Wakelyns – planning application – background narrative

This document

This supplements the material provided to the Planning Department as part of the pre-application process (which led to their pre-application advice earlier in the year).

Martin and Ann Wolfe’s Wakelyns project

In 1992, my parents (Professor Martin and Mrs Ann Wolfe) bought the Wakelyns farm house, farm yard, barns and two small meadows. (In the 1970s, those facilities had operated as a pig farm. By 1992, the facilities were being used for dog breeding.)

But my parents had a vision of something rather different. Shortly afterwards, my parents bought additional fields from the neighbouring farm, bringing the Wakelyns footprint total to the current 56 acres. This was to be a “retirement project” for my father (then aged 60), who had been a government agricultural scientist in Cambridge for many years. In fact, it grew to be much more.

From 1994, my parents established and managed a novel “agroforestry” system of lines of trees between which crops are grown in “alleys” between 12 and 18 metres wide. At the time, that was innovative and eccentric.

But, roll forward 25 years, with changing times and concerns around food, farming, the environment and climate change, agroforestry of this kind is really beginning to take off as part of the wider debate about agriculture. For example, agroforestry featured last year on the Archers, and Wakelyns itself was featured in the BBC Countryfile Magazine in March 2020 – see item 7 here: https://wakelyns.co.uk/countryfile-magazine-march-2020/.

Anyway, over the following years, my father carried on his scientific endeavour to use Wakelyns as a research and test opportunity for developing the scientific and farming ideas around Agroforestry. Wakelyns became internationally famous in that regard and was written about in scientific and more popular media and has featured in international documentaries. Here’s a piece from the Guardian just as an example: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/jan/06/the-latest-cutting-edge- technology-changing-our-landscapes-trees

For several years, a team from the UK’s world-famous Organic Research Centre1 was based at Wakelyns. Earlier in 2020, they produced an account of some of the amazing scientific work that has been done at Wakelyns in the last few years – do take a look: https://wakelyns.co.uk/orc-booklet/

So, at 25+ years’ old, Wakelyns is now one of the oldest examples of an agroforestry system in the UK and certainly the most diverse of that age. With the mature tree lines including a wide range of timber, fruit, nut and other trees, including also willow and hazel which are used for biomass (we have an on-site biomass boiler) and for hedge laying (we are now supplying professional hedge-layers who are resurrecting this old Suffolk tradition on a growing scale locally). While other people are now setting up agroforestry systems elsewhere (including in Suffolk) and on a much bigger scale, it is the longevity of Wakelyns (with its now mature planting) that cannot be reproduced.

In the light of all that, just last month (October 2020) BBC World TV came to Wakelyns to film as part of a programme they are making about modern farming to be fronted by James Wong2 (to be broadcast January 2021 with an expected worldwide viewership of around 40 million people). They are visiting farms around the world of which only a handful are in the UK. Wakelyns is one of them.

Wakelyns literally stands as an oasis of innovative farming within the Suffolk countryside as seen in this aerial photo from last summer of the main part of the Wakelyns land:

Anyway, my mother died in 2016 and, by the time my father died in 2019, Wakelyns was firmly established as a jewel in the crown of emerging trends in British agriculture.

Do please take a look at our website www.wakelyns.co.uk where you will see information about some of that.

David and Toby Wolfe take the project to its next phase

So at the end of 2019, my brother and I inherited Wakelyns.

One option would have been to sell the fields back to neighbouring farmers (at which point they would have dug up the agroforestry system and all the established trees to return the land to conventional farming), and sell the house separately. But that would have led to the loss of all that has become valuable and truly important about the irreplaceable agricultural system now established at Wakelyns.

So we looked at other options. It rapidly became clear that institutions such as Universities and research organisations, though very interested in principle, are not in current times able to take on a project like Wakelyns. So, last autumn, my brother and I held a “symposium” to gather ideas from other people. 40 people attended, some who had known the Wakelyns project since its inception in the 1990s, including farmers, scientists, neighbours, professional bakers, renewable energy experts, and many others, including coming from Germany and the Czech Republic. Information about that day and some of the ideas that came from it is here: https://wakelyns.co.uk/the-wakelyns-symposium/.

And earlier in 2020 we had a “tree planting day” at which over 70 volunteers came from all over the country to help us plant hundreds of new trees including a wide range of timber, fruit and nut trees – see here: https://wakelyns.co.uk/tree-planting- january-2020/

Those things have led us to our current vision of how Wakelyns can survive, thrive and become more sustainable – including financially and environmentally – going forward. And that is as a demonstration and training venue in relation to its progressive farming methods, as part of a farming, food and social hub.

At the core of that, we are carrying on with the organic rotation agroforestry farming which our parents developed. This year that included unusual crops including lentils, chia, camelina, squash and YQ “population wheat” developed at Wakelyns – read about it here: https://www.theguardian.com/food/2019/oct/10/flour-power-meet- the-bread-heads-baking-a-better-loaf We have also engaged local young people (recruited through notices in the local village shops) to work as fruit pickers for our cherries, plums, apples, pears and quinces. Those things are all retailed nationally through Hodmedods, a speciality food company based near Halesworth, and also though local outlets such as the village shops in Fressingfield and Metfield, and via other like-minded producers with whom we are collaborating, such as the Maple Farm Shop in Kelsale.

We are also working in collaboration with organisations such as the Suffolk Wildlife Trust and RSPB to enhance the environmental strength and biodiversity of our land and farming practices – see here for the bird, pond and habitat surveys they have undertaken to help us with those projects (including to enhance Wakelyns for the rare turtle doves which come here every year): https://wakelyns.co.uk/environmental- surveys/ And with our 10 kW solar PV array, biomass boiler and ground source heating, we are already energy self-sufficient in the most tunes to tacking climate- change.

We also though want Wakelyns to be a place to which people can come to work, learn, and even holiday.

With that in mind, the last few months have been a busy (and expensive!) programme of repairs and renovations to the farmhouse and to the barns and outbuildings. And we will shortly be supplementing the local Public Rights of Way (which as it happens go round the outside periphery of our land), with permissive public access to Wakelyns itself via footbridges we have installed over the perimeter ditches.

We also now plan to convert part of a barn into a small bakery/kitchen, not just for baking/cooking (to feed people visiting and staying at Wakelyns) but also as a place for teaching and learning. Suffolk-born and nationally-known chef/baker/author Henrietta Inman3 (sadly recently made redundant by a top London restaurant because the Covid 19 crisis, but that is to our benefit) is basing herself here to help evolve Wakelyns into a celebrated centre for food and cooking based on the crops and other produce we produce on site.

Similarly, two local growers will be setting up a ‘community supported agriculture’ scheme on part of our land, which will give local people an opportunity help grow horticulture products for themselves and for us to use on site.

And we are building our connections with local educational, farming and other organisations to draw in pupils, students and others from the area and beyond (including local agricultural colleges and, nationally Writtle College).

We are also talking to other people involved in agriculture (whether growing, or livestock or related crafts such as willow weaving) keen to base themselves here. The various barns and other buildings on the site readily lend themselves to use for those purposes.

But the people coming from further afield for courses and other visits will need places to stay, as will the agricultural and other workers who will make that all possible.

As part of meeting that need we have in mind “glamping pods” (I hate that

expression, but we seem stuck with it) which can be mobile within the areas of the

fields which (within the organic rotation) will at any one time be ‘ley’ (and so the pods do not compromise the crops at all). They would be used by short term visitors attending courses or holidaying during the summer months. We also plan a small number of static mobile home type agricultural accommodation units for the people working at Wakelyns.

That will not only bring people to Wakelyns and the area, it will also bring the income which will support the farming and other activities at Wakelyns. And, importantly, the fact that people will come for courses and other activities relating to the farm and

food activities on site means that this is not like so many of the “holiday let” house uses which we now see in Suffolk, which are largely empty out of school holidays – this will be all year round.

We are already in active discussion with someone who wants to rent our facilities for a long weekend in late February (lockdown permitting) to run training courses for farmers wanting to update their farming methods and learn about agroforestry; and another (in March) on “permaculture” at Wakelyns for around a dozen people.

Meanwhile Vanessa Kimbell4 who runs the famous Sourdough School5 (she was on Radio 4’s Women’s Hour recently talking about it) wants to take over the facilities for two weekends in 2021 to run baking courses here.

And we are also talking to a couple from Norfolk who want to run residential willow- weaving courses using Wakelyns-grown willow.

We want to work with local schools and teachers, and we are in discussion with a community group in Ipswich which supports BAME young people in the area about how we might host visits and events for young people whose Suffolk life is essentially urban.


We believe those plans are entirely in accordance with national and local planning policies including the recently-adopted Fressingfield NDP, policy FRES 13 including:

“Proposals for the expansion of existing businesses including small scale extensions will be supported provided they do not have a significant adverse impact upon the character of the area, adjoining uses, or the amenity of local residents, either, through their built form, proposed use or traffic generated.

New small scale businesses appropriate to a rural area, particularly those that result in the reuse of redundant or unused historic or farm buildings, and new buildings to accommodate new business or agricultural uses will be positively encouraged, provided that they do not have a significant adverse impact upon the character of the area, the amenity of residents or result in an unacceptable increase in traffic generation.”

We hope you will be able to support those plans.

1 http://www.organicresearchcentre.com/

2 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Wong_(ethnobotanist)

3 https://www.henriettainman.com/

4 http://www.vanessakimbell.co.uk/

5 https://www.sourdough.co.uk/

David Wolfe 4 May 2020