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Steward Community Woodland

Fancy living your dreams in a sustainable vegan utopia in the Devon countryside? We need YOU to help continue the passion, the fun, the commitment, dedication, and the sheer delight of living in the woods in a low impact way. We are a bunch of vegan campaigners who set up Steward Community Woodland two years ago to demonstrate the value of integrating conservation woodland management techniques (such as coppicing and natural regeneration) with organic growing, permaculture, traditional skills, and low impact sustainable living.

The Wood

We are now enjoying our third summer in a 32 acre wood on the edge of Dartmoor. It's a mixed former plantation of larch, scots pine, and ash, with much uninvited sycamore. The site is diverse ranging from shady boulder-strewn stream under a close ash canopy to open emergent broadleaf under the well-thinned larch, and a virtual monoculture of rosebay willow herb in an area that was cleared of trees by gales.

Sustainable Woodland Management

We manage the woodland sustainably using hand tools, without use of fossil fuel machinery, employing traditional techniques such as coppicing and charcoal burning. Our aim is to gradually extract the mature conifers (which will be used for building materials, sawing into timber and for firewood) while encouraging natural regeneration of native trees and planting trees where appropriate. In this way, the woodland will slowly revert to a native, deciduous wood. We hope to have a sawmill by next winter, running on wood gas or bio-diesel (made from vegetable oil). We minimise use of fossil fuels and so, for example, we use one van between us when not cycling or using public transport.


We are growing food organically in a sheltered area clear of trees near the bottom of the land. Alongside the vegetable beds, we have planted fruit trees to establish our first forest garden. As well as working in the wood and gardening, we spend our time maintaining and improving our dwellings and infrastructure, on outreach work (such as green woodworking displays and cycle-powered workshops), and on working for social change.

Low Impact Dwellings

Because we live on a slope, most of our low impact dwellings comprise timber platforms on stilts with bender roofs topped with green tarpaulins and they're insulated inside with plenty of blankets. All have wood burning stoves and are fitted with windows looking out into the valley. Our communal 'Longhouse' houses an office, library, a large stove and lots of sofas. We have a micro-hydro system and solar panels to generate electricity for our computers, lights and phones. Most of the materials for building our structures and systems are from the wood, reused or recycled. In the future, we hope to build straw bale structures, log cabins, turf roofed dwellings, etc.

Community Life

We often have communal evening meals, cooked on a stove or an open fire, which form the mainstay of the community. Social time spent together, sometimes jamming and singing, also creates a strong bond. We celebrate life and the cycles of nature, especially at the time of full moon and the eight Celtic festivals. We also have our first woodland baby which is a joy. We often work as a group which is a useful way of bringing people together and encourages skill sharing. It's also good for getting large, unappealing jobs done!

We have frequent meetings about permaculture site design and more mundane business matters. We decide everything by consensus. To work well, this requires each person to place the interests of the project and community above their personal interests. On the whole, it has worked really well for us. It usually results in a full discussion of the issues, and suitable adaptation of the proposal to ensure everyone is happy, and feels fully heard and included.

We spent two years planning the project, establishing a shared vision, setting up legal structures, raising zero interest loanstock, and learning to work together before moving on site. We were all involved in environmental and social justice campaigning and we coalesced around the vision of creating something positive rather than just campaigning against the systems and attitudes that cause so much suffering and destruction around the world. One of our main principles (avoiding potential difficulties and conflict about animals often apparent in other communities) is that the project is vegan and we therefore do not have any domesticated animals (apart from three dogs).

Conflict Resolution

One of the biggest challenges we face is living together as a loving cooperative community, working through emotional problems and personal conflict. We have a weekly Talking Circle to help us communicate and come together as a community. Each person in the circle has a chance to say what they like without being interrupted while the others are attentively listening. Often, simply creating the space for people to air their feelings and grievances is enough for them to let go of them and move on.

Local and Global Links

Rather than being an isolated community with links only to other 'alternative' people, it is our vision to be as integrated as possible into the local community. We wish the woodland and the project to be a valuable local resource, providing scope for both voluntary and paid work, and an educational resource. We have established a woodland walk and hope to set up a community composting scheme (when the Environment Agency let us!). We intend to have school visits to the gardens and nature trails, and courses will be run on, for example, permaculture design and green woodworking. The wood is also being used as a venue for Forest School courses and activities.

We produce a quarterly newsletter and have a large, lively website with our latest news and events, alongside 'how to' guides, a photo gallery and much more.

Our Planning Future

On the planning side, we applied for permission for 'change of use' after moving onto the site. Despite an initially favourable response from the Dartmoor National Park (with a lively debate focusing on environmental problems, sustainability, Agenda 21, and so on), our application was refused on the grounds that it's contrary to the Local Plan. This was repeated on Appeal after a public inquiry, despite the fact that many people (including some of those opposing the application) had thought we were going to win. We are now intending to appeal to the High Court on the basis of the Human Rights Act.

Visitors and New Members

People are welcome to come for a short or longer stay. Please contact us first to arrange this. We are currently low in numbers and so are especially in need of people who would like to make a long term commitment, to come and live as part of the community. We are trying to take responsibility for as many areas of our lives as possible. Would you like to too? This is your chance to live out your ideals in a beautiful setting, co-creating a sustainable way of living and working for the present and for the future.

Steward Community Woodland, Moretonhampstead, Newton Abbot, Devon, TQ13 8SD.

Telephone: 01647 440233

Email: affinity@stewardwood.org

Website: www.stewardwood.org