Environmental Excellence Award Runner-Up – Shark’s Tree Nursery
The runner-up in our Environmental Excellence Award category is Shark’s Tree Nursery, an experimental agroforestry business based across two sites near Llanwrda, Carmarthenshire. Generating renewable energy on site, embracing recycling and reuse, and incorporating an innovative integrated cropping system were just three of the ways owner Marina Shark impressed our judges…
Totalling more than 120 acres, Shark’s Tree Nursery is spread across two separate locations, an initial site 1,000 foot above sea level near Ffarmers bought in 1999, plus a 70 acre spot seven miles away towards Lampeter, which Marina acquired back in 2008 – both incidentally purchased as ‘felled land’, so available at a competitive price.
Originally from Dartford in Kent and an electrical engineering surveyor by trade, Marina is a passionate believer in sustainability and long-term planning and investment, and it is evident how she has incorporated these principles of permaculture into the development of the nursery.
Work at the initial site started with the early planting of chestnut trees, and over nearly 15 years it is now home to sycamore, beech, wild cherry, hazelnut, walnut, and Christmas trees, as well pine nut trees and 400 monkey puzzle trees, the larger ones which will be worth up to £70 each after five or six years’ growth. In addition, soft fruits including red and blackcurrants have been planted and harvested, along with bilberries – which are increasingly popular with local chefs – apple and pear trees, damsons, and plumbs.
Certified by the Biodynamic Association, Shark’s Tree Nursery abides by strict organic growing standards, while interestingly, Marina has opted for integrated production where different crops are grown overlapping each other, for instance trees and soft fruit bushes grown alongside each other, which has led to multiple (and ever-increasing) yields. Learning the lessons after more than a decade at her first site, Marina has focused the second area of land she purchased towards producing more monkey puzzle trees and chestnuts – she has already planted around 2,000 of the latter with seeds sourced from trials conducted by the Agroforestry Research Trust in Devon, and will evaluate which grow better in the years to come. She has also introduced a number of ponds onto the second site to enhance its biodiversity and attract pollinators.
Our judges were immediately struck by the lengths Marina has gone to ensure her nursery minimises waste and energy use, while promoting recycling and reuse wherever possible. For instance, her propagating house is made of reused pieces of glass, steel, and polycarbonate, old tree stumps are burned to produce fertiliser that is high in phosphorus, cardboard is used to mulch, and root trainers are reused, as are – where practically possible – the plastic punnets and pots she uses to sell soft fruit and trees to customers at nearby farmers’ markets.
Marina has installed three solar panels on the front of the office on the original site, which generates the renewable energy she needs to power lights, mobile phone chargers, and other equipment like drills, while her mobile ‘office’ on the second piece of land is two reused steel shipping containers. And she has also taken advantage of the layout on the main nursery to implement an innovative gravity-powered irrigation system that ensures she requires virtually no mains water supply. Water is sourced from a stream at the top of the hill, stored in a special tank, and then transported across the site using pipes that run downhill (approximately a 15 metre drop in total).
As well as harvesting the trees and other crops that will grow in the nursery in the years to come, Marina is also exploring the potential of producing biomass crops and incorporating a nut plantation, which she believes would give a better yield per hectare than using similar land for crops such as wheat or livestock, making it a more cost and resource-effective option.