Sunday, 21 August 2016

Ten Years After...

It's coming up for ten years since my first post on my original ian's eco blog, though I'd been concerned about environmental issues and followed them since the 1970's I hadn't actually done an awful lot in a practical way. Reports of the sudden loss of ice in Arctic made me suddenly realise that many of the predictions were coming true, and a lot quicker than had been anticipated. So what could anyone do? What was sustainable living exactly? Was anyone doing it?
And here we are, ten years later, with a report in the Guardian today, "Next year or the year after the Arctic will be free of ice."

Looking for the answers to those sorts of questions has led me on a fascinating and fun journey, also challenging at times, through Portugal and the UK, meeting people and working on lots of different projects. Back then, I was living in a terraced house on the busy seafront road that runs from Brighton westwards along the coast. Now I'm living in a timber clad caravan, "the LogCabavan", in an orchard on a hill farm, with another move, back to Scotland, just around the corner.
Meanwhile, the grim fossil-fueled wheel machinery of the industrialised world keeps on grinding away at people and the environment, more so than ever if anything. It looks to me as if the machine won't stop by human choice but only when it can't be fed any more, when the environment's and mankind's ability to support it collapses. The good news is that if you have been looking into a sustainable way of life yourself you will also have been exploring How to Survive The Collapse.

Thursday, 21 April 2016

Oak Trees - Ships of the Landscape

We've been planting lots of trees here on the farm, hazels, willows, cherries, rowan, blackthorn, hawthorn and, mixed in here and there with them all, some oaks...
How amazing to hold in your hand for a moment a baby oak, which might grow into a mature tree and live for anything up to a thousand years, like the old oaks just found on Churchill's estate. How much human nonsense have they lived through? It also made me think just how wonderful these oaks are, like ships of the landscape. True treasure ships, roaring in the wind as they travel through time, sheltering such rich abundancies of life. True gold, not the vain gold of oligarchs, bishops and princes. Even after death these golden-hearted oaks go on serving us with their stout timber, in framework that can last for hundreds more years.
How sad that oaks are suffering from disease, and what a grim tragedy if they go the way of the elms and other vanished trees you don't hear about so much like Brazilian Rosewood, which gave one of the prime woods for musical instrument making, now gone. Every action we take ripples down through time, along with baby trees we hold the future of life on Earth in our hands.

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Towards a Deeper Reality

I often find myself encouraging people to be a wee bit more open minded.
The accepted, establishment, "scientifically proven" view of the world takes us through life like a train on tracks. We're supposed to sit docilely, like well-behaved children in class, looking out of the window, only seeing what we've been told we can see, so we'll be good little cogs in the establishment machine.
Well I for one sometimes want to get up onto the roof of the train or even get off the train altogether. So how do we do that?
In the Don Juan books, like “A Separate Reality”, Don Juan continually attacks Carlos Castanedas’ habitual understanding of the world with drugs - peyote and datura - and by putting in him hair-raising situations where his perception and ability jumps to a different level. Less dramatically, have you ever tried just looking at something for a while, a leaf, or a bit of wood? The more you look, the more you see, until a new world of patterns appears, that you sort of knew was there from a dream but had forgotten...
And where does our current understanding of the universe come from anyway? From people like Einstein, Galileo, Faraday who had the insight to turn what they were taught upside down. Someday their work will be turned inside out too.
The first thing I would like to turn inside-out is the accepted view of wealth as being primarily a money thing. If you think about it, anything of any value comes primarily from the environment, the biosphere nestled in the universe.

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Willow... it's so easy!

We've been planting hundreds of trees here on the farm over the last few years, fruit trees as well as oaks, birch, rowan, hazel and also willows which all started from a bunch of sticks that our friend, Azzi, gave us. We are planning a lot more tree planting this year so I've been getting some propagation on the go. Willow just must be about the easiest thing to grow so a great place for anyone to start. If ever you want to see the power of nature first hand just pop a fresh willow cutting in some water. Willow has lots of uses, as a fast-growing fuel, (maybe the fastest:, ) as well as a material used in all sorts of things from baskets to guitars. It has a lovely graceful bambooish look to it too.
The willow grove at the foot of of our plot, these ones are just a couple of years old and had a difficult start due to rabbit attack. All the same, some of them were reaching twelve foot tall. I've pruned them back and saved the cuttings to propagate more trees.
It's easy: you stick your cuttings in a jar of water and wait for a few weeks... which time they start to sprout various shoots...
...and rootlets, ready to go into a pot or into the ground.
It's still a bit cold out so these ones have gone into pots in the polytunnel.
It seems to be working a bit more slowly with hazel too, which is a bit exciting as it's not the recommended way of propagating hazel. As Chris Dixon says, "The plants don't read books."
Lots going on in the polytunnel already.

Sunday, 7 September 2014


The bigger picture
Pollyanna Lacey messaged me about her wonderful plans in Swaziland. She has about 200 acres of land there including perennial gorges and a river with the beautiful name, Umfula wo Thando, or “River of Love”.
Umfula wo Thando, "River of Love"
Her project really resonates with me as she’s connecting ecology and healing - she has a vision of self-sufficient, sustainable off-grid living, biodynamic gardening and farming, and a holistic healing retreat and Reiki school. She has no experience in building and is looking for help, ideas, contacts, and useful organisations for funding and information.
The best designs I've seen for low-impact, self-build homes are really the roundhouse-with-Earthship-features buildings of Simon Dale and friends at Lammas, I wonder how they compare with traditional local building in Swaziland.
Simon Dales house at Lammas - Simon's site here
Anyway, get in touch with Pollyanna through the RegenoScot Facebook group if you've got any ideas, useful contacts or would like to lend a hand out there.

Saturday, 6 September 2014


I've started a Facebook page, RegenoScot, to help people and projects for sustainable living to connect up, help each other, learn, and share information, ideas and experience, a bit like the brilliant Off Grid Friends page. I've had lots of great help from there and it's good just to know that you're not the only crazy fool out there going against the established flow.
I wanted the RegenoScot header to reflect my own hopes for Scotland and all my family and friends up there. Dylan Thomas was once asked what he thought of Welsh Nationalism and he replied, "I've got three words to say about Welsh Nationalism and two of them are Welsh Nationalism", which is a bit how I feel about Scottish Nationalism...  I hope we vote Yes to independence and I hope it's a new beginning for Scotland but I'd love it if people everywhere around the world looked for what they have in common rather than what makes them different. So there's no flag on the RegenoScot header. We do have a lion but it's a lion with a lion cub to symbolise strength with gentleness, learning and caring.
A wonderful photo, "The Lion King" by Neil Agate:
I don't feel encouraged when the independence discussion revolves around oil production. It's reliance on fossil fuels that's brought the world to the brink of mass extinction. Let's make this an opportunity to build a new kind of economy based on the regeneration of real natural wealth rather than chasing illusory financial wealth at the expense of the environment. So there's a photo on the Regenoscot header of the reciprocating roof at the Cwm Harry community garden project, symbolising local initiative, cooperation, local food production, and the regeneration of natural resources.
The future's woody...
Let's keep our feet firmly on the ground and let's keep our heads firmly in the clouds, looking for local solutions to world problems, allowing a fresh flow of inspiration, new ideas, intuition as we look for local solutions to world problems.

Sunday, 10 August 2014


The little patch of Shropshire we're looking after
Ruth and I live and work on a beautiful hundred acre hill farm here in Shropshire, Treflach Farm. As well as acres of pasture and arable land there's a variety of woodland, from a lovely ancient area, to orchard, to recently planted mixed woodland. We're both so glad to be living out in the sticks amongst the birdsong and rustle of leaves. The access to land we have has made an enormous difference to the sustainability and quality of our way of life, though we still have a long way to go towards some of our goals.
We do some days of work on the farm in lieu of rent for accommodation and the use of the plot of about a third of an acre in the photo above. We also look after the orchard, polytunnel and veg gardens intensively and give some time to the whole farm in various ways.  I hope it's the sort of arrangement that may help a lot of people, farmers and individuals, make the transition away from a fossil-fueled destructive way of life to something regenerative.
If you think about it, everyone relies on some kind of access to land, it's just that for many of us our food, energy and stuff come mostly from elsewhere in the world. Powys in Wales only produces 5% of the food it consumes, that's only possible with cheap energy. So how do we get better access? Only a few people have the capital required to buy a small holding or farm and develop it. Farms are always short of help and will require more and more manual help as we power down. The work-in-lieu arrangement is a way for people with no capital to move towards long term low-impact living. I guess as more people work in this sort of way patterns and guidelines will emerge to help project owners and workers come to fair, practical arrangements as have been established in the WWOOF network, striking a balance between the workers being fairly rewarded and the owners getting a fair amount of help. It's sad when things don't work out and from my experience it's generally because of poor communications, people not making practical financial and work arrangements and not writing them down, and of course, personality mis-matches.
This is probably our biggest success here on the farm. Ruth and I generate almost no waste. The compost loo and compost heaps recyle the bulk of our waste back into the land. Metal we recycle with the farm recycling. Glass waste, of which there is surprisingly little, we generally keep for future storage. Plastic, of which there is a lot, as we still buy a lot of supermarket food, we mostly keep, packing it up for insulation. That leaves the occasional item we can't deal with ourselves that goes to landfill. It's a far cry from living down by Brighton where the five of us put out two wheelie bins for landfill a week. That's all the whole farm produces in two weeks, including the food business.
I'm surprised at how much time and work it's taking to produce more of our own food. Even after three years in the gardens and orchard here we're still getting loads of stuff from the supermarket. It's not just sorting out growing stuff either, there's all the storage side of things too and how to deal with the gluts of a few products that you tend to get from time to time. Ruth's been putting a lot of energy into preserving, jam making and, very importantly, brewing and wine making. Imagine the quality of life without a glass of cider from time to time...
As you'd expect, we keep warm with a woodburning stove and logs from the farm. At least half a dozen big trees came down in the winter storms so there's plenty of fuel out there at the moment, it's just a question of chopping it up, bringing it make and storing it, which all takes time and fuel for tractor and chainsaws. I'm determined to get a better supply organised than we had last year when we were scratching about latterly and soon ran out of dry stuff. We're planning to be much better insulated for this winter too, partly thanks to our waste plastic. For the long term I'd like to burn much less and burn it at a higher temperature too as smouldering logs give out a lot of tars and toxins into the environment.

We're keeping warm with wood but haven't escaped from fossil fuels altogether. We're still using calor gas for cooking and water heating and we're on the electricity grid through the farm's supply, though the farm does have a 20kw PV array. We have a car and still use petrol which I'm very uneasy about, especially with current events in Gaza. I wrote a post about complicity here which I don't imagine will be very popular. I don't think people generally understand just how much the whole industrial way of life is wrapped up in fossil fuel, the degree of change which is coming our way whether we like it or not, or that we all have individual and collective responsibility for everything. By all means let's protest about fracking but let's all make the transition away from fossil fuels too. So for myself that means developing small scale methane and other systems for cooking and water heating and finding alternatives for car travel. I find we have to take it one step at a time though or it just gets overwhelming.
So what other things do our lives revolve around and to what degree can they be produced through access to local land? Shelter, clothing, medication, art, fun, it can all be done (and will have to be done) with what's around us, though maybe not as we know it now.  More soon.