Michael Lit­tle­wood and his book The Eco Small­hold­ing

Michael Lit­tle­wood is the author of a new book, The Eco Small­hold­ing. Here he ex­plains why care­ful plan­ning and good de­sign are key to mak­ing your small­hold­ing dreams come true.

Country Smallholding - - Contents -

Small­hold­ers are prac­ti­cal peo­ple, and many look askance at the idea that they might need any­thing as bu­reau­cratic as a man­age­ment plan, or as fan­ci­ful as a site de­sign. There are an­i­mals to be fed, crops to be tended, and the shed roof to re­pair; who has the time for plan­ning or de­sign?

But there are two prob­lems, both of which ev­ery small­holder will recog­nise to some de­gree. One is that for most of us small­hold­ing is a long-cher­ished dream. Many of us have spent years nur­tur­ing ideas about the an­i­mals we would like to keep, the crops we want to grow, or the con­ser­va­tion goals we would like to achieve. When we fi­nally make the lon­gan­tic­i­pated move to a coun­try prop­erty, we in­evitably dis­cover that not all of our dreams are re­al­is­tic – or at least not there, or not yet. It is, there­fore, nec­es­sary to re­shape our dreams to fit the re­al­ity on the ground.

The other prob­lem, given the scarcity of good small­hold­ing prop­er­ties, is that you are un­likely to find a prop­erty in move-into con­di­tion, and still less one with all of the fa­cil­i­ties and ameni­ties that you re­quire. It is much more likely that you will find a prop­erty ‘with po­ten­tial’, where much of the work of cre­at­ing the hold­ing you want has still to be done – or re­done. If you in­herit a work­ing small­hold­ing, you will also be in­her­it­ing your pre­de­ces­sor’s de­ci­sions – and their mis­takes.

The com­bi­na­tion of th­ese two is­sues means that it is all too easy to im­pose un­re­al­is­tic dreams on an un­sat­is­fac­tory site – and then make the best of the re­sults. Plenty of peo­ple do this, and are still mak­ing the best of it 20 years down the line.

When you move into a new small­hold­ing, you will prob­a­bly want to get started straight away. If you have brought live­stock with you, there is lit­tle choice on that score. But at some point – and prefer­ably sooner rather than later – you need to stop, take stock, de­cide what changes you want to make, and work out how you can im­ple­ment them.

An er­gonomic whole

Al­low­ing a small­hold­ing to evolve piece­meal can work, but it rarely works well. Small­hold­ings that have de­vel­oped ‘on the hoof’ in­evitably em­body a de­gree of in­ef­fi­ciency: com­post bins that are in­con­ve­niently far from the ar­eas where most of the waste is gen­er­ated; a vegetable plot that needs con­stant en­rich­ment be­cause it is too close to a hedge; fruit trees that never crop very well be­cause they are planted on an ex­posed bound­ary. Plan­ning your site as an er­gonomic whole will al­low you to make the right de­ci­sions about where you site the var­i­ous el­e­ments in your de­sign.

De­vel­op­ing a small­hold­ing takes time, ef­fort, en­ergy, money, and year upon year of hard work. With so much emo­tional, prac­ti­cal and fi­nan­cial in­vest­ment, you need to make sure that your de­ci­sions are the right ones. Suc­cess with small­hold­ing de­pends on many things – de­ter­mi­na­tion, dis­ci­pline, will­ing­ness to work hard, skill, ex­pe­ri­ence and, at times, luck – but it also re­quires clear goals and sen­si­ble pri­or­i­ties. In or­der to trans­late those into day-to-day man­age­ment and year-on-year progress,

Suc­cess with small­hold­ing de­pends on many things – de­ter­mi­na­tion, dis­ci­pline, will­ing­ness to work hard, skill, ex­pe­ri­ence and, at times, luck – but it also re­quires clear goals and sen­si­ble pri­or­i­ties

you need to have a plan.

Most 21st-cen­tury small­hold­ers want to man­age their land holis­ti­cally and or­gan­i­cally. Our coun­try­side is in cri­sis, and we need to move to­wards an al­ter­na­tive way of farm­ing which works in har­mony with na­ture. But this presents a fur­ther prob­lem: con­ser­va­tion goals are often not com­pat­i­ble with plans to main­tain a work­ing – and eco­nom­i­cally vi­able – hold­ing. The key to har­mon­is­ing th­ese ap­par­ently com­pet­ing de­mands is care­ful plan­ning and de­sign. This will al­low you to in­cor­po­rate the im­por­tant prin­ci­ples of eco-farm­ing – sus­tain­abil­ity, eco­log­i­cal and per­ma­cul­tural de­sign, or­ganic meth­ods, diver­si­fi­ca­tion, and eco-friendly choices like re­new­able en­ergy and wa­ter con­ser­va­tion – into your small­hold­ing, while at the same time cre­at­ing a vi­able en­ter­prise.

Once you have a man­age­ment plan for your prop­erty, you will have a clear vi­sion of how to pro­ceed, and a pro­gramme of work which will let you move to­wards de­fined and achiev­able goals. You will be con­fi­dent that your con­struc­tion projects are based on sound de­ci­sions, thus avoid­ing the risk of costly mis­takes. You will be clear that you are us­ing your land in the best pos­si­ble way, and you will be con­fi­dent that you will be able to re­alise your dreams in har­mony with na­ture.

Plan­ning con­sid­er­a­tions

The process of mak­ing a for­mal plan can seem ar­cane and com­pli­cated, but in essence it is very sim­ple. It in­volves work­ing out where you are now, where you want to get to, and how you are go­ing to get there. Its stages lead you log­i­cally through as­sess­ing your as­pi­ra­tions and your ex­ist­ing site, eval­u­at­ing your find­ings, trans­lat­ing those into re­al­is­tic ob­jec­tives and the best site de­sign, and putting your plans into prac­tice.

The first de­ci­sion is whether to pro­duce a man­age­ment plan your­self or em­ploy a pro­fes­sional to do it. There are ben­e­fits to both ap­proaches. Do­ing it your­self means that you can de­vote as much time as you

like to the process, and it will not cost you any­thing. You know your site best, and have the best un­der­stand­ing of your re­sources and as­pi­ra­tions. Cre­at­ing a plan your­self will also give you a real sense of own­er­ship of it, and that will help to mo­ti­vate you in see­ing it ful­filled.

How­ever, most peo­ple do not have the time, fa­cil­i­ties or skills to un­der­take all of the plan­ning and de­sign process – a site sur­vey, for in­stance, is a job that should re­ally be done by a pro­fes­sional. The ex­pe­ri­ence, knowl­edge and ob­jec­tiv­ity of a pro­fes­sional can be in­valu­able. They will be able to un­der­take a proper sur­vey and sup­ply you with pro­fes­sion­ally drawn plans of the fi­nal site de­sign, along with a full re­port con­tain­ing maps, plans, and a costed work pro­gramme.

A mid­dle way would be to em­ploy a pro­fes­sional to do some or all of the work, while in­volv­ing your­self fully in the in­for­ma­tion-gather­ing and con­sul­ta­tion parts of the process. The process of cre­at­ing a plan can be al­most as im­por­tant as the plan it­self. It will let you clar­ify your aims and as­pi­ra­tions, and open your eyes to pos­si­bil­i­ties you may not have thought of. If you are set­ting out in small­hold­ing with a part­ner or fam­ily, it pro­vides a ve­hi­cle for shar­ing ideas, re­solv­ing dis­agree­ments, achiev­ing con­sen­sus and se­cur­ing every­one’s com­mit­ment to the suc­cess­ful im­ple­men­ta­tion of your plan.

The plan­ning process

The first stage in the plan­ning process is to as­sess what al­ready ex­ists. There are two sides to this: peo­ple and prop­erty. You need to work out what you want from your land: what are your aims, as­pi­ra­tions and needs? The next ques­tion is what you have to of­fer: what skills, re­sources, time and money can you bring to the project? Then you need to as­sess your prop­erty – or the prop­erty you want. Ide­ally, the plan­ning process should start be­fore you pur­chase a piece of land, so that you are sure that you are buy­ing the best site for your as­pi­ra­tions and needs. Once you have se­cured the right prop­erty, you then need to as­sess ex­actly what you have, by un­der­tak­ing a thor­ough site

eval­u­a­tion, and con­duct­ing – or prefer­ably com­mis­sion­ing – a site sur­vey.

Next, you need to an­a­lyse and eval­u­ate your find­ings, in­ter­pret­ing all of the in­for­ma­tion pro­vided by the site sur­vey. You also need to re­visit your aims and re­quire­ments and de­cide how th­ese can best be met, in the light of what you have dis­cov­ered about the site. Pre­lim­i­nary sketches and es­ti­mates will help you to ex­plore dif­fer­ent so­lu­tions to the var­i­ous is­sues that emerge. Th­ese can form a ba­sis for dis­cus­sions, un­til agree­ment is reached on the best way for­ward and you are able to de­cide on re­al­is­tic ob­jec­tives for your site.

Once you have fi­nalised your ob­jec­tives, you will know what el­e­ments – build­ings, en­clo­sures, plots, trees and so on – are re­quired to make them a re­al­ity. This means that you are now in a po­si­tion to de­sign your land­scape. Us­ing the tools of eco­log­i­cal and per­ma­cul­tural de­sign, you can cre­ate a lay­out for your site which meshes with the nat­u­ral ecol­ogy and con­nects its dif­fer­ent el­e­ments in the most pro­duc­tive and er­gonomic way. Us­ing the map of your ex­ist­ing site as a tem­plate, you can sketch dif­fer­ent de­sign pro­pos­als un­til you have agreed on the best lay­out. A fi­nal de­sign draw­ing can then be pro­duced.

The fi­nal stage of the plan­ning process is to draw up a de­tailed pro­gramme of work cov­er­ing labour, ma­te­ri­als, time and costs, and to make pro­vi­sion for mon­i­tor­ing and re­view. This is es­sen­tial; the real test of a man­age­ment plan is how it works in prac­tice. A plan is a tool, not an end in it­self – but it is all too easy for the process to stall with the suc­cess­ful com­ple­tion of the de­sign. The way to avoid this is to in­clude a fi­nal sec­tion in your plan which sets out how it will be im­ple­mented. It is also nec­es­sary to build a de­gree of flex­i­bil­ity into your plans, and to re­visit and re­vise them as nec­es­sary. When you are work­ing in har­mony with na­ture, a de­sign for a site is a liv­ing thing, and it will con­tinue to evolve for as long as you live there.

Set­ting out to cre­ate a thriv­ing small­hold­ing which is also sus­tain­able, and which is pro­duc­tive but also gives you a con­ge­nial way of life, can be chal­leng­ing – but with care­ful plan­ning and de­sign, it is en­tirely achiev­able. Get the plan­ning right, and hav­ing the small­hold­ing of your dreams is only a mat­ter of time.

Michael Lit­tle­wood is a land­scape de­signer and the author of many gar­den­ing and land­scape publi­ca­tions. To find out more about his publi­ca­tions and plan­ning and de­sign ser­vices, visit www. ecode­sign­scape.co.uk An ex­am­ple of a plan for a small­hold­ing

Think care­fully about what to grow where....

Care­ful plan­ning is the key

...and the pigs?

Where will the chick­ens be housed?

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.