In a celebratory mood!
In an out-of-the way valley among the rolling countryside of west Wales, a celebration is under way. Lammas, the UK’s only fully legal, rural, off grid eco village, has achieved two milestones. One is that their community hub building is now finished and signed off by Building Regulations. The other is that the community has, collectively, at the end of its first 5 years, met the target originally set by the council as part of the conditions for receiving planning permission, of producing 75% of residents’ income and household requirements from the land and land based activities. Olwyn Pritchard reports…
Both these achievements have required a huge amount of work and dedication from residents, friends and neighbours and truly deserve to be celebrated. It was June 2007 when a diverse group of people first applied to Pembrokeshire County Council for planning permission to build an eco village, and late 2009 when, on appeal, they finally succeeded in getting it and moving onto their holdings. The land they acquired is on the outskirts of Glandwr, a small rural settlement south of the Preseli Hills. It was previously an unremarkable place, and the fields purchased by the community were exposed, low-grade, depleted land, which had been grazed long-term by sheep, and provided an income of around £3000 per annum from sales of lamb.
Now, according to the latest figures, produced annually for the council, during 2014, the same 78 acres of land, occupied by 9 households, all cultivating organic smallholdings of between 5 and 7 acres, generated a total income of £93,000. This is made up of the equivalent of £52,000 in food and fuel consumed on site (which would otherwise have had to be bought in), approximately £27,000 of land-based produce sold off site, and around £14,000 generated by such means as produce sales, course fees, training and consultancy.
Melissa Holloway, a member of the community who was kind enough to explain the basics to Green Building added ruefully that although they send in their figures, as agreed, every year, they have never yet had a reply !
Nevertheless, this is still a remarkable testament to the value of a permaculture approach to land management. The productivity of the land, in financial terms, has, within 5 years, increased 30 times, and in addition is now providing homes for 33 people, as opposed to none, as well as a small number of domestic animals and birds. All residential accommodation has to conform to building regulations, to ensure the health and wellbeing of residents, which has at times proved challenging, as the regulations are not designed with low impact structures in mind. Biodiversity has also been increased many times over by planting 10,000 trees, creating additional watercourses, and diversifying habitat through interspersing organically cultivated garden with wild areas.
Tao Wimbush, one of the founding members, said at the beginning; “The project has been designed so that nine smallholdings, while being essentially autonomous, will also fit into an overall permaculture design plan for the whole site. This way we can turn what is considered as poor land into something incredibly productive.” And, as Melissa pointed out, the project is still only in its early stages, and a long way from reaching full productivity, so clearly there IS huge potential for such a permaculture approach to be incredibly productive, even on originally poor, leached, acid soils.