We believe that the creation of sustainable rural livelihoods is one of the best solutions to our most pressing environmental and social problems.
Small-scale ecological production protects the environment and reduces greenhouse gas emissions by reducing fossil fuel use. Such businesses help build a vibrant, living countryside in which humans flourish alongside our cherished landscapes and natural biodiversity, and have a crucial role to play in ensuring food and energy security. They also provide employment, access to local, sustainable food and crafts and educational opportunities for urban visitors, helping to maintain rural skills and to improve ecological literacy.
Such small scale enterprises also allow residents to be rooted in their rural locality, helping maintain and regenerate rural communities and the services upon which they depend such as local schools and shops. Ecological footprint analysis show that residents of ecological land based businesses use less than half the natural resources used by the average UK resident and are currently the only form of development in the UK which comes close to achieving One Planet Living*.
Yet in England and Wales there are no affordable residential smallholdings for small-scale producers wishing to practice ecological agriculture.
The Ecological Land Co-operative has been set up to buy land that has been, or is at risk of being, intensively managed and lease it to people that have the skills to manage it ecologically and would not otherwise be able to afford do so.
How does it work? The Co-operative purchases degraded agricultural land and applies for planning permission for low-impact smallholdings with temporary residences. We provide a renewable energy source, water supply, road access, and a shared barn made of natural and local materials. We then sell long-term leasehold agreements for the smallholdings at an affordable rate. Our first smallholdings were sold with planning permission for temporary agricultural dwellings for £72,000. One was sold with a rent-to-buy arrangement in which the tenant needed to have £14,400 as a deposit. The remainder is to be paid back over 25 years.
We hope to bring prices down even further on future sites, but by way of comparison, a 5-acre smallholding without planning permission was recently advertised for £95,000, and a 5-acre small-holding with a house at £300,000 - £500,000. Yet the net profit for organic small-holders - not including the value of the food, power and water they produce/ generate for their own consumption - is in the region of £14,000.
After the leasehold is sold, we continue to monitor the sites, with a provision for an annual audit built into the leasehold agreement. If the leaseholders do not adhere to the ecological land management criteria, the Co-operative can intervene. The leasehold agreement also prohibits the property being sold out of affordable, agricultural and ecological use.
*One Planet Living is a term to describe living in such a way that a person uses only their fair share of the world's resources, calculated on a global per capita basis. It is currently estimated to be around 2 hectares per person. The UK average is currently about 5.5 hectares per person.