Have you ever dreamed of getting back to nature, living on a rural smallholding and working the land in a sustainable and ecological way? Perhaps you would love to grow and sell organic vegetables, herbs or mushrooms, keep bees, chickens or pigs, coppice willow to produce baskets and hurdles, manage woodlands … The chances are that many readers cherish this dream but the high cost of buying land keeps this ambition out of reach.
The Ecological Land Co-operative aims to enable more people to turn this vision into a reality. The group emerged in 2005, after informal meetings between individuals and organisations involved in rural regeneration and small-scale agriculture. Over the next four years, it was able to raise enough funds to relaunch in 2009 as a co-operative.
The aim of the organisation is to buy degraded agricultural land and lease it to people with the skills to work it in an ecological way – those who would not be able to do so otherwise. They believe that small-scale, low-impact businesses can provide valuable rural livelihoods, which will benefit communities, enhance biodiversity and protect the environment.
An initial site has already been bought, consisting of two arable and two pasture fields in Mid Devon. Once plans have been passed, they hope to develop this land into three seven-acre smallholdings, building temporary low-impact buildings out of renewable materials on each plot.
The Co-operative also plans to raise a shared barn from local, natural materials, install a water supply and build an access road, while micro-power and telephone lines will be included for the new small-holders. In the meantime, while the plans are being processed, the team have been preparing the land and planting trees.
Those wanting to live the dream will need to demonstrate their suitability for participating in the project. A 999-year leasehold – ensuring the longevity of the sites – precludes selling the land away from affordable, ecological use. There is already a waiting list but people are still welcome to apply.
“We’re very excited about the site in Devon,” says the managing director, Zoe Wangler, “and now we are busy raising300,000 of shared community capital to buy two more sites and create between six and nine smallholdings. There is an overwhelming demand for ecological smallholdings and we are doing all we can to meet it.”
Contact: The Ecological Land
Co-operative, The Hub,
5 Torrens Street, London, EC1V 1NQ
Working on Co-operative land in Devon
Phots: © Anna Rudd