaculture garden and reed bed as "degradation", and the assertion that our carrying out careful thinning and coppicing of the woods will be "further degradation", it is clear that they can make up arguments to scupper this policy for ever.
The only sensible reaction to the news I can think of is to go out and pick some more blackcurrants.

UPDATE May 22nd, 2007
We have received an email from Pembrokeshire Coast National Park saying the application is being delayed yet again. Here is our reply.

UPDATE May 2nd 2007
We have produced a Woodland Management Plan and have sent off revised plans for the roundhouse showing a small porch at the front (rather than a free standing greenhouse) and a chimney flue going though the roof, rather than out at the side, as now. We hope that the committee will hear our application this month. Here is Jane putting in poles for the runner beans.

Jane puts in bean poles in fabulous may weather

UPDATE Feb 1st 2007
The meeting below has been again postponed, due to illness of one of the planning officers. I have sent a summary of our points to them (here without photos or attachment).
Will they accept that this house does make a positive environmental contribution? Do they still think that this house has, in the first inspector's eyes, "an unsightly and incongruous appearance"?

UPDATE Jan 27th 2007
The decision was further postponed, following emails and replies mainly concerning whether this site could be said to produce a 'positive environmental contribution' within the meaning of Policy 50. We live on what was a piece of bracken-covered bank, while maintaining a field of high ecological value, and on this bank have created three new habitats - a permaculture garden, a roof environment (not acknowledged by anyone in authority) and a small reed bed. The Park ecologist argues that according to surveys in 1995 this was 'marshy grassland' and any loss of this is not an ecological improvement.
The backdrop to this ongoing nit-picking is the warmest winter ever across Europe, with daily debates about whether people like you and me, and even politicians, should/could reduce their greenhouse emissions to sustainable levels in time to prevent runaway global warming. There are probably a few hundred people in Wales living at sustainable emission levels, and a good proportion of us are doing it DESPITE the authorities, whatever their rhetoric.
Over the last six stormy weeks we have at least been able to benefit from the strong winds by erecting our wind turbine. It is a very low mast, so does not catch much wind, but has at least allowed us to use electric lights very sparingly and to communicate with the world by email. The Park ecologist is worried about the 'disturbance' our turbine might cause. Over the nine years we have lived here our main aim has been to live in harmony with nature, encouraging biodiversity in many ways and trying to maintain a very low eco-footprint. We are having a meeting with planning officers and ecologists this Wednesday, after which they will probably prepare a revised report for the February meeting.

UPDATE Dec 12th 2006
The determination of our application has been postponed, following our reply as set out below, so talks will now take place before mid-January.

UPDATE Dec 7th 2006

The Saga continues:
We heard today that the Pembs. Coast Nat. Park Planning officers are recommending to next week's planning committee, on Wednesday the 13th Dec at 10 am, that our application be REFUSED. The reasons are, in brief,
1. that the garden and the reed bed are new habitats in what was before a 'semi-natural' field corner
2 that the woodlands we have are not enough
3 that plastic polytunnel and polycarbonate workshop roof are not sustainable materials
4. that the house is 'unattractive, sporadic development' to quote the first inspector's phrase from 2000ad report.

If you want to know the full reasons and read the full officer's report, why not email her?

Our reply is that we can discuss all these points, and should do rather than having a straight refusal. Our letter is here.

UPDATE Dec 3rd 2006

We now have a new 200w. wind turbine up and running. Here is Jane using the box for a wonderful store of this year's preserves.

Jane stacking jams and preserves in box

UPDATE Nov 21st 2006

BBC Online have just done a nice piece with pictures,, by Paula Dear, on our life here. Click on here to see it.

UPDATE Nov16th 2006

The planning committee visited us last week for a site visit. At last! It was fine. The officers will be writing a big report though, so we didn't get a decision yesterday after all. Maybe mid-December......

UPDATE Oct 18th 2006

picking crabapples for crabapple jelly, Oct 2006

We hear that some media reports have said that we are now legal and have permission, etc. There is a new policy in place, yes, (and can be viewed at then Planning then Policies then Guidance Notes and click on Low Impact Development) but we are still in the end game of a very long match, and reports of success are premature. Meanwhile, it has been the warmest summer since records began. Global warming is kicking in. We need a government drive to encourage people to live in a low impact way. My conclusion about living in a house like this and trying to live sustainably is that yes, it can be done, but only if the authorities want to see it happen and support you. Struggling just to be here has taken up so much time and energy.

We have heard today that the Planning Committee will be paying us a visit, for the first time since this saga began, on November 8th, and will hopefully decide on our new application on November 15th. It will be lovely to meet them outside our hobbit home, and hope the sun shines for them.

UPDATE September 13th 2006

It has been a great year for fruit of all kinds - red currants, blackcurrants, apples. Here is me picking Autumn Bliss raspberries this week, and the grapes ripening above our front door.

picking raspberries

Black Hamburg grapes growing on roof and eaves
Note from October: these have made 2 gallons of wine.

UPDATE July 30th 2006

The National Park has this week registered our new application for the roundhouse, the hut, a small polytunnel, a cobwood workshop and a small wind turbine. The last three are new and will be to draw all our self-sufficiency operations within the same curtilage, in order to cut transport costs, to increase our renewable energy supply in the winter and to meet the requirements of the new Low Impact planning policy for Pembrokeshire, which requires, among other things, that at least 75% of our basic needs be met directly from produce from the land. As far as I know, we shall be the first case to be considered under this new policy by the national park, so I have endeavoured to put a full case to them, and trust that they will look favourably on it.

In case you should get the urge to knock out a quick application one weekend, please note that our application took about four days to put together and involved this much paperwork, in addition to the application forms:

plans for application

UPDATE June 13th 2006

We shall this month be putting in a new application to the Pembrokeshire Coast national Park under Policy 50 - Low Impact Development. The planning guidance notes have not yet gone through all the approval stages, so we cannot put them here yet. You may find something up to date here.

Basically, we shall put in an application for this roundhouse, the strawbale hut, a polytunnel, a small wind generator and a new low impact workshop in the bushes. The last three are to bring together other elements that are currently more dispersed, to increase efficiency and lower our ecofootprint, and to grow more vegetables.

Jane planting veggies in a newly cleared garden patch

Emma, a couple of fields away, will also be applying for her strawbale huts and maybe a low impact barn in Tir Ysbrydol. She has recently had the good news that a planning inspector has allowed her appeal on the woodland hut shown here - she has a 5 year permission, conditional on her carrying out wood management and coppicing in the zone where the hut is.

Wood hut in Tir Ysbrydol

UPDATE May 9th 2006

Plenty has been happening on plans to form an eco-village in Pembrokeshire. This news report is a good summary:

UPDATE Feb17th 2006

It has been a productive new year. The Nat Park have produced a consultative document on the Supplementary Planning Guidance for Low Impact development that is positive in many ways. Three of us from Lammas ecovillage project will be meeting forward planning officers from the Park and Pembs County Council to make it a bit more workable if we can, before it is set in stone. The full text can be viewed on the Park's website.

It has also been a good month for coppicing a bit of hazel and silver birch. The latter makes nice turned bowls if you turn it rough before it splits. Here's me cleaving some of the bigger bits on site before taking them to the workshop. The rest will stand to dry, preferably for two years, before we use it for firewood.

cleaving newly coppiced hazel and silver birch

a winter morning by the fire

The inspector reported at the end of 2005 on the Joint Unitary Development Plan for Pembs County Council and Pembrokeshire Coast National Park (JUDP). The bit that concerns us is Policy 50, which the inspector recommended be carried through as revised. There are a couple of stages still to go through before this is officially adopted, but the probability is that it will not be changed much, if at all, so here it is.

Policy 50 Low Impact Development making a Positive Contribution (Replacement Policy)

Low impact development that makes a positive contribution will only be permitted where:

i) The proposal will make a positive environmental, social and/or economic contribution with public benefit; and

ii)All activities and structures on site have low impact in terms of the environment and use of resources; and

iii) Opportunities to reuse buildings which are available in the proposal’s area of operation have been investigated and shown to be impracticable; and

iv) the development is well integrated into the landscape and does not have adverse visual effects; and

v) the proposal requires a countryside location and is tied directly to the land on which it is located, and involves agriculture, forestry or horticulture; and

vi) The proposal will provide sufficient livelihood for and substantially meet the needs of residents on the site; and

vii) The number of adult residents should be directly related to the functional requirements of the enterprise; and

viii) In the event of the development involving members of more than one family, the proposal will be managed and controlled by a trust, co-operative or other similar mechanism in which the occupiers have an interest.

5.4.58 Sustainable Development has emerged as the overarching objective of the planning system in the last decade. This policy provides a context for permitting development in the countryside which contributes to that agenda (see paragraph 2.2.3 National & Regional Section of the Plan) as an exception to normal planning policy where the proposals are tied directly to the land and the proposal provides sufficient livelihood for the occupants.

5.4.59 Proof that there is a positive contribution from the development in terms of the environment, the use of resources, and a combination of social/economic benefits will be needed. Public benefits might include providing services to the community. Proof that the proposals will achieve a neutral or at least the lowest possible adverse impact for each part of the government’s sustainability agenda must be submitted.

5.4.60 To this end any proposal will have to submit an integrated site management plan,
biodiversity and landscape character assessment together with
a business and improvement plan and sustainability action plan for the site.
These will detail the activities and structures on site and the environmental management of the site as well as sustainability objectives to be achieved by the development.
The Business Improvement Plan will also provide evidence of the functional needs of the enterprise and financial information as to the likely returns to be achieved. It will be necessary to establish that the land use activities proposed are able to support financially the occupants.
The applicants will be expected to enter into a S106 agreement relating to the continued operation of the site, and based upon the site management plan.

5.4.61 A Supplementary planning guidance will be prepared setting out a step by step approach to considering proposals under this policy. The guidance will include a comprehensive checklist of sustainability design and construction matters to be included in any assessment.

A checklist will include the requirements for development and associated activities to:

•Be of a scale appropriate to the site and the enterprise proposed
•Accord with sustainable construction and design principles
•Use materials which are natural, renewable, recycled and where possible locally sourced
•Incorporate comprehensive measures to minimise energy use, light pollution and waste production
•be capable of easily being dismantled and removed from the site and the site restored to anappropriate state in accordance with the terms set out in the management plan

5.4.62A In advance of preparing supplementary planning guidance the report ‘Low Impact Development –Further Research’ will be used as interim supplementary guidance to inform the application of this policy.

5.4.63A Within the National Park developments must demonstrate themselves to be compatible and not adversely effect the special qualities of the National Park landscape (Policy 5 & 64).’

At this moment in time it is hard to see any significant difference between this policy and their existing policies, except that low impact livers will have to fill in more forms and write more reports. Business Improvement Plans figure much less in our lives than the ability to chop and store good firewood. Applicants under this policy will have to prove a level of self-sufficiency and financial support from the land that few low impact livers could achieve. It would also seem to rule out any person living on a low impact settlement who is not of full working age, ability and fitness. This is a policy carved out of fear of the unknown rather than openness to a sustainable alternative way of living, but it is all there is, so far, so we will have to do the best we can with it.

(This was written in Feb. 2006 - before amendments to the Special Planning Guidance - see above)

bottling raspberry wine, Jan 06

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