Background

 

The Farm & Prarie des Anes La Combe Valley & buildings

Le Centre de Recherche et d'Education Eco-Ethologique (Eco Etho Research & Education Centre) at La Combe, Drome is the 5th Eco Farm and Research Centre developed by the team. Others include: Milton Court Eco Farm, Sussex, Druimghigha Eco Farm, Mull, Scotland, Little Ash Eco Farm, Devon & Coveney Eco Small holding, Cambridgeshire. The centre moved to France in December 2003.

Ecological agriculture is defined as:

“An ecologically self-sustaining low input, economically viable farm, managed to maximize net production of food and energy, without causing large or long-term changes to the environment, or being ethically or aesthetically unacceptable and where the whole farm becomes a nature reserve”
Ecological Agriculture Food First Farming Souvenir Press, London 1993 Kiley-Worthington (see Publications)

The major research project which was run from 2003 to 2013 was to assess if this type of agriculture: Ecological Agriculture can help with feeding people efficiently, help with the conservation of species diversity, improve animal welfare  and  the social problems in the dry European mountains. With the decline of transhumance for summer grazing by cattle, sheep & goats, 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 functioning of the remaining residents.. Can these problems be addressed by changes in agricultural practices, and can La Drome become more self-sufficient in human food, and can it be ethically, economically and efficiently producted while integrating with the indignous  be integrated  wildlife, using renewable energy and  while retaining  employment in traditional rural crafts and values? Today  ( 2017) these are the questions being addressed by the Department of Agriculture in La Dome and this experimental farm is one where the techniques for agriculture of the future are being developed and tested in practise.

Garden and Le Gourdon  The whole farm valley view from the Prairie des Ans ( Foret de Saou)

The 172h (450acres) mainly limestone  dry mountain farm has a great variety of eco systems including coniferous and deciduous woodlands, wet areas, dry grassland, cliffs and rocks, springs, rivers and ponds. It is a superbly beautiful and dramatic landscape 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, (e.g. 22 species of wild orchids), mosses, liverworts, gymnosperms, insects, wild mammals and birds and a very varied topography and geology. It offers a unique introduction (as well as the excitement of continuing study), to the integration of wild with the domestic natural world, their flora and fauna, and important experiences  for all visitors which can lead towards its intrinsic appreciation: for itsself.  It demonstrates how humans as well as wild and domestic living things can live together sustainabley, have a life of quality, and prosper.

The Farm House The farm buildings 2003.                                                                                         The farm buildings 2017

The farm had not been occupied since 1950, and many areas  were colonized by broom juniper and wild roses. A great deal of work has been done to  cultivate 15h of land and a 0.5h terraced vegetable garden. We have reintroducing grazing cattle horses and sheep as grazing tools on the upland pastures in the summer to ensure no further encrouchment of invasive species and provide meat and income. These domestic species join the roe deer, chamois and wild boar and many other species ( estimated at       ) that live here. We produced all our own food, (meat, dairy products, vegetables, fruit) and the fodder for our animals by the end of 2013. Wheat (for bread), sunflowers (for oil) & sugar beet (for sugar) have  also been successfully grown. But it is a  difficult challenging environment, nevertheless, we estimated that the production in 2013 could feed 20 families from the farms own resources sustainably, where not one was fed before.

Some of the existing fauna and flora is managed to provide products required (e.g. wild thyme, mountain lavender, building and burning timber, fencing materials). The woodland  could also provide employment for a basket maker (from the willow) and a woodlander (coppicing, rough furniture or cabinet making). The production of organic wool from the improved merino x suffolk sheep is of high quality.The designing of garment, spinning and  weaving and making  has previously been shown to be a viable farm industry (Little Ash Ecological Farm, Devon) which could provide  employment. There is also clay  that has been tested as suitable for pottery on the farm. A artisanal pottery could  be developed.

We are making nature trails and paths for walking, bycycles, and horse riding and driving through the farm which is an ASPAS (Association pour le Protection de Nature) declared nature reserve where there is no hunting of any type by law (Artiucle L.422-1 & L 422-10 en zone ACCA).

Salamander A salamander making friends with a hand                                          A chamois who has descended from the cliffs to enjoy the farm

We have modernizing the ruined Farm Cottages, Dormitory Accomodation, Farm Shop, Enducational & Observation Centre & have a Natural Camping ground,  but retained the traditional characters (e.g. the old bread oven, stone & timber constructions with insulation from wool, and recycled windows & furniture). We have made several  natural swimming ponds and a small lake for indigenous fish, frogs, and water fowl, and eventually European beavers. We have designed ( but not yet built and hydro-electric generator system but are now self sufficient in energy production from a 6 kw windmill, and solaar panels.  Much of the work on the land is done by our Druimghigha stud horses, students and WWOOF volunteers.

Research & Education

The major research project is largely financed by visitors who come to experience how to live  and learn about the glories of the natural world while "living lightly" within it.  We run long and short courses (see Education). We also have “gites”, chambres d’hote with half board, camping, and a shop selling produces from the farm (see Visit Us).

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

Clearing invasive bush The stallion harrowing a field while a student learns how to work with him.

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), Universite de Rennes, Universite de Lyon. 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 (see Personnel) run workshops and short courses on a variety of topics throughout the year (see Events Diary & Education). These are taught by internationally known and respected experts. There are facilities to learn to ride, drive & work horses, 1 - 6 day rides (www.horseridingfrance.com) mountain climbing, walking, swimming.

The Centre runs consultancies 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 Personnel).

In conjunction with other organizations, we work to encouraage  self sustaining peasants particularly  women  in Africa who are confronting growing problems for food production, world peace, and security.

Invited ecologists study the farm A group of professional ecologists studying and listing the species present on the farm.

The Centre researches, in theory and practice, the integration of conservation of large mammals (elephants, rhino and buffalo) with food production by developing the idea of Wildlife Ambassadors to help small farmers particularly in Africa (see Publications)

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, philosophy etc) with a theme suggested by the natural world and the farm. Email marthekileyworthington@gmail.com for details & supply portfolio.

We are one of the original hosts for W.W.O.O.F. (Willing Workers On Organic Farms) and have many volunteer members. Further details please contact by email, phone (00 33 (0)475 53 20 27 or post (La Combe, Bezaudub sur Bine 26460 Drome, France).