Deep in the Pembrokeshire countryside, a low-impact, off-grid ecovillage is pioneering an alternative for living on the land, combining the traditional smallholding model with the latest innovations in environmental design, green technology, and permaculture.
In an increasingly hectic world, driven by the need to earn money and purchase yet more products that we don’t necessarily need, many of us are living unsustainable lives divorced from the natural world. From the food we eat and the packaging we throw away, to our modes of transport and our methods of powering the technology on which we rely, we are having a detrimental impact on the environment. But it is possible to live a sustainable life, as the people who live at Lammas ecovillage are proving.
The Lammas ecovillage, at Tir y Gafel in West Wales, is pioneering an alternative model for living on the land. The 74-acre plot is home to nine families, all of whom have committed themselves to establishing a sustainable settlement, independent of all mains services.
Lammas has combined the traditional smallholding model with the latest innovations in environmental design, green technology, and permaculture to create a collective of eco-smallholdings that work together to create and sustain a culture of land-based self-reliance. Initial planning permission took a number of years to obtain, and there have been a few planning issues to be resolved in the years since, but the ecovillage’s design has now been established as a replicable template for similar future developments in Wales. In 2011 the Welsh government introduced the One Planet Development, a planning policy informed by the Lammas project that supports affordable and sustainable ways of life.
All of the homes at Lammas have been designed and built by the residents themselves – with assistance from volunteers – using local, natural and recycled materials. As well as being eco-friendly, the properties are also relatively affordable. Each one cost less than £15,000 to build, on a 5-acre plot of land purchased for between £35,000 and £40,000. Each household is given 5 years to establish themselves.
“To live in an environment that is close to nature and kind on the soul is a common aspiration.”
Simon Dale, resident
The land that Lammas has been built upon is former pasture, and was previously used for the intensive production of lamb. Prior to the building of the ecovillage the ground was severely depleted, with poor soil and biodiversity indicators. One of the key conditions set down by the Welsh Assembly in the planning permission was that maximum land efficiency be achieved. The village is required to submit yearly reports, setting out its progress against performance indicators – proving it substantially meet its needs from the land, whilst also demonstrating it has positive environmental, social and economic benefits.
In order to do this, the families who live at Lammas make their living off the land. Each 5 acre plot has planning permission for covered growing areas such as greenhouses and poly-tunnels, and for barns and workshop spaces. Residents grow their own fruits and vegetables. They rear their own livestock, and they do this using traditional animal husbandry techniques that also help to manage the evolution of the landscape. They farm worms, and produce woodland and willow crafts. Any excess food and goods are sold at the the central Lammas visitor’s centre, with profits going into a communal kitty that is then used for further improvements to the site. Energy – which is used sparingly, and only for essential needs – is provided by micro photovoltaic installations and the village is heated by burning wood from the communal woodland and short-rotation-coppice biomass plantations. The village has a natural spring that provides drinking water for the whole settlement, and all other water needs are met through the harvesting of rainwater.
Working as a community, the people of Lammas have created a whole new infrastructure across the landscape, intended to support a variety of ecologies. Trackways have been laid out. Wild plants and native trees have been planted. Water patterns have been mapped and harnessed in order to retain as much water in the landscape as possible.
The organisational and practical heart of Lammas is the Community Hub – a focal point for facilities and services. It’s used for village meetings, as a seasonal shop and cafe, and as a venue for educational and recreational activities. It was constructed out of local materials, both natural and recycled.
— Cassandra Lishman (@CassandraLammas) January 23, 2017
https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.jsThe project has been running now since 2009, but it has not yet reached completion. They have recently been crowdfunding in order to build eco-pods, so visitors to Lammas can experience living off-grid for themselves. It took only 28 days for their initial target to be reached, though any further donations will be welcomed. Once they’re built, the eco-pods will be available to rent through Air B&B.
If you’d like to know more about Lammas eco-village and the people who live there, you can visit their website. There is also a series of short videos by Ecovillage Pioneers available on YouTube. Here is the first episode: