Treloan, Portscatho – (Grid Ref:875347)

June 2009 – Invited by Annie Lovejoy to go to Treloan Campsite on the Roseland peninsula to help the owners establish an eco-tourist site.  A 3-week artists residency was established with a 2-week stint in June followed by a week in August.

Arriving at the site and talking with the owners (Pete and Debs) established some of the things they thought may be of iterest to me:

  1. They needed some way of protecting the newly established permaculture garden from strong Easterly winds.
  2. Rabbit population needs controlling as crops are being lost.
  3. Find ways of integrating campers staying on site into eco-projects.
  4. Help build links between the campsite and the local community.
  5. New income streams for the campsite are always welcome!

Quite a lot to handle for a 3 week residency! but Annie had mentioned there was a willow coppice just down the lane which had not been touched for many years, so I thought that if the owners were willing, we could coppice the willow and use it to make a “fedge” (=fence/hedge) along the Eastern border of the permaculture garden on the site.

Day 1: Looking at the willow coppice

Day 1: Looking at the willow coppice

There were approximately 20 suitable Salix willow trees in the coppice approximately 20 – 30 years old, but they had not been managed or cut for 10 or so years. The remaining trees were Goat (or Black) willow which had never been coppiced and needed to be seriously cut back in the Winter if they were to be coppiced in the  future. The whole site was overgrown with 7′ hemlock and nettles!! (Nice combination and I’ll never forget the sickly sweet smell!).

After talking to Tony and Jude, the owners of the coppice, they said I could have a free rein as they didn’t know what to do with it, but were happy for me to take the wood to use up at the campsite.

The willow coppice before clearing.

The willow coppice before clearing.

As I was clearing the hemlock on the first day I met Allan. Allan is a carpenter who was working on the barns adjacent to the coppice and became really interested in the project. He told me the coppice was planted by a man called Morley in order to make crab-pots. When I asked if the skill of willow crab-pot making was alive in the area, Allan replied with a familiar story. He was shown how to do it as a child, but nobody of his generation were making crab-pots today. The skill was dying out, but Allan resolved to find someone in the village who knew how, and see if they would be willing to teach us.

It took 2 days to clear the site, and in doing so I uncovered an ancient apple tree, well over 30 feet high, which was choked and overrun with brambles and ivy and had a strange fungus growing on it. Jude told me it was the last remaining apple tree from an orchard which had grown here in the 19th century. I spent an afternoon and evening in the sunshine cutting away as much ivy and bramble as I could, but told Jude she would need an expert to look at the fungus.

The ancient apple tree finally cleared.

The ancient apple tree finally cleared.

Allan returned the next day with some sad news. The only person left in the village who knew how to make willow crab-pots was a man called John Billing. Allan had visited him, but he had terminal cancer and was too unwell to teach anyone (Note: I heard that John Billing died a few weeks later). This was very poignant for me as it illustrates the amount of knowledge of these basic skills we are losing as the older generation dies.

However, Allan was determined to find someone who knew and as the week progressed we swapped ideas and ways of learning this skill. Eventually he came to me one morning with a huge smile, saying he had found a man who would teach us, but not until the leaves had fallen from the trees (which is the proper time for coppicing). We were both overjoyed and I resolved to return and learn with Allan to ensure this craft was re-introduced into the Portscatho community and remained alive.

Allan and I swapped ideas and spoke at length over the coming days as the coppicing progressed. He told me there were 4-5 coppices around the village that had been left to stand for many years as the owners did not know what to do with them. I planted the seed of the idea that clearing and managing them could be a good source of income for him during the Winter months (when there is not much work in this tourist dominated economy). The products made from the coppiced willow (hurdles, crab-pots, baskets, charcoal, green furniture etc) could be made in the Winter then sold to tourists during the busy summer months. Allan was really caught by this idea and has since contacted the landowners of a couple of sites and spoken to them about clearing and managing the sites for them.

Sketches and notes: Coppicing, camp cooking, hurdles, cool box.

Sketches and notes: Coppicing, camp cooking, hurdles, cool box.

Students from the MA Fine Art course at Falmouth College of Arts came over one day to see what we were doing on the project. What better way to get some help coppicing the willow! We cut the willow, carried it back to site then made some small hurdles with it. From tree to usable fencing in a day. Great fun had by all.

Note: I know coppicing willow during the summer is not the best time, either for the tree or the wood gathered. However, the site needed clearing and the view was taken that the willow trees were vigorous enough to accept the level of cutting done.

Sketches and notes: Community links, thoughts, cordage making, pot hanger

Sketches and notes: Community links, thoughts, cordage making, pot hanger

By the end of the two weeks in June I had managed to:

  1. Coppice all the usable willow and use the sticks to establish a growing “fedge” along the permaculture garden on the campsite (Well, because it was over 50ft long we had enough wood to build the fedge to the height of about 1ft! Allan on the case to source more local willow wands).
  2. Provide a blueprint for my return in August to do charcoal burning, fleece blankets with campers help.
  3. Build links between the campsite and the local community through interest in the coppicing and crab-pot project.
  4. Develop new income strands for the campsite to make and sell charcoal to campers on the site.

Not bad for 2 weeks work. Now, about those pesky wabbits…..

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7 Responses to “Treloan, Portscatho – (Grid Ref:875347)”

  1. karen howse Says:

    I like the diagramatic drawings in the Treloan blog, you get a sense of the processes being as important as the final result, hard to show that in the relational element, but you’ve done that through telling the story of the connections made. We had fun when we came down to help, and learnt loads!

    • greghumphries Says:

      Hi Karen,

      Thanks for this and glad you had a good time. I’ve been back to Portscatho since and I’ll be posting reports in the next couple of days.

      All the best,

      Greg

  2. dawn Andres Says:

    Dear Greg
    We have a similar willow/ hazel coppice in St Mawes and are looking for someone with the knowledge to make crab pots. I knew old John Billing. He had a great knowledge of all things nautical.
    I wonder if Allan found someone, if that same someone might be able to come to St mawes soon to give us a demonstration. We have chaps working here at the moment to improve the area, making cob benches, a fire pit and willow fences.
    Regards Dawn Andrews

    • greghumphries Says:

      Hi Dawn,

      After John passed away we found John Hurrel who lives in Portlooe. He happily showed Allan and I how to make crab pots from willow (he makes a very good pot!) last December. However, we had to wait as he would not cut the willow until the leaves had fallen from the trees (very wise).

      I’d love to come down and have a look at what you are doing and maybe put you in touch with Allan / John.

      All the best,

      Greg

  3. dawn Andrews Says:

    http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=108044989231998#!/group.php?gid=108044989231998

    http://www.koes.org.uk/stmawes.html

    Thankyou for your reply. We have sufficient willow already cut for a demonstaration. I have included the link to our facebook group and Gregs web site. If you e mail Greg, he will be pleased to arrange a meet up with you.
    Regards Dawn

  4. Greg’s arrived « caravanserai Says:

    […] Gregs’ journal […]

  5. Dave French Says:

    I know this is a bit late but at Dartington 15/17 May 2013 you will see 3 of us who still make crab/lobster pots from Willow demonstrating the art…Basketry and beyond Festival .
    I am the fifth generation from my family to still make them this way, should you or anyone you know want to learn more about making pots this way you can view my work on FLICKR under East Devon Withy Pots.

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