The Brockwood Land Course

The Brockwood Land Course was initiated last year by our trustees, in order to encourage young people to reconnect with nature, become aware of the impact we are having on the natural environment locally and globally, acquire competence to work practically and intelligently with the land and envisage a more sustainable lifestyle.

Intended primarily for Brockwood Mature Students, the course has been opened to anyone in the School. This first year was attended by three mature students, four students and one staff member. The practical work consisted in helping with ongoing work in the School vegetable garden and grounds, and in some specific projects: a dry composting toilet; new energy and ideas went into improving our composting operations; the Rose Garden was converted into a low maintenance eco-friendly wildflower garden; the Inwoods School pond received needed attention; a few experimental vegetable plots were set up; and some people honed bush craft skills. The group met to read about ecology, farming, environmental and other issues. They watched documentaries, discussed issues and coordinated action on the grounds.

In the last part of the School year three trips were organized. First, there was a visit to Laverstoke Farm, a local large-scale organic farm and educational charity, equipped with one of the two laboratories in Europe carrying out soil biology analysis for agricultural purposes, and with an ethical abattoir. The guided tour included information about the difficulties of getting public support by those who try to produce food in a healthy, ethical and sustainable manner.

The second trip, five-days-long, was to Yewfield in the Lake District, to learn in the field about plant identification, ecological meadow management and forest conservation. The group engaged in scything bracken in the wild meadow, and with building a wooden bridge to ease log-extraction by horses from the adjacent forest.

Finally, in the Summer holiday, the group embarked on a three-week trip to France to meet and learn with people engaged in work with the land. The first visits were to the farms of two former Brockwood students, one striving to set up an ecological farm along permaculture and agroforestry lines, the other to build a community around sustainable organic food production, both operating within local Community Supported Agriculture schemes. Life was shared on the ground, planting, weeding, mulching, pruning, harvesting, and learning about the joys and pains of trying to shift to saner food production practice in modern society.

The last two weeks were based in the Pyrenees. The group helped local mountain farmers, who work traditionally and small scale, with hay-making, and learned about sheep-herding, cheese-making and common land use. They attended a folk dance and music party and an unusual lecture on the foundations of economics and the role of banks. There was an inspiring visit to the Emmaus community of Lescar-Pau whose original mission was to provide wanderers with an opportunity to re-integrate into the local society through the work of recycling waste products. They are now building themselves into a model for a democratic, healthy and sustainable society, which includes bringing new land under sound farming practice to make the community self-sufficient food-wise.

Another interesting visit was to the botanic garden at Chateau de Gaujacq, run by a school parent, where the group learnt about recent intriguing discoveries about plant life, about the scope and ways of plant diversity conservation, and about cutting-edge projects for desert reclamation. That evening ended with a live plant-music concert, where electrical signals from plant organs were converted into audible sounds, and the question of plant sensorial capacities and intelligence became alive.

Two day hikes and a few shorter walks allowed for an intense immersion into beautiful mountain landscapes. The local hosts provided guidance and stories about the characteristics and history of the lands and people.

Highlights of the trips were the immersions in local waters: the daily swims in the cold Tarn Hows in the Lake District; the warm waters of the river Dordogne with its sandy shores; the freezing streams and little lakes in the high Pyrenees; and the delightful small pool at Chateau de Gaujacq.

Most nourishing, motivating and important though, have been the affectionate relationships established along the way, calling for further contact and cooperation.