Introduction & Overview

BIPA Land Centre Overview, Permaculture Journey

The sections below breakdown the main timescales and phases of our journey towards a sustainable lifestyle

Pathfinding 2012-15– How we started and motivations

In 2012 a confluence of life events, thoughts and ideas led us to plan a year out from work and the city to go travelling and explore the idea of a new place and way to live. We always lived in an ecologically conscious way but wanted to take this further than merely being urban green consumers, and move towards a more resilient lifestyle producing as much of our own needs as possible while reducing our ecological footprint and damage to the earths habitats, through a low carbon, low consumption lifestyle. We wanted to find if it was possible to live more in line with our ideals and values of a sustainable existence while also leaving behind some of the things we didn’t like about city life, such as the hectic pace and overcrowding, pollution and stressful work, and reduce our exposure to some of the risks from climate change and economic instability. We like the culture and feel of city life, but not the environment and exposure to pollution, stress, any sort of crisis! We’re not really thinking there will be an actual ‘Zombie Apocalypse’ but this can be seen as a metaphor for all sorts of disruption or collapse of the fragile systems and structures that our society has become completely reliant on. We both also wanted to live with a closer connection to nature and landscape after many years of growing up and living in urban environments.

We spent several months scheming and dreaming and came up with Operation Viking. This was a nickname for our plans to explore Northern Europe and Scandinavia, an area of the world we both love and were drawn to. We picked up some books on gap years for a more middle aged demographic, and found out about ‘WWOOFing’ (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms). This seemed like the ideal way to visit the places we wanted but also to test if a more simple, land based lifestyle would suit us rather than being an unrealistic fantasy. I also wanted to do some art residencies so applied for a series of these in Norway, Sweden and Scotland and our plan started to materialise.

We spent months planning and working out the logistics of our trip, and eventually left our flat in London in March 2013 and headed first to Norway for a month long residency (at that stage we rented it out as we were still possibly going to move back at the end of the trip). WeIts not possible to write about every part of our trip here, but we had many great experiences and stayed in lots of beautiful, amazing places and met many inspiring people, lots of whom became friends. You can see our blog that we kept during the trip here at www.cliveabrandon.tumblr.com.

In summary, our key learning and experiences were at Fejo healing Garden in Denmark, Lygre livsgard making goats cheese in Norway, Gwen’s ‘Green Growers’ market garden and veg grocery box scheme in East Yorkshire, Rob and Diana’s smallholding in North Devon, and finally staying with Chris and Kirsty in Dyke in North East Scotland. During this time we developed our plans and ideas, recording out thoughts, feelings and learnings in a living plans for future document which proved useful in the next stage. We also incorporated a lot of ideas from places that inspired us, such as Ricklundgarden in Sweden, Louisiana in Denmark, Little Sparta in Scotland, Kettles Yard in Cambridgeshire, and Barbara Hepworths garden in Cornwall, for their integration of art, culture, nature and landscape.

It was during the latter part of our trip we discovered the Black Isle and Moray Firth area in Scotland and realised this was the ideal place to focus our search as we both loved the landscapes, environment and communities, and it fulfilled all our criteria for the type of place we wanted to live. At this stage we decided to ‘cash out’ of our urban lifestyle and use our savings and equity in our property to invest in a debt free and time rich lifestyle, by purchasing a resilient and ‘real’ asset: a piece of land which could provide food, shelter, heating, livelihood etc.

Landing 2015-16In September we moved into our new property near Muir of Ord on the Black Isle, which gave us an old ladies retirement bungalow with 2.5 acres (1 hectare) of gardens and woodland with very mixed habitats. The house was not quite what we had envisioned buying but we could see a lot of scope for eco renovation, with plenty of flexible and useful spaces and the orientation and potential solar gain were perfect, with beautiful mixed mature woodland. We then started an observation period, of what we call ‘active’ observation which meant recording info about the site (soil, microclimate, weather patterns, vegetation, animals etc.), mapping the land, making visual logs of seasonal changes to the landscape and environs, and planting annual vegetables to learn about soil/growing conditions. We now had a place to put all our ideas and experiences into practice so started refining our vision and plans. We also established ourselves in the wider community by joining Transition Black Isle, where we got involved with a seed swap and tattie day. We also established our arts and crafts studio and worked on developing our design process.

Rooting 2016-18 This period marks the Project development – during which we became a Permaculture ScotLAND Learner, signing up for Permaculture Diploma, working through various design processes (SADIMET, Aranya book), the drawing up of early ideas and designs – forest garden, orchard, hugel beds, lasagne bed, eco house renovation – which involved researching all the options for renewable energy systems, eco improvements, grants etc. We also hosted our first volunteers in 2017, becoming WOOF hosts ourselves, and held some Open days, hosted visitors, and created our website. At this time we continued our Design work- went to a Diploma gathering in February 17, attended Hidden Mill gathering in June 17, reflecting on our design process and working through the Edible Forest Garden (David Jacke) design process after Steve Burns workshop, and finally completing a broad-brush design for the whole site.

Progression 2018Through the year we hosted lots of volunteers and worked on our Implementation plan of site projects – starting the foundations and floors of eco cabins, building the chicken run, brash and coppice fences, the yurt installed, compost loo built, veg garden tweaking with extra paths, bed layout and mulching, orchard forest garden expansion and planting, and woodland work. We also started volunteering with MOO food and I took on a funded role as a gardener for 6 months, A major milestone of the year was becoming an accredited LAND centre June 2018! Why we wanted to become a LAND centre- during our travels and experiences we often had discussions with people about what Permaculture is, they may have head of or read about it but it seemed like a complex and broad term which was difficult to visualise. We also found that there are huge numbers of books and websites about it but people still struggle to get a grip on what Permaculture looks like and how it can be put into practice. We also found lots of the information was either US or Australian and there was less UK, and specifically Northern UK, information. Therefore we decided the best way to explain it, rather than directing someone to a book or blog, was to design somewhere we could live and demonstrate the integration of Permaculture with our lifestyle and livelihood. So when we came to live at The Warren in Kilcoy one of our first plans was to become a LAND centre where people could visit and stay and see permaculture ideas, designs and techniques in actual real situations rather than on paper. This would also give us a place which could inspire people and hopefully have a ripple effect from our volunteers and visitors taking away some of the things they have learned.

Growing 2018-20 – This period sees the Eco cabins completed, patch designs for specific areas, continued implementation of infrastructure- water, ponds, fences etc., planting plans, habitats regenerating -woodland, meadow, succession of forest gardens, shift from annual to perennials, LAND centre – info and signage, maps and interpretation, website content and newsletter, visits. Diploma work and interim assessment, Business plan developed and implemented- workshops, courses, accommodation, food and craft products, expansion and wider network MOO food etc., integrating art and permaculture – maps, zones, walks, bioregions. Eco house retrofit completed- low carbon, low energy consumption, solar PV, biomass, wood burners, natural materials such as organic paints, sisal, wood, marmoleum floors, LED lights, solar gain, zero waste (trying to eradicate single use plastic etc.) .