We’ve only been in Wales a week and we’ve seen so many inspiring people and places already.
High up on the list is Lammas, an ‘eco-hamlet’ of nine smallholdings in Pembrokeshire dedicated to living and working sustainably on the land. In 2009, after many years, a group of friends were granted planning permission to build their own homes on a shared plot. Now the 76 acres of low grade pasture and woodland is thriving with biodiversity, and productivity only destined to flourish in the coming years.
Tao is one of the founders of Lammas. His family’s six acre smallholding is a fascinating example of how, with dedication and perseverance, barren land AND planning policy can be transformed. As a result of their lobbying, in 2010 the Welsh Government introduced One Planet Development (Policy 52). This policy means that ‘people can build eco-smallholdings in the open countryside as long as they are off-grid, blend into the landscape and the people involved are working the land’.
Tao lives at Lammas with his wife Hoppi and their children. They grow their own timber and biomass for fuel, and have built their home out of natural materials (earth, timber, stone and straw). Their water is channeled up to their home from a spring fed pond.
The remaining land is divided into manageable sections for growing food and medicinal plants outside (allotment, orchard, herb and flower garden) and inside (polytunnel). Each section is ‘managed’ by useful predators to keep pests and weeds at bay (ducks, geese, a few cows, parasitic wasps), and provide manure for fertilising crops. The design of the smallholding is based on Permaculture and Restorative Agriculture principles, working to develop and manage land, soil, water and energy reflecting the way nature does it best.
For example, in the polytunnel a pond helps to regulate moisture and temperature (built with natural stone walls that retain heat) and provide a habitat for useful predators (frogs, helpful insects) who eat harmful pests. The plants growing together from high to low level, reflect the way forests naturally develop in layers, chosen to compliment each other (companion planting) and put back nutrients into the soil to benefit other plants (eg nitrogen fixing).
Many of the buildings at Lammas have ‘green roofs’ planted to attract beneficial insects, enable more to give out oxygen, and offer insulation. Some are built on low level stilts, with gaps between walls made of natural insulation (straw) and outer wooden panels – to provide airflow and extend the life of the natural building materials in a damp climate.
Living on the land in many of these ways means that the families here can be much more self sufficient, growing their own food and fuel (to live off-grid), filtering natural water supplies (e.g. spring water) and building their own homes from natural materials, and fertilising their soil with compost and manure made in site. There are very little inputs, meaning that their cost of living is greatly reduced, and they do not need to have huge financial livelihoods (e.g. wine, honey, natural toiletries, timber, educational courses) to sustain themselves.
And one of the biggest benefits is being surrounded by stunning landscapes, with a fantastic community of like-minded people. That’s not to say it isn’t hard work, it is, but from what they say it’s worth it. Inspiring.
A eco-hamlet in Whitland inspired by Lammas takes shape…