Ecological agriculture is defined as “an ecologically self-sustaining low input, economically viable , small farming system managed to maximize net production without causing large or long-term changes to the environment, or being ethically or aesthetically unacceptable”. (see Ecological Agriculture Food First Farming, Souvenir Press, London 1993, and list of publications).
Research & Education. The research is largely financed by visitors who come to experience how to live “lightly in the world”, and learn about the glories of the natural world. We run courses (see calender), take students, have “gites”, bed and breakfast, camping, and a shop selling produces from the farm.
The choice of this area rests primarily with environmental problems common to many parts of Europe. With the disappearance of the traditional transhumance for summer grazing by cattle and sheep, there has been a serious decline in fauna and floral diversity and the resident human population, while the growth in secondary homes for holidays undermines the reduced resident communities. Can the decline in the fulltime human population and the natural species diversity be reversed by changes in agricultural practices, and can economic and efficient production of food be integrated with wildlife conservation, and the retention of traditional rural crafts and values?
La Combe Valley
The 172hectar mainly limestone mountain farm has a great variety of eco systems including coniferous and deciduous woodlands, wet areas, dry grassland, cliffs and rocks, springs and rivers. It is dramatic and superbly beautiful at all times of the year with snowy crisp winters, damp warm springs, hot dry summers and gloriously colourful autumns. There is an untapped richness of species of flowering plants, (so far we have found 18 different species of orchids), mosses, liverworts, gymnosperms, insects, wild mammals and birds, topography and geology. It offers a unique introduction (as well as excitement in continued study), to both the wild and domestic natural world, both its flora and fauna, and a wealth of experiences leading to it’s greater appreciation. It demonstrates how humans as well as wild and domestic living things can sustainably live together, have a life of quality and prosper.
We are redeveloping around 10h of cultivated land, a 0.5h vegetable garden, introducing grazing of horses, cattle and sheep on the upland pastures in the summer to join the roe deer, chamois and wild boar that are already there. We will be producing all our own food, and that for our animals organically by the end of 2008.
Some of the existing fauna and flora will be managed in a self-sustaining way to provide products required (e.g. wild thyme, mountain lavender, building and burning timber, fencing materials). The woodland will also provide employment for a basket maker (from the willow) and a woodlander (coppicing, rough furniture or cabinet making). The production of organic wool and fiber, its spinning and weaving into garments has been developed at Little Ash Ecological Farm, Devon and will continue, providing employment for spinners, weavers and designers. There is good clay for pottery.
There will be marked nature trails and paths for walking, horse or donkey vehicle driving and riding, and bicycling throughout the farm.
We are modernizing the old farm cottage (not lived in since 1950’s) but retaining many traditional characters (e.g the old bread oven), adapting the existing buildings for our animals and creating 3 cottages, bunk accommodation, a farm shop and an educational display centre in one of the barns for visitors. We have made a small swimming pond and a small dam on the river Roland (which rises on the farm) to generate electricity. A small wind mill has been installed in 2008 and solar water heating will be by the end of 2009. Much of the work on the land is done by our Druimghigha stud horses, light versatile arab horses.
Our current research projects include:
1) Detailed records on species diversity, economics, & management practices.
2) Herbaria of all plants found on the property, bird and insect lists.
3) Improved animal welfare projects for cattle, equines and semi domestic elephants in Africa.
4) Animal educational psychology : improving teaching of animals ( equines, cattle, dogs. elephants , rhino and buffalo in Zimbabwe),
5) Ecology and Environmental philosophy
6) Animal Minds, Cognition and Consciousness.
7) Natural Balance shoeing of horses.
The results of the research are written up as occasional papers of the Eco Research Centre ISSN 1367-2045 or published in scientific or philosophical journals and books (see list of publications), often in conjunction with colleagues and students from Universities of Exeter, Cambridge, Edinburgh, Plymouth and Harare (Zimbabwe). We hope to develop joint projects with some interested French Universities. We supervise undergraduate and graduate student projects and theses worldwide, and welcome student field courses, and meetings/conferences/retreats for other environmentally interested groups.
The staff (personnel) run workshops and short courses on a variety of topics throughout the year (calendar). These are taught by internationally known and respected experts. There are facilities to learn to ride, drive & work horses, 1day- 6 day rides, mountain climbing, walking, swimming & an information Centre. Accommodation ranges from self-contained cottages or caravans, en suite rooms, to bunks and camping on the farm, (see list of prices).
The Centre runs a consultancy to help others set up and run ecological farms, and prevent or cure animal behavioural problems (pets, horses, farm, zoo, circus and wild animals). Dr. Kiley-Worthington is a well known authority on Ecological Agriculture and Animal Welfare Science (see personel).
In conjunction with other organizations, we have a particular interest in bringing different attitudes and ideas to help confront world problems for women, concerning food production and world peace.
The centre is setting up a similar project in Africa in memory of Dr Barton Worthington CBE, one of the founders of the International Union for Nature Conservation, and Stella Johnson women farmer and musician in Kenya & UK. The Centre has been researching, in theory and practice, how to integrate the conservation of such large mammals as elephants, rhino and buffalo with food production by developing the idea of Wildlife Ambassadors to help small farmers.
We sponsor an artist in residence every year for a 4-6 month stay during which they work on their art (painting, sculpture, poetry, prose, etc) with a theme suggested by the farm (email for further details).
The centre accepts up to 4 students annually for the 9 month internationally recognised certificated course in the theory and practice of Ecological Agriculture and a diploma course in Equine studies, behaviour husbandry and welfare, and students for shorter courses in equine studies and behaviour, and ecological agriculture (email for details).
At present we are looking for volunteers / enthusiastic workers interested in being involved in a long term capacity resident on the farm. Further details please contact by email , phone or post.