Determined to turn good ideas into reality, to have a positive influence and to give hope to those choosing to live sustainably, we have designed a model for creating affordable, ecological smallholdings. Having successfully developed our first cluster of farms in Mid Devon, we have begun work on our second site in East Sussex and purchased our third site on the Gower.
We show that small-scale ecological farming CAN work in today’s economy. Sustainably managed smallholdings provide low-impact livelihoods, regenerate land and produce good, healthy food for local communities, increasing sustainability and resilience, and improving ecology and biodiversity for future generations.
By supporting new entrants into ecological agriculture we help revitalise rural communities. We want to see a living, working countryside where land is valued as a way to enhance the good of communities and the natural world.
“We support models of land use that make land work for people and the environment. Unfortunately we repeatedly see new entrants to farming struggle to secure access to land, planning permission, or start-up nance. The Ecological Land Cooperative have an excellent strategy for helping new entrants overcome all of these. Their model will get more land into productive, ecological management.”
Kate Swade, Director, Shared Assets
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 an 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 affordable 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 off-grid 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 cooperative retains the freehold on each smallholding in order to protect it for affordable agricultural and ecological use 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 cooperative vision of land ownership and land use.
“The Ecological Land Cooperative is a small organisation with big ambitions, and for that I applaud it.”
Our work is centred on the development of ecological smallholdings, but the impacts of our work are wider than this.
The creation of ecological holdings also:
- Demonstrates a model of collective ownership that can protect and enhance the land, based not only on ideas of conservation, but on producing a living and working countryside;
- Contributes to, and strengthens the growing community of individuals and organisations committed to fostering the skills, knowledge and solidarity to allow the land to sustain us as we head into unpredictable times;
- Provides evidence through our site monitoring research that helps strengthen campaigns for land reform;
- Seeks to improve planning policy by providing evidence and examples that low-impact ecological land use has multiple benefits and should be embraced and legislated for.
Farming is inaccessible to new entrants. Even though the numbers of young people studying agriculture is growing, the average age of a British farmer is 59 and rising. Some of the factors causing this are:
High land costs: the price of agricultural land is currently at record levels with an average of £9,000 per acre. Instability in the financial system, plus the subsidy regime, has led to an increase in land bought as an investment. In the period 2000-2010 new farm entrants accounted for just 4% of agricultural land purchasers.
High costs of rural housing: the average house price in rural areas has more than doubled over the past decade to over £250,000, while the average salary is £21,000.
Land ownership: farms have been getting fewer and larger. Meanwhile, the number of County Farms has declined as Councils sell them off.
Farms are no longer affordable: most farmers cannot generate the income required to service a mortgage for the average farm from farming alone. The ratio of farm purchase price to average agricultural income is in excess of twenty to one on average. The result is a substantial body of people who wish to farm an ecological smallholding but cannot afford to do so. We want to change this.
Our Model – creating ecological smallholdings
Our cooperative purchases agricultural land with a view to subdividing it into a number of ecologically managed residential smallholdings. Drawing on the advice of organic horticulturalists and farmers, ecologists, soil experts, transport advisors, planners, prospective customers, the local community, and those with local knowledge, we then establish a new smallholding cluster with a binding ecological management plan.
Once planning permission is granted, our cooperative sells (150 year lease) or rents the smallholdings to new entrants to ecological agriculture at an affordable rate and monitors the holdings’ performance against the detailed whole-site ecological management plan.
At our first site, Greenham Reach, in addition to their holding of between five and nine acres of land, the three smallholder families received the following support:
- Permission to build a low-impact dwelling
- A shared timber frame barn
- Road access and internal stone track
- On-site renewable electricity generation
- Water via rainwater harvesting and borehole
- One year’s business mentoring from a sector expert
“As a society we face numerous immediate and longer term challenges with regards to food security, energy and climate change. A genuinely sustainable response relies on more small farmers in low impact developments, providing good food, experimental data, and contributing to rural regeneration. The Ecological Land Cooperative does just that — putting in place today the foundations for the food production of tomorrow”
Caroline Lucas MP, Green Party