For the bees…

Today’s post from Daniel highlights the place of bees in the ecological web that is so rich at Steward Wood.


Bees arrived at Steward Wood on 26th January 2016. ‘What do you mean?’, I hear you say. ‘Weren’t there bees around before then?’ Yes there were – bees of all kinds: bumblebees, solitary bees, and of course honey bees (apis mellifera). But all the honey bees were visiting from their homes in other places.

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Now we also have our own hives – three in fact – generously given to us by our friends Ian and Alex who, after 8 years of beekeeping, have decided to take a break. However, they will be guiding myself, Son & Mel through our first season as the main bee guardians in the woods. This has already been a fascinating journey of discovery and delight and it will, no doubt, continue to be so as we care for these magnificent creatures. Bees hold a critical place in the ecological web and are so threatened at this time by habitat loss, pesticides and other chemicals, disease, and exploitative beekeeping practices.

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I love watching at the hive entrance, seeing the comings and goings. The bees, in the cold winter months in this country, would normally be clustered in the centre of the hive preserving their heat and gradually eating their stores of honey. However, due to the mild, well actually warm, winter we’ve been having, the bees have been flying most days throughout this time. At the moment, they can forage on ivy, snowdrops, crocuses, daffodils, and other random plants in flower due to the balmy temperatures.

On the day we brought the hives over, we unplugged the entrance hole and out they came, performing a spiral orientation flight and exploring their new environment. At Steward Community Woodland, they have available lots of tree flowers, apple blossom, all the flowers of the woodland, flowers in our gardens, and in the pasture and gardens around. We will be planting more bee friendly plants such as lavender and herbs such as thyme which the bees love and use the essential oils (which are ant-bacterial etc) in their propolis (the bee’s medicine).

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As well as their obvious role in pollination, bees bring bee consciousness to the place where they live. There is a fascinating book on this topic called The Song of Increase – Returning to our sacred partnership with honeybees by Jacqueline Freeman. Bees enrich and harmonise the environment each day, helping Nature in so many ways to fulfil the evolutionary directive. Humans and bees can care for each other and sing the song of shared awareness. Love, of course, is the key ingredient in our relationship with bees and all of life.

The bees at Steward Wood are in National hives at present, the standard hive used in this country. After the first season, we are likely to begin trying out Top Bar Hives and Rose Hives. These latter hives are more suited for a natural beekeeping approach, although it’s certainly also possible to keep bees in Nationals and use a natural approach.

In any event, our keeping of bees is bee centric. We wish them to thrive and thus perform well their vital function in the ecosystem. We also wish to sensitively harvest hive products – honey, pollen, & propolis – when there is a genuine surplus. Tasting our first Steward Wood honey will be an exquisite experience.


Remember, you can watch our new film and read all about our project and the current situation over here at the crowdfunder page.

Thank you for your continuing interest and support – we cannot do it without you!

Sunrise memories

Today, before we get into today’s post, we’d just like to share the fact that over at the crowdfunder page, we’re now more than 60% funded, after only a week!

Thank you all so much for all your support so far – it is going so much better than we dared to believe when we were wondering in the autumn how we could possibly raise the money for our legal fees, and that’s all thanks to you. We are really deeply moved by all your donations and messages and efforts at spreading the word, and we give hearty thanks to all of you!

Meanwhile, this morning, Sonny remembers words from her eldest daughter, spoken 10 years ago…


sunrise behind Ollies DwellingThis beautiful morning view reminds me of something my, now, 17 year old daughter said when she was about 7:

“Mummy, when I opened my eyes and looked out of my window from my bed this morning, the wood smoke was lit up by the suns rays coming through the trees, I felt so lucky and it was so beautiful, I cried…”

Our three children have lived here in the woods for 11 years, most of their lives – we feel so much gratitude for this wonderful life and can’t imagine living any where else in any other way.


Remember, you can watch our new film and read all about our project and the current situation over here at the crowdfunder page.

Thank you for your continuing interest and support – we cannot do it without you!

Asha’s story: learning in the woods

Today’s post is from Asha. She has lived almost all her life in the woods!


My name is Asha. I’m 13 years old and have lived at Steward Wood since I was 1.

The people here are not just people I live next to and pass by occasionally, they are my family and friends.

When I was younger I spent most of my time playing pretend games in the woods with my friends here, Rowan and Ash, and that in itself has taught me so much and I can’t imagine living any other way.

 
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I have such a close bond with the little ones here. I always used to nag Mum about having another baby so I could look after it but when I think about it, I already have that in Sky (6) and Wren (3).
The other day, lots of us were down in the growing area and Sky, Wren and Myself were all chasing each other around and I just thought how lucky I was to have such a close connection with them and Sky once asked me if I’d be her big sister in my next life.

 
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When I get annoyed or need my own space all I have to do is go outside and climb a tree and I’m transported into another world of my own.
I have learned so much from living here in the woods with all these amazing people. It’s allowed me to have the choice to be home schooled, and learn in the way I want to learn.
I tried school for six months for 3 days a week when I was 10, but then I realized I was missing out on so much at home and I was always too tired to hang out with my friends here and I stopped doing all of the creative stuff I used to do before I began school.

 
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My mum teaches me about plants and herbal medicine and my dad has taught me how to make fire the primitive way.
I love this way of life, it’s amazing!


Remember, you can watch our new film and read all about our project and the current situation over here at the crowdfunder page.

Thank you for your continuing interest and support – we cannot do it without you!

Teaching the children

In today’s post, Sonny writes about teaching the children in Steward Wood. Not everyone here is home-educated, but for those that are, and for those who visit, the community is a powerful resource for education in many arenas.


Here is Merlin, our resident wizard, holding a Mad science day for the
wider community of home ed families here in 2012. 7 of our community children have enjoyed school-free living here at the woods over the last 14 years. Over this time we have held many home education sessions and gatherings for groups and our own children and covered a large number of fun and exciting topics…

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individuals to become who they truly are. Who know and trust themselves and respect and care for the natural world around them, taking responsibility for their impact on the environment with an understanding that they are capable of anything they put their hearts to. Living as we do at Steward community woodland has made it possible for our children to grow up together and also given them a deep sense of connection and belonging to this land and mother earth in a way that would not be possible living a conventional lifestyle. Please be a part of making this possible for the next generations of children here and nearby by supporting the fundraising effort to save us from eviction – click here or on the pictures to find out more…

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Remember, you can watch our new film and read all about our project and the current situation over here at the crowdfunder page.

Thank you for your continuing interest and support – we cannot do it without you!

Nettle-infused cider vinegar

Today’s post is a simple recipe for you from Sonny – just in time for the young nettles of Spring!


Nettle-infused Cider vinegar

Nettles infusing in cider vinegar

Cram your spring nettles into a jar and cover with live, organic cider vinegar. Leave in a cool place out of direct sun light … After a few days the nettles will have reduced down and you can add more nettles.

Repeat as much as you like to make your vinegar tincture good and strong.

After 3-4 weeks Filter the vinegar through a sieve and feed the nettles to the compost heap. Take 2 table spoons 3 times a day in half a pint water for a spring cleanser and vitamin and mineral boost! In-Joy!! x Oh and this elixir will last for a year or more!


Remember, you can watch our new film and read all about our project and the current situation over here at the crowdfunder page.

Thank you for your continuing interest and support – we cannot do it without you!

Today’s perk – One Pot Wonder Balm

Today, we’re beginning our series of posts about the amazing PERKS we’ve got on offer to thank you for supporting us!


One Pot Wonder Balm

Sonny makes a range of healing balms and lotions and potions from the plants and herbs that grow at Steward Wood as – one of these is her famous One Pot Wonder Balm.

One Pot Wonder Balms are lovingly hand-crafted by us from our untamed Dartmoor woodland home. The finest organic, sustainably wild-harvested and home-grown herbs are gently infused in cold-pressed organic sunflower and olive oil before setting with beeswax from our sacredly-cared-for bees! A 100% natural pocket-sized one pot wonder balm for a multitude of first aid and healing requirements. Enjoy!

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Click on the picture above or here to go and claim your pot of this Steward Wood balm!

You can find out more about Sonny’s work at The Healing Hedgerow over here, or by coming on one of her Hedgerow Medicine walks (also a perk over on the crowdfunding site…)


Remember, you can watch our new film and read all about our project and the current situation over here at the crowdfunder page.

Thank you for your continuing interest and support – we cannot do it without you!

 

Who we are and what we do

Today’s post from Daniel explores in detail what Steward Wood is and what we do. It’s a long post, but we think the story deserves telling well…


Steward Community Woodland or Steward Wood is a low impact settlement comprised of a group of people living and working together in a 32 acre former conifer plantation on the edge of Dartmoor. We are committed to fostering environmental awareness, providing innovative sustainable solutions and examples of sustainable land use.

Since 2000, we have been exploring and experimenting with: permaculture techniques for land use and food growing, community organisation and dynamics, renewable energy and appropriate technology, small-scale woodland management, experiential and home education, and building and maintaining our own low impact dwellings using timber from the woodland and reused materials.

Our community is based on the ethics of friendship, co-operation, earth care, people care, and resources for need not greed. We value open, honest communication, wisdom and group cohesion and enjoy sharing our skills and knowledge and value learning from others.

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Planning, People, Animals and the Web of Life

Since becoming resident on the land on ‘Earth Day’ in April 2000, we have been granted two five year periods of temporary planning permission, first in 2002 and then again in 2009. These were both hard won on appeal after public inquiries. We are currently in the process of seeking permanent permission with a Public Inquiry coming up in April, which is the reason we’re running the current fundraising campaign

From 10 adults initially, we are currently 14 adults, 5 children, 4 teenagers, along with dogs, chickens, sheep and goats. Meanwhile, wildlife is all around us. We share this wood with the wood ants, the plants, the ravens, owls and tits, the spiders, bats, mice, fungi, lichens, ad infinitum. We are a humble part of, and an important and integral part of the Web of Life.

Having lived under wood and canvas for 16 years, we are a prime example of ‘low impact’ living. We prefer the term ‘positive impact’, for rather than having a low adverse environmental impact, we are finding our way back to our place in the forest – the place we left as hunter gatherers, then semi-nomadic pastoralists hundreds or thousands of years ago. In other words, humans have lived in community on the land for the vast majority of their time on this planet as an integral part of a healthy functioning ecosystem, with a positive impact on biodiversity.

Here at Steward Wood, we are working to combine these ancient ways of living with modern technologies (solar panels, computers, the web, etc), and innovative ways of thinking and organising (permaculture, sociocracy, rewilding, etc). This is all within the context of the huge environmental challenges we as humans face on this beautiful Earth today. In contrast to how as a species we have abused and degraded this paradise and still increasingly do so, our role on this planet should be as guardians and stewards for all of life.

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Coming out of the 90’s activist scene, we were young, energised, enthusiastic, inspired by permaculture and wanting to not just rail against what we felt was wrong with the world but to create a positive alternative. We wanted to be living on the land, researching and experimenting with sustainable ways of living, with the aim of inspiring others. Those were heady days and over the years we have matured, responded and adapted. After six years of only using crosscut saws and axes to fell and process trees for firewood and building materials (an achievement of which we are very proud), we made the practical and realistic decision to start using petrol chainsaws, freeing up our time and energy enormously for other things. We still, however, fell and coppice most trees using hand tools – combining the old ways with the new and finding the right balance. We were also, for the first six years, a vegan community but we eventually adapted to our changing needs and perspectives on life. It’s now left to the individual to choose what they wish to eat, and we make sure that at communal meals everyone’s diet is catered for.

Despite using fossil fuels, we are working to reduce our dependency on them through exploring alternatives. To this end we generate electricity from a micro-hydro scheme (making use of the streams running down the hill) and from solar panels.

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The Art of Community

Rediscovering the art of community, of cooperation and sharing, is the foundation of how we go forward as humanity. It is only by living together in harmony that we can find and implement solutions to the environmental challenges of our times. This is a journey from a competitive, individualistic, materialistic, and youth-centered dominant culture to a rediscovery and embodiment of the ideals of love, cooperation, sharing and mutual respect. It’s finding the right balance between total communal living and the nuclear family. To this end, each family and household at Steward Wood has its separate dwelling and family life while we share communal facilities and come together often to discuss, to work, to eat together, and to play. We share skills while valuing our unique talents and gifts – we are both empowered individuals and dependent on each other – in short, the community is greater than the sum of its parts.

Another important aspect of intentional community is having a communality of purpose and ethics and a commitment to working with others towards that purpose (which can adapt and change over time as we’ve seen), while accepting and celebrating diversity. Again, we feel we have found the right balance for us and it’s for this reason, along with the love we feel for each other, that we are thriving.

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Organisation & Governance

The land is owned by a Workers Co-operative of which all residents are members. We are a non-hierarchical group and, having used consensus decision-making for many years, in recent times we have moved over to the Sociocracy model of organisation and decision-making which is working well for us. Sociocracy is a consent-based approach aiming at inclusive decision making, efficient governance and the ongoing evaluation of our project. Objections and ‘arguments’ (reasonable, logical reasons given to support or object to a proposal) are welcomed as gifts that test the integrity of ideas and enrich the creative process. The principle of consent allows for ‘good enough’ measures to keep the creative process moving, along with the peace of mind that comes when everyone has the power to influence change when it becomes necessary and beneficial to do so.

When there is capacity for new members and a possible suitable person, then they will undergo a trial period of at least 3 months with frequent feedback sessions to monitor how they are progressing. We have been a stable group for many years now, with very little coming and going of members.

From time to time, those who wish to do so form a Listening Circle to share their feelings, listen to others, and work through any challenges or difficulties that have arisen in the group.

Subsistence Living

Although we generate financial income from our activities on and off site, the most important factor in our sustainable livelihoods is the subsistence element. In other words, Rather than maximising income and profits from our business activities, we provide most of our material needs from the land and by ourselves, thus reducing the need to earn large sums of money. Subsistence is a significant and bonding element of our community and ethos – and it allays very significant costs (financial and environmental) that would otherwise be incurred if we lived elsewhere.

The subsistence goods and services we provide for ourselves include: Water; Fuel wood; Wood as building material; Food; Electricity generated through renewable sources; Sanitation and composting (organic waste recycling); Shelter; Homemade furniture, clothing, toys, etc; Social goods such as shared childcare, shared transport; Holistic health care including herbal medicine; Maintenance of the low impact structures and infrastructure by ourselves or volunteers (rather than employing plumber, electrician, boiler man, builder, etc); Entertainment & Music.

The majority of our time is spent working on site to meet these needs. Day-to-day tasks include: child care and education, firewood processing, woodland management, human and organic waste disposal, structure maintenance, wildlife monitoring, garden maintenance, food production, community dynamics, peer counseling, recycling schemes, laundry, and herbal medicine making. These activities are an integral part of our day-to-day life and are a vital part of what we have to offer in demonstrating a sustainable way of life.

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Commercial Activities On-Site & Part-Time Work Off-Site

We generate our financial income from commercial on-site activities by running courses, and making and selling timber, value added timber products, tools, and herbal preparations. Our courses include Healing Hedgerow, Bushcraft, Bird Language Interpretation and Nature Awareness, Green Woodworking, Wild Foods, Permaculture Design, and Off-grid Renewable Energy.

In addition to the commercial activities carried out on site, we also earn money from activities off site. Often these are the same activities carried out at other locations.

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Woodland Management, Food & Medicine

We are managing the land using the principles of permaculture, forest gardening, and continuous cover forestry. Our management of the woodland is for fuel, timber, and the creation and protection of wildlife habitat. Our success in this area was recently affirmed by an officer of the Devon Wildlife Trust who stated: “Overall we consider that your management is having a very positive impact on your local biodiversity.”

Providing food and medicine for ourselves and volunteers is a vital and intrinsic part of demonstrating low impact living. We do so by: growing and cultivating; gathering and preserving wild foods, herbs and medicines; animal husbandry (chickens, goats, sheep); swapping excess produce and seeds with other local growers; hunting squirrels, rabbits and deer, thus controlling local pests and providing ourselves meat with no food miles.

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Community Outreach and Voluntary Work, Volunteers and Visitors

Residents have a significant positive effect on the local community through the many activities and groups we are involved within Moretonhampstead and environs, such as the Moretonhampstead Development Trust, the primary school, community projects and events.

We are also a WWOOF host (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) and accommodate volunteers through the year from all over the world. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship – we get lots of jobs done with the fresh energy of volunteers, and they learn new skills and experience community life and the beautiful woodland. We also have many visitors throughout the year on our Open Days, on educational trips and at other events.

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Education of Children

Three of the children go to local schools, while five children/teenagers choose to be home educated, with one teenager going to college. The education that they receive by living here and being a part of the community is a vital part of their lives. Given the prospects of climate change and other environmental challenges, we believe that living here with the children fully integrated, is the best way to teach them important skills in sustainable living, being in harmony with nature, care-taking the land and its creatures.

We encourage the children to have active involvement in every aspect of communal living as part of their education. This includes generating their own power, keeping themselves clean and warm, growing and cooking food, sustainably harvesting wild food and medicine, providing shelter, woodland management, dealing with waste, and relearning lost skills of communication and resolving conflict in a peaceful way. 70.resized

The children are also able to pass on their skills and knowledge to other children and adults through play etc as well as being a part of running workshops and courses, giving tours, talks and demonstrations. Visitors are frequently amazed when the children demonstrate their skills in firewood chopping, fire making, cooking, music, and by their contribution to social interaction. The children frequently bring their friends back to the woods to play and for sleepovers, increasing the connections with the wider community and giving those other children the opportunity to experience low impact living and community life.

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The Future

We are currently seeking permanent planning permission. As part of this, we are shifting the Settlement Area within the woodland a little downhill so most of our homes are below the waterline and to reduce the trekking uphill needed to get to them. We are also moving away from canvas-based structures to using shingles, turf roof, and timber cladding, while improving insulation (e.g. by using straw) and making more use of thermal mass (in particular, cob) to maintain heat. Furthermore, we are applying for a turf-roofed Roundhouse Interpretation Centre, a Polytunnel and a disabled-accessible Compost Toilet.

We look forward to a future of continuing and deepening our connection with the land and its wildlife, with each other and the wider community.

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Remember, you can watch our new film and read all about our project and the current situation over here at the crowdfunder page.

Thank you for your continuing interest and support – we cannot do it without you!

Coming Home

Today, Lorna describes how it feels to have found the woods, arriving as a volunteer before becoming a community member


Although I grew up in England I spent much of my early life in a small village high up in the Himalayas with a family of Gadd people in Northern India. It was as far removed from an urban upbringing in England as could be and the first place I truly felt at home.
I developed many skills during my time there. I learned how to grow crops, gather wild food, make fire, tend animals and how to live and work with the surrounding forest. I learned to tell the time by the shadow of the sun and shared the snow-peaked hillsides with leopards, bears and eagles. It was a truly magical place to live.

After spending many years in the mountains I eventually had to leave and move back to England. Although I liked being back I missed my life in the village and wished I could have a similar way of life in my native land. Even though the homesickness lessened as time went on, missing village life stayed with me as and I often thought of all the things I had learned there.

Then I visited Steward Wood. I made my way up the wooded hillside and saw the self built houses with their terraced gardens, smelt wood smoke in the air and saw children running down the hill and it all seemed so familiar. During my stay I helped deliver lambs, worked in the woods, planted crops and tracked wild animals. I sat around the fire at night and got to know all the people who lived there.

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Now I live at Steward Wood and I get to make fire, gather food, grow crops and look after animals as part of my daily life. I am surrounded by an amazing community of people and all the wild things of the woods. Sometimes if the sun is shining through the trees at a certain angle or a particular type of wood smoke is in the breeze I close my eyes and for just for a moment I am back in the village again – calling the goats into herd or sweeping the dust from the cow shed – then as I open them I am back in the woods and it feels good to be home.

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Remember, you can watch our new film and read all about our project and the current situation over here at the crowdfunder page.

Thank you for your continuing interest and support – we cannot do it without you!

Praise the lawyers!

Today’s post is from Daniel – some people might wonder why we need lawyers, or what they do. In this post, Daniel explains why he believes they’re essential to our success!


Our lawyers are lovely people doing a difficult job that we couldn’t possibly do anything like as well. I don’t begrudge the fees that we are paying them at all and they are generously giving us quite a discount on what they would normally charge. So Praise the Lawyers!

I always feel so grateful that they can put our case into the legal language and structure that is necessary for this process. David Stephens, the senior lawyer, will be our advocate at the Public Inquiry (which is similar to a trial with each side calling witnesses and a Planning Inspector presiding). David did this for us at both our previous public inquiries when we were successful in gaining five year temporary planning permissions each time. In addition, he has acted for two other low impact living projects at inquiries, Tinkers Bubble in Somerset and LandMatters in Devon (both run by friends of ours). So he is the best lawyer in the country (in my view) to be our advocate in our quest for permanent planning permission.

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There is only one other low impact project in the country that has been granted permanent permission (as opposed to temporary permission), namely Kings Hill in Somerset. It was a surprise as they were applying for temporary permission at the time but the Planning Inspector felt they had proved the value of the project and decided to give them permanent permission.

David Stephens is ably assisted by Laila Jhaveri, who is in fact doing most of the work on the case running up to the Inquiry and will attend the Inquiry with David. Laila visited us at Steward Wood in December and has a genuine interest in what we’re doing and concern to achieve a successful outcome.

I feel we are blessed to have these marvellous people working for us so once again I say:

Praise the Lawyers!


Remember, you can watch our new film and read all about our project and the current situation over here at the crowdfunder page.

Thank you for your continuing interest and support – we cannot do it without you!

The Save Steward Wood film!

Today sees the launch of the crowdfunder part of our campaign to save our community. It’s a big day, and the end of one huge piece of work and the beginning of the next.

Over the next 40 days, we’ll be aiming to put up a blog-post just about every day giving you a range of insights into how we live, and why we do it this way, and what we’re interested in. Our hope is that by letting you see what our community is like, you’ll be inspired not only to support our fundraising effort by helping financially and spreading the word, but also that you’ll see that we’re people just like you, doing work, raising families, struggling with many of the same issues and the same dilemmas about how to live sanely and well in the 21st century. If you’d like to know more about what we do by coming to visit, please get in touch – we have regular open days for volunteers, as well as running a whole range of courses aimed at sharing the skills we have between us.

You can live the way you believe life should be lived – it isn’t easy, and you may come face to face with the madness of these times, but it’ll fire your soul and keep your heart alive. We recommend it, wherever that means you have to begin!