VIDEO: The Ecological Land Cooperative (ELC) is on the hunt for passionate landworkers and ecological entrepreneurs to become farmers on their new site in Somerset.

The Cooperative was established to address the lack of affordable sites for ecological land-based livelihoods in England and Wales.

It works to revitalise rural economies by creating affordable and residential small farms for those who would ordinarily be unable to afford a house in the countryside yet who wish to earn a living through farming.

They have opened their application process to find future farmers for their three new sites, one of which is in Sparkford, Somerset.

South West Farmer:

The new site at Sparkford, Somerset is up for grabs. Image: ELC

This site is a 20.04 acre field just on the edge of the village of Sparkford which lies close to the A303, ten miles from Yeovil. Nearby villages are Western Bampfylde and Queen Camel. It is situated next to Sparkford Copse, a public woodland run by a local land trust. The site consists of one grassland field, bordered to the south, east and north by hedgerows. In the south-west it is separated from a small area of planted woodland by a fence, and a railway line runs along the west side. The field is generally flat, but slopes gently uphill to a high point in the southwest corner. The grassland is an agriculturally improved sward dominated by a range of grasses, mainly rye. It was formerly divided into two parts by a boundary running across from east to west. The ELC have planted trees along part of the former boundary.

Most of the field has a ‘lime-rich loamy and clayey soil with impeded drainage’, Soilscape 9. This soil type is “suited to autumn sown crops and grass but a shortage of soil moisture can restrict yield, and timeliness with field work is important to avoid structural damage particularly in spring.” The soil would benefit from better drainage and careful management.

About the ELC

By focusing on access to land the ELC engages future farmers with real prospects of leading landbased livelihoods and producing good, local, healthy food in a fast changing political and rural landscape.

One of their first tenants, and an experienced grower, James Dexter, said: “I always wanted a piece of land of my own.

"I’d been looking at buying some land and setting up a smallholding but I was aware that it was really complicated and our planning system wasn’t friendly to sustainable farmers.

"I’d been looking and got discouraged because it was so difficult and expensive. Then I heard about the ELC – so I applied.”

South West Farmer:

The Somerset site is being developed over the next year. Image: ELC

Oliver Bettany, Membership & Engagement Manager for the ELC said: “We’re really excited about our open application process. We know there are many talented people who would jump at the chance to have a land-based livelihood but are intimidated by planning laws or can’t afford to purchase land outright.

"As the ELC we are the interface between the authorities and our tenants. We work to support our farmers so they can hit the ground running and get on with what they’re passionate about: farming and food.”

With the current realities of an ageing farming population, high land costs and larger farms relying on EU subsidies and struggling to make a profit, the ELC focuses on removing such barriers and making land – and ecological farming – accessible to new entrants.

The Somerset site is being developed over the next year. The open application process is now live here.