Photo credit: Ruth O'Brien and her boys at Greenham Reach's Steepholding eat their first crop of melon, left. Steepholding's chicken coop and fruit tree nursery pictured right. With thanks to Ruth and Alex for the photos.
The Ecological Land Co-operative was set up to address the lack of affordable sites for ecological land based livelihoods in England. There is an enormous disconnect between the combined cost of land and rural housing, and the income that is usually derived from sustainable rural livelihoods.
Sustainable rural livelihoods – such as small- scale ecological food production – protect the environment and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by reducing fossil fuel use. Such businesses help build a vibrant, living countryside in which people flourish alongside our cherished landscapes and natural biodiversity, and have a important role to play in ensuring food and energy security. They also provide employment, access to local food and crafts, and educational opportunities for urban visitors, helping to maintain rural skills and to improve ecological literacy. Our mission is to increase access to land for such livelihoods.
Our solution and core business is the creation of small clusters of three or more affordable residential smallholdings. As well as land, we provide smallholders with permission to build their own sustainable home, and with utilities and road access. Our model allows us to keep costs low, both through buying larger sites at a lower price per acre, and through distributing the cost of infrastructure, planning applications and subsequent site monitoring across a number of smallholdings.
The model allows the smallholders to work and learn together and to provide mutual support. Our co-operative retains the freehold on each smallholding in order to protect it for agricultural and ecological use, and as affordable in perpetuity.
Beyond this, our vision is one where land is valued and used as a means to enhance our collective good. At present land in the UK is the target of financial speculation; in contrast, our model champions a collective, ecological and co-operative vision of land ownership and land use.
“We see evidence of a progressive loss of small family farms and with it a lack of opportunities for new entrants. For many the biggest obstacle is getting their first foothold on the farming ladder as a result of the prohibitive cost of land and rural housing. The Ecological Land Co-operative model is a new and innovative solution and we welcome and support this approach.”
Rachel Harris, Soil Association