Hippie ‘hunter-gatherers’ face eviction from woodland commune where they’ve lived for 16 years because they didn’t get planning permission for the timber structures
- The Steward Woodland Community was established near Moretonhampstead, Devon, in 2000, by a group of foragers
- The 21 self-sufficient residents – which includes children – use solar-powered electricity and alternative medicines
- Group was given temporary permission for timber homes but Dartmoor National Park refused permanent request
- Residents are now trying to raise £38,000 to fight the authority’s decision and are ‘focusing on a positive outcome’
By STEPH COCKROFT FOR MAILONLINE PUBLISHED: 14:06, 2 March 2016 | UPDATED: 16:54, 2 March 2016
A group of hunter-gatherers who have been living in a commune in the woods for 16 years are facing eviction after being refused planning permission for their makeshift homes.
The Steward Woodland Community, which has 21 residents, including nine children, live in homes in rural Dartmoor, Devon, which they built themselves using timber and recycled materials.
Their alternative self-sufficient lifestyle includes foraging for food, using solar powered electricity and alternative medicines.
The Steward Woodland Community, which is made up of 21 people, including nine children and teenagers, live in homes they built themselves in rural Dartmoor, Devon. Resident Mel Davis is pictured with her 13-year-old son Ash
But despite living there since 2000, the Dartmoor National Park Authority has refused permanent planning permission for their homes and ordered them group to leave.
The commune houses are built using recycled materials and timber from the 32-acre former conifer plantation
‘It’s hard for people to understand unless you have lived closely together with community and family like we do.
‘But we are an intrinsic support system – there are loads of little things that we all do that support each other and I just can’t even imagine what it would be be like not to have that.’
She added: ‘I wouldn’t feel alive if I wasn’t living here with these people.’
The community purchased Steward Wood, near Moretonhampstead, Devon, at the turn of the millennium. The Woodlanders try to live sustainable lives by using renewable energy – including solar panels – and growing their own fruit and veg.
Most of the children are also home-educated but are friends with people from the surrounding villages. They use running water.
They have twice secured temporary five-year planning permission. But their request to stay permanently has been rejected.
A crowdfunding campaign has now been launched to raise the £38,000 needed to launch a legal challenge against the planning decision. They have already managed to raise £22,808 and have received 406 letters of support.
Dr Tom Greeves, chairman of the Dartmoor Society, a group that aims to promote the wellbeing of the area, is among those backing their cause.
He said: ‘We admire the tenacity and dedication over 15 years of this small group of men, women and children who have opted for a very different lifestyle to that enjoyed by most of us.
‘Particularly striking is their commitment to genuine sustainability in use of resources whenever possible, and their involvement with the local community.’
But, ahead of the application decision, there were 19 letters of objection sent to the authority, with one of their neighbours, Karen Thwaite, saying their lifestyle is not ‘valuable’.
In a letter, she wrote: ‘In my opinion, they have a simple desire to live in a woodland. This does not benefit the animals that inhabit the woodland, the national park or the cause of sustainable living.’
The community purchased Steward Wood, near Moretonhampstead, Devon, at the turn of the millennium
But, despite the opposition, the group remain hopeful. Melanie Davis, 36, a teaching assistant at the local school who has lived in the community for 10 years added: ‘It’s [leaving the woodland] is not something I have put my energy into thinking about.
‘We are focusing so much on a positive outcome. We are really hopeful.’
The development management committee of the Dartmoor National Park Authority said the application had been refused because of the ‘harmful effect’ that the camp has on the ‘character and appearance of the National Park’.
They added: ‘Another area of concern was the lack of consideration for European Protected Species, three of which are present either on the site or within the area, namely Otters, Hazel Dormice and woodland Bats, particularly the Greater Horseshoe Bat.
‘I can see no real justification for any residential property on site, regardless of whatever form of land management one might favour or woodland enterprise.’
The statement added that the Steward Woodland community was ‘experimental’ and any development in the countryside needs to be essential and ‘sustainable over the longer term’.
A planning inspector is due to hear the case next month.