Draft Proposal for Bath Ecological Land Trust (BELT)
A regional web of 'regenerative biotopes' which aim to heal land, restore biodiversity, and enable resilient communities. A holistic grassroots solution to the triple crises of declining ecology, global climate change and growing disconnection. Healing our lands must accompany the healing of our communities. Adapting to climate change means resilience and regeneration. At this late stage where we have already lost so much, sustainability is no longer viable, we need regenerative practices and we need new ways to exist with each other and with the land we depend on. Furthermore, we cannot wait for top-down solutions, or rely on far-off 'emission offsets', instead we must take the future into our own hands and create the more beautiful world we know is possible, through land regeneration. Each regenerative biotope in the web will act semi-autonomously, within a framework of ethics: Earth care, People care and Fair Share. Binding us together in this web will be a shared vision and mission, in the healing of our land and of ourselves. These biotopes will also act as hubs for the necessary transitions to a thriving humanity in coexistence with the land - serving ecosystem functions as well as social services, such as provision of food, education, natural building, inspiration and consultancy.
Create a network of regenerative biotopes through collectively purchasing (and leasing long-term) plots of land which will not only be kept safe from development, but allowed to regenerate and heal. This is beyond mainstream conservation and land ‘management’, which looks to sustain or dominate land, without including people except as visitors or extractors. The regenerative biotope model see's humans as a keystone species part of the solution, as healers of the land. The land plots purchased by the Land Trust will be leased, on subsidised contracts of at least 25-150 years, to trained ecological farmers, land stewards, and regenerative enterprises. Some plots may also be co-operatively rented, for community agriculture, orchards, reforestation or re-wilding purposes.
1) Regenerative land trusteeship: The ecological land trust will collectively purchase land, including degraded land, and restore its natural abundance. Through biomimicry and permaculture-based models, the trust will aim to increase/restore biodiversity, build soil, increase plant diversity and actively reduce pollution levels (in soil, air and water).
2) Empower local regions to care for the lands they live on: community engagement plans for each area of land will allow local people in each region to connect to the land, feel some ownership of it (but also belonging to it) and thus foster a sense of responsibility.
3) Create productive and inspiring hubs: whilst ecological aims are primary, co-benefits could include education (e.g. short courses on permaculture or land stewardship), production of quality food (e.g. fruit, nuts, vegetables, eggs through eco-agroforestry systems).
4) Sustainable livelihoods: achieve economic sustainability and support the communities that live on/around the land, through regenerative land-based enterprise that creates value and service without degrading the land/source e.g. mushroom enterprise, market gardening, agroforestry, eco-camping trips, sustainable forestry and woodwork, renewable energy generation.
The preferred model is one borrowed from the Ecological Land Trust: https://ecologicalland.coop . The land trusts in Bath may operate as partner of this wider trust (we already have some links here), and/or create its own model, which will adapt and evolve over time as we learn collectively. The intention is to gradually buy small/medium (2-80 acre) plots of land in South West England, under long term ownership of the ecological land trust. These plots can be subdivided and 'leased' to trained/training land stewards e.g. 4 families on 20 acres, with 5 acre plots each for their land-based income generation activities, following the principles and values of ecological stewardship. The lease is highly subsidised by the trust and offered for 150 years to ensure security for 3 generations and longer term security for the land itself - protected form development.
Suggested Steps for the Bath & Avon boioregion
1) Form a Bath Ecological Land Trust (BELT) steering group (working group) which combines potential land stewards, facilitators and fundraisers (financial enablers). Gain understanding of existing Land Trust schemes and visit sites. The structure could be a trust or a Community Benefit Society (the latter would open up options for community shares in the land for example).
2) Conduct a thorough land survey and permaculture design process for the Bath and Avon Bioregion, both of ecology and ownership. From the ecology maps and surveying of sites, draft up appropriate designs for regeneration. From the ownership map, draft a strategy of approach - which landowners to engage and how to best go about this.
3) Once first plot and funding is secured, develop the documents and legal framework that ensures its long term protection, and put in place precautionary measures. Develop permaculture designs for the biotope, consult experts on ecology, soil and potential. Establish a plan which protects and enhances these features e.g. increases biodiversity.
4) Seek committed stewards and/or tenants to manage the land and possibly implement designs at this stage (after considered and thoughtful observation).
5) Aim for financial stability by years 2/3, so that the land can generate a modest income for those that live on it and to supplement some funds into the ecological trust as insurance and future investment. This income should arise from regenerative practices, if necessary through funding support e.g. for a tree nursery.
6) Building from the base of several successful model sites, expand the network, seek further funding and develop a mycelium network of regenerative land trusts.
Permaculture zoning and mapping could be a useful leverage point to take ideas/discussions into design and then implementation. This could be applied systematically to our bioregion, for example, going from zones 0-5 with increasing wildness and distance from urban hub (zone 0 is ourselves or ‘inter-social permaculture design’) Zone 1 represents the city centre with a greener landscape city, biomimetic architecture etc. Zone 2 going outwards is the peri-urban market gardens, allotments, rooftop bees, community gardens. Zone 3 enters more semi-rural agricultural production to meet the bulk of citys fresh food need – larger market gardens, organic orchards,. Agroecology, mixed organic no-till farming. zone 4 enters rural zone with landworker communities and stewards working on larger areas of land collaboratively for regenerative grazing, larger agroforestry projects, commercial nut growing, bathscape style re-naturing etc.
Zone 5 enters wilderness and restorative land practices. Attached image details more visually.
(note there are more nuanced models with parts of zone 5 wildness holographically integrating with zones 1 and 0 etc. but this simplified version is still a useful framework).
Principles and values
[borrowed from Middle Ground Growers principles and values - needs to be edited and adapted for Land Trust scheme. See also Permaculture Principles and Regenerative design criteria]
Middle Way approach - our philosophy is inspired by the 'Middle Way' from Buddhism. Applied to growing and cultivation, we aim to achieve a balance between permaculture ideals and organic farming. A middle path is also struck between hard focused work and joyful celebration, earth care and people/self care. The overall aim is to find the sweet spot between/beyond polarities, in order to connect the false separations of work-life, local-global, mind-body, self-world, being-doing-thinking.
Co-operation - through fostering symbiotic relationships with nature and with each other, we maximise yield - physically and emotionally. Our interactions, synergies and skill sets combine to co-create something far greater than our own individual outputs in isolation. We are all co-growers to remind us of our inter-being and our equal value. We cannot do it alone. Nature is the fundamental co-grower and we are humble co-facilitators of the seed, plant and fruit.
Feedback loops - continual reflecting and learning is perhaps our primary mission as co-growers. We embrace failures as messengers of wisdom and opportunities for development, redesign and creative evolution. Quick feedback cycles, including the voicing of verbal feedback are a vital element to our design and success.
Transparency - A) Financial. Accounts are shared with all co-growers, and all have the right to claim costs (e.g. seeds, fuel, compost), and opportunity to propose funding for necessary items or projects. B) Emotional. Being transparent about how we feel, any tensions or conflicts should be communicated with intention from all parties to resolve. C) Intentional - absolute clarity with our personal motives, plans and limits.
Natures apprentices - we are primarily a learning community of humble growers, with many lessons to be learnt from nature's patterns, symbioses, and design. We practice biomimicry - the application of nature's design to our own ways of working, living and being.
Applied Permaculture ethics - an ethical framework of embodying Earth Care, People Care and Fair Share. The latter referring to radical inclusivity, equal voice and sharing of abundance.
Regenerative work - Co-designing a living system that regenerates both the land and our spirits. Central to this is self care - ensuring we strive for a thriving balance that enjoys the fruits of hard work without burning out. This culture of regeneration is also a form of peaceful protest, in active resistance to a degenerative system that degrades land and people.
How the P&Vs are part of the same story...
Our approach to growing and living draws inspiration from the Buddhist 'middle way' philosophy. Finding the unifying mycelium that connects 'opposites'. One manifestation of this is a grounded practicality (doing), balanced by careful design (thinking) and enjoyment (being).
Our direction is abundant with permaculture ideals and passionate, unapologetic vision, and yet this is balanced by pragmatism, compromises and 'bridges to the real world'. This results in an approach somewhere between organic farming and permaculture ethics, practicing minimum tillage, accepting some inputs and minimising 'waste' to the best of our ability. We also strive to practice non-attachment to outcome, or vision - appreciating the complex adaptive system we live in as a dynamic process whereby end result is often unpredictable due to tipping points (positive and negative) and chaos theory. This non-attachment is also humility to nature's greater forces, which we accept and learn from as nature's apprentices.
We are cooperative growers (co-growers), both in our human cooperation and in cooperation with nature, working with its perfect grain. This cooperation reminds us of the abundant edges (e.g. relationships) where boundaries meet and diversity flourishes, co-creating a yield far greater than the isolated 'I'.
Ultimately, we strive for a truly regenerative food system model through regenerative work, that builds soil, sequesters carbon and enriched community life. We inch closer to this with every year of experience, with every failure, every conflict/tension, every feedback loop and every redesign.
Regenerative land-based livelihood and project examples
Organic Wildflower farm
Woodworking and timber projects
ecological landscaping service
Sustainable animal husbandry
Re-wilding (income through grants)
Education e.g. Permaculture Courses, land steward apprenticeships, short courses, eventually practical Degrees and 'alternative' qualifications
Natural building services e.g. cob, straw bale, stone, wood
Handmade (and hand grown!) tools and equipment
Eco-tourism (with caution!)
Generating renewable energy
Tree nursery or plant nursery
Eco garden centre
Green cafe/restaurant - food from/on the farm
Green festivals and nature connection events
Willow weaving, basket making, other secondary products
Jams, chutneys, other products
many more !