There is much marginal land in the British Isles, much of it in the North and West. This land differs from the rolling green fields of the South and East, which has tended to give England its image. These lands consists of hill and mountain country, moorland and island and are officially accounted as Disadvantaged and Severely Disadvantaged Areas, where cultivation is very difficult. These areas werestudied by Dr Dorian Speakman, who established the Marginal Lands Project, which provides a database of solutions for those cultivating marginal land, a project reported in Permaculture, issue 92, Summer 2017.
What makes a piece of land marginal? Take an example.Sarah McBurnie has created a market garden on Unst,Britain's northernmost inhabited island, in the Shetland Isles. She faced the problems of dealing with the harsh winds that scour her exposed isle, which cause crops to be subject to the damaging,often lethal effects of wind chill.Sarah also had to face the problem that the soil of Shetland is in places thin and there is little depth before you hit rock at places, and the bedrock is sandstone, hardly the best for plant nutrients. Yet she wanted fruit and salads, but found that fresh ones were in short supply on her remote isle. The solution! Establish her own market garden. Sarah's technique was to lessen wind chill by using up some of the old fishing nets discarded by the island's fishing industry as a mesh cage to lessen the damaging effects of wind. She also made up her own soil and used raised beds. The result, a thriving market garden, the most northerly in Britain.
Lessening wind can be done with a mesh tunnel, which is not a polytunnel, but is designed to slow down wind velocity. The wind blows through it, but is slowed to up to forty percent of its speed. Shelter belts of trees and bushes can be planted to slow down the winds that come across a site. In Cornwall a richly productive garden has been created on the edge of an estuary using shrubs to shelter the flowers against the salt laden winds, but the shrubs need to be salt tolerant.
Marginal land can also be mountainous and/or boggy. In mountain country there can be valleys with rich soil, but as you ascend the slopes soil becomes thinner and often more acid. Peat soils proliferate, and these are quite acid, even down to pH 5 or less, and little grows well in soils like these. Farmers will often find stretches of bog,particularly in depressions, and in certain parts of Britain, such as Dartmoor and Bodmin Moor, the bogs can be very dangerous and have taken people's lives.
A serious problem, as global warming exacerbates climate change, is flooding, which can be serious in hill country, as the rainwater runs quickly off steep slopes, sweeping soil and rocks with it. This can destroy property and soil, which is washed away, and lives can be at risk, as can businesses. A few years ago at Plas Cadnant gardens, set in a Welsh valley, flood water swept downhill and broke into the gardens, destroying a two hundred year old wall! The owner had spent twenty years restoring the gardens. They were not destroyed, but damaged nevertheless.