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Plants for a Future by Elaine Avery, Vegan Views 80 (Summer/Autumn 1998)

Plants for a Future BLAGDON CROSS PLANT RESEARCH AND DEMONSTRATION GARDENS. Ecologically Sustainable Vegan Organic Horticulture - Resource and Information Centre.

A lot of people are asking 'What has happened to Plants for a Future?' We have a deluge of enquiries, so I will attempt to update to give a clearer picture of what has happened and what is happening and where we are heading.

We are now a small group of devoted, exhausted folk with a special and major vision becoming a reality very slowly but surely. As far as practicalities go, things are developing at Blagdon Cross and this is where most of our attention has been focused in the last year, since reclaiming the land. During this time, we have been making contacts, having meetings, designing and researching resources. We have found excellent supplies of cardboard and compost of which we need tons. There has been a lot of form filling with such things as Lottery funding, Forestry Commission and Countryside Stewardship application forms.

With the help of a few determined hardy volunteers, we planted 15,000 trees at the North of the 83 acre site, extending the existing native woodland by another 15 acres. This includes about six acres especially for coppice. The work was carried out whilst staying on the land in various caravans, camper vans and tents during March and April in arduous conditions (due to the badly compacted heavy clay soil and torrential rain) along with erecting 2.5 miles of 6 foot high fencing in a race against time. The trees were producing leaves and needed planting urgently but the fencing was a priority to prevent the trees from suffering too much damage from the 3 species of deer resident on the land.

Last year we applied to the council to have a mobile home on the site to act as an office/rest room and we were told that so long as it was on wheels, it was permitted development. We went ahead and bought a 26ft Mobile Home which, very soon after it was delivered, was destroyed by gale force winds. Temporarily we have replaced this with two small caravans.

We have also begun design and planting of the demonstration gardens and the nursery/research area. Approval has now been granted for the siting of 5 polytunnels. Features of the Demonstration gardens (about 14 acres) will include: A large Woodland Garden. Various Urban Gardens. A Nature Walk incorporating 6 acres of Culm grassland. A Sensory Garden for the Blind. Permaculture Garden for the Handicapped. Children's Garden. Willow Coppice Area. Wetlands Ecosystems. And much more.

Whilst at Blagdon Cross, we have attracted some very different responses to our presence. We have been completely honest with locals, putting on an exhibition at a local village hall, to provide information and opportunities for questions and also arranged open days and tours of the land with very mixed and strong emotional responses. We have experienced a lot of prejudice against us from our immediate neighbours, but also a lot of support and interest from our wider community. An Action Group was formed by some local people who have campaigned strongly against us from the beginning and taken every opportunity to complain to the District Council, giving us a hard time especially when it came to staying on the land to carry out work, and to the cardboard mulch material on the land. This brings us to the subject of our Planning application, which was submitted to Torridge District Council in November 1997. It came before the first Planning Committee on 9th February 1998 after having already discovered the fear, objections and prejudice against us, we asked for a deferral to amend the application on which the Planning Department had recommended refusal because of inadequate information on all counts and we did not get notice of this until Friday 6th February, not giving us enough time to respond. Although the overall vision or its implementation has not changed, the application was then amended drastically to demonstrate our intentions for gradual development.

The amended application is as follows: Change of use of land to a research centre and demonstration gardens of sustainable horticulture. Four acres of lakes. Temporary accommodation, 3 in number, for full time charity workers and two additional mobile homes for visitors and demonstration facilities. 5 in number camping pitches for visiting volunteers and course attendants. New improved access and car parks.

The amended application went before the committee on 6th May and was deferred again, reappointed for 26th May. The District Council, despite their obligation to co-operate with us to put forward the best application we can, have done nothing of the sort. They have rushed it through consultation and not asked for the information they needed until the last minute, if at all. To cut a very long and messy story short, we were refused planning permission on 26th May. Although this was expected, we were pleasantly surprised by the 10:5 vote. Several of the committee members stood up and spoke on our behalf. The reasons given for recommending refusal were a) Not enough proof that we need to live on the land b) Insufficient information about Compost toilets.

We are now planning our steps which will probably include re-submission and Appeal. We are not going to give up and we know we will get over these hurdles. If anyone would like to write letters of support, please ask for information about this.

With all the extra paper work evolving from the Planning issues and influx of enquiries about our next project, we are also currently working on updating our Introductory Leaflet and the Internet, which are now seriously out of date. We have found it difficult to keep on top of things, especially as far as the maintenance of 'The Field' in Cornwall, the propagating for the move and the plant sales and catalogue - with a face lift due this Autumn, which we sadly will not be able to do until Spring. Due to this being our main source of income until last autumn, we have obviously suffered financially and the setback in developments at Blagdon has meant we are not yet getting any income there. This has also meant that, although there are possibly lots of sources of funding available to us, we have not been able to apply for these. We would like to take this opportunity to promote the availability of our Plant Advisory Service - details available on request. It is important for us that the emphasis remains with the educational and demonstration garden aspects of our work.

As well as the need for more helpers, we have the problem of not being able to accommodate people on the land, due mainly to planning issues, but we hope this will be resolved soon. We have files for volunteers, people interested in courses and catalogues. If anyone would like to be added to these files, please write with an SAE.

With regard to our financial, charitable and legal status, we could do with some help in the line of new Trustees, or someone interested in advising us who may not want to become a Trustee. If you would like to talk to someone about this, please do not hesitate to contact us.

We are in need of a lot of basic materials at Blagdon Cross and on the look out at all times. It is amazing how much stuff we need is thrown away or is sitting unwanted in someone's home or garden. We request that you think of us before you discard any unwanted items. They may be of use. A list can be provided on request.

This is beginning to look like a begging letter so I think I'll stop here, although I will just add that Plants for a Future has a really important message and although it is hard going, I believe it is all worth it.

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Cross-reference: Growing Fruit & Veg