Illustration by Aurelia Lange
Wales – the land of soaring song, viagra turf-churning scrums and cunning cross-dressing rioters – is today at the forefront of sustainable, information pills ecological development. In 2009 the Welsh Assembly Government announced a national sustainable development scheme, buy One Wales: One Planet, which led last year to Technical Advice Note (TAN) 6: One Planet Development. The objective of the One Planet Development policy is truly laudable: for Wales to be using only its fair and sustainable share of the earth’s resources – which was measured in 2003 at 1.88 global hectares per person – within the space of a single generation. To this end, One Planet Developments must be zero carbon in both their construction and use, and within five years sit on land that provides for the inhabitants’ basic needs of income, food, energy and waste assimilation. Developments can take the form of single homes, co-operative communities or larger settlements.
Low-impact building The Hub at Tir y Gafel
A family’s roundhouse under construction at Tir y Gafel
Crafted wooden sign at sustainable settlement in West Wales, Tir y Gafel
One such community is Tir y Gafel, nestled in 76 acres of dizzyingly beautiful ex-farmland mixed pasture and woodland deep within the Pembrokeshire hills. Tir y Gafel is the first eco village to be birthed by Lammas – a cooperative trust that exists to support the development of eco villages in West Wales – following efforts by its founders, members and fellow low-impact supporters to gain planning permission for such developments. Currently under construction by the residents and volunteers, within a few years Tir y Gafel will comprise nine residential smallholdings created using the latest innovations in permaculture, environmental design and green technology. And, of course, they’ll be completely off-grid: water will be sourced from Tir y Gafel’s existing spring; on-site renewables such as the village hydro-electric facility will provide the sparks; fuel supplies will exist in the form of willow and ash; and organic waste will prove food for the village’s abundance of plant life.
Tir y Gafel flowers decorate village meeting and celebration space, The Hub
Two of Tir y Gafel’s diverse range of residents
The people of Tir y Gafel will not just live off the land, but will nourish it, enriching their plots to the end that the land can support a range of livelihoods, from the growth of cash crops such as blueberries to crafts conjured from the woven hair of malamutes. The completion of the village community building The Hub is also in sight.
For many gazing in awe at the energy, vision and strength of pioneering spirit exhibited by Lammas and the Tir y Gafel residents, a relocation to Mars can seem more reachable than a move to a One Planet lifestyle, with all the land issues and lifestyle transformations it might involve. One of the guiding principles of Lammas, though, is to create a model for sustainable eco living that can be replicated across Wales – and, hopefully, outside it. Education plays a central role in the current life of Tir y Gafel, with courses and conferences inviting people to experience and explore low-impact living, and while doing so help make this groundbreaking example a reality. WWOOFers and other volunteers have been a driving force in the building of The Hub, exchanging enthusiasm and sweat for experience of low-impact building and a role in the future of sustainable living.
Lammas: Steps in the right direction
Building a timber-frame barn wall at Tir y Gafel
Joy of joists: getting to grips with timber-framing at Tir y Gafel
Aside from a regular rotation of passionate volunteers, attendees of courses held at Tir y Gafel go on to spread the word, objectives and feasibility of One Planet lifestyles such as those that they experience and learn about through Lammas. The Eco Village Conference will bring those inspired by Lammas’s work and eager to grapple with the practicalities of creating an eco home or village together between 9-11 September, when the folks behind Lammas will impart advice on everything from land-based livelihoods to legal details. Other courses currently booking include a weekend covering willow planting, harvesting and sculpture.
People power: Lammas Low Impact Experience course attendees tour the land
The community that cooks together…
Foraged blackberries at Tir y Gafel
Later in the month comes another of the enormously influential Low Impact Experience weeks, which have so far seen dozens of eco-conscious minds enter Tir y Gafel curious and leave – a week and countless incredible vegetarian meals later – with fresh skills spanning cob building, bread baking, stem wall forming, foraging, escapee hen catching and beyond. Led by Hoppi Wimbush and James Giddings, the most recent Low Impact Experience Week, held in August, was for this writer an inspirational reminder of the joyful warm ache of limbs worked sawing barn wall joists; of the rich pleasure – irate wasps and all – of a permaculture landscape; and of the timeless worth of a mental store of stories to tell while rain batters darkened windows. Above all, though, the Low Impact Experience Week re-affirmed the significance of community to our selves, our health and our happiness – and not just because the attendees shared our foraged wood sorrel.
Foraged Tir y Gafel wood sorrel during the Low Impact Experience Week
Future kneads: The Low Impact Experience bake-off
Banqueting at The Hub, Tir y Gafel
Long gone are the days when it was considered avant-garde to believe that the future health and happiness of our communities rests on the success and extended positive influence of low-impact living initiatives such as those that Lammas is pioneering at Tir y Gafel. As the people of Lammas and Tir y Gafel are showing through their courses and conferences, if we are willing to share knowledge, skills, sweat and time as part of a wider ecologically minded and responsible community, the future can look very, very bright. Even if it is lit via homemade solar panels.
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