• Landmatters

    Whatever you think about flying, picture yourself for just a minute as one of the masses on a flight towards Heathrow from Dublin or Cork. The destinations and points of departure are arbitrary, as is the thought of the flight, other than the fact that it would allow you to look down on the countless sea of green of Ireland and Wales and the English West while further east vast swathes of urbanized acres stretch out almost sentient paws towards what went before. It might give you some sense - a vague and distant one, a sense that was cushioned and somehow unreal but nonetheless still lent you some greater perspective - of how we sit now in these few raw days of sunlit early spring.

    As flowers come up there is a mounting sense of disbelief or just foreboding as the effects of looming cuts and those of a so far faltering economy come a little closer every day. But there is consolation still to be had in the sun, the green fields are lit up and those who work upon the land may count themselves as blessed. The paths that now may not be so well maintained still beckon, the hills still stand; memorials to everything that can endure, speak of bedrock despite a world that sometimes seems precarious.

    Life goes on and here, for now, that means the same old story of concrete and of tarmac in a counterpoint to everything that has been handed down; the old sad shires and network of a hundred thousands fields and woods; the timeless things, the things that once perhaps we thought would last forever. These two worlds seem set against each other; the former logical if not quite ruthless, conforming to a rational that people must be housed, those houses must have power and an ever growing infrastructure needs to keep the whole thing somehow ticking over. In opposition then: the greenery, the things we all still cherish seem both fundamental and almost anachronistic, a never never world that cannot last against the march of everything that's modern.

    This narrative is ridiculous of course, however much traction it has; we depend upon all that is green for our future, as surely as we all need heat and shelter and have every right to expect the two with a reasonable degree of comfort. But their opposition, the dichotomy that says it must be one above the other is at best born of a failure of imagination. The voices that suggest it can be another way seem relatively muted; we largely do not hear the ideas of low impact life, of living with as light a footprint as possible, in homes other than those formed by four brick walls. Those who may aspire to this find themselves set against a planning infrastructure geared towards the more conventional, that does not distinguish between the poles that separate these two contrasting forms of housing.

    It almost seems a form of institutionalized insanity; that those who seek to pioneer a way of life that surely offers us so much can be kept back at every turn. But perhaps the times are shifting after all. Last summer, the Landmatters permaculture cooperative in Devon were successful in their bid for the extended planning permission that will allow their enterprise to carry on. A small ecovillage of perhaps half a dozen benders, yurts and the occasional barn, they run dozens of courses every year, manage woodland, rear livestock as well as provide a model of life and of another kind of agriculture. The cooperative has been accepted as part of the LAND project; a network of demonstration permaculture sites set up by the Permaculture Association of Britain. The place represents a microcosm of a pattern of living that could be rolled out on a much grander scale, or which could perhaps be simply replicated in many more places throughout the country – it offers a very different vision of the future than the shards of glass and steel going up in central London.

    Landmatter’s success with their planning permission could not be more timely, with central government now looking at a new national planning framework. Perhaps this could be the beginning of a process that will allow greater leeway for those who choose to live as simply as they can, in the knowledge that this is far from the restriction it may sound like – it represents a liberation from the myriad distractions we associate with what we call modern life, it offers a much greater connection to the outer world and so with life itself where it does not come transmitted through the prism of a sometimes out-of-kilter media. Those who have tasted it know how rich such a lifestyle can be – so that the environmental benefits come almost as an aside, or are so deeply embedded in the essence of the whole experience that separating motivation and the result becomes an almost artificial exercise.

    The dynamic that we need to decouple ourselves from – as individuals as well as a society - can never be an either or; four brick walls cannot represent an outright denial of everything with value, just as life in a yurt will always be a choice and never anything more mandatory. But those who choose to live outside the literal box and who seek to keep to a minimum their dependence on the host of related consumer services that often accompany more mainstream lifestyles have much to teach us all. They can serve to set the way ahead, can remind us all what life can look like, can help us navigate towards somekind of tenable and even decent future.

    A greater shift to simpler living gives us as a culture other options, makes our collective position in an ever changing world all the more robust. Far from representing any kind of step back, low impact living at its best is a form of refinement that frees up both time and energy. It’s surely time we began in greater numbers to take on board the lessons it provides.

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branchlines

The posts here originally grew from a website that was set up to advertise a book that describes things a long time ago. That book was always intended to address more than any single issue, even if it encompassed that as well.

At its broadest, I hoped it could help express how things can be when anyone of us acts on behalf of the environment, of their community, of our collective future itself. It was informed by far more than simply the times it describes; it was an attempt to articulate a feeling that has carried on and grown and means more than just a narrow 'us and them'.

I'm mainly working on other writing at the moment but thought there was probably something to be said for keeping these posts online while the issues they deal with remain relevant. I hope you find something on these pages that proves of interest or use as we all rise to meet the new times.

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