Wild Hart’s Nick Sneller discusses how timber glamping structures offer the opportunity to contribute to a zero carbon future, but only if we apply some of our own ‘building regulations’.
We started this year with comments on a 2020 vision, a play on words, yet who would have expected that nearly half the year would have panned out as it has? Obviously Covid-19 is having a massive impact globally, yet interestingly it’s not all bad; as lockdown happened CO2 emissions from travel in the UK dropped by around 25 per cent, more people explored their local environment with their daily permitted exercise, nature seemed to be more abundant, verges were left uncut, wild flowers blossomed and wildlife seemed to emerge from hiding; a 2020 clarity that nature will prevail.
Climate change is happening as a result of human activity and as productivity slowed, nature had time to gain. Generally our industrial processes show little respect for nature, but this needn’t be the case. With a little joined-up thinking we can build and preserve nature at the same time.
As we come out of lockdown we’re all striving to pick up the pieces from where we left off back in March, trying desperately to understand or maybe ignore a new imposed yet uncertain future. Masked up, we try to gain a sense of normality. Moving forward however, we at Wild Hart feel it is so important not to forget all we’ve learnt through lockdown: Our neighbours are lovely, we can work from home, and enjoying our local natural environment makes us happier and healthier – the British countryside has so much to offer.
Peter Tyldesley, CEO for the Centre for Alternative Technology, commented on the Prime Minister’s post-coronavirus recovery plan, saying: “As we plan our recovery from the Covid-19 crisis, we must keep our sights firmly set on preventing the even more damaging, and irreversible, climate and biodiversity crises. All measures must support the UK on the path to net zero, or Project Speed will see us rushing headlong towards climate catastrophe. Measures that would support a zero carbon Britain include: a nationwide programme of fitting our houses with insulation, low carbon heating and renewable energy installation.”
A missed opportunity
Glamping provides a means of staying out in nature with less risk and discomfort. Importantly at this time, sites also offer secure, isolated places to take a break. Our mental health has suffered massively over the past months and time out in nature can help heal.
There is a vast array of glamping structures available and, while options may have become more sophisticated, their basic fundamental role has remained the same; to provide a break away from the norm, a retreat, space to relax and ground ourselves back in nature. However, with timber structures and cabins in particular, there is often a missed opportunity for owners to do something truly sustainable.
A cabin, as opposed to a dwelling, is simple in structure and provides shelter while allowing inhabitants to experience and appreciate the environment around them. Many glamping cabins offer an element of luxury including electric lights, running water, heating and other comforts, yet are not classed as buildings with regards to building control. Often classified as caravans or mobile homes, they do not need to meet any Building Regulation requirements, one of the principles of which is to minimise the amount of energy a new building uses.
For instance, many glamping sites have structures that are heated by fossil fuels but do not have adequate insulation according to building control. This doesn’t need to be the case. Together we should consider what impact we’re having on the environment, taking the bigger picture into account and reducing our footprint. If we have to use fossil fuels then we could insulate to reduce the consumption.
These following simple ideas that we use at Wild Hart can help reduce carbon footprints as well as support the sustainable management of our countryside. Some can even be retro-fitted to existing structures.
Local sustainable timbers
By using local timbers we can add value to our woodlands. The Woodland Trust suggests that agroforestry is a good way forward, saying: “Agroforestry is the deliberate integration of trees and shrubs within agricultural crops and livestock on farms. These systems simultaneously protect natural resources such as clean water, whilst supporting agricultural production. More trees on agricultural land will:
• Increase wildlife and biodiversity
• Prevent soil loss and increase soil fertility
• Enhance farm productivity and contribute to local employment
• Improve animal welfare
• Retain water on land for crops, livestock and people
• Reduce flooding, water and air pollution
• Store carbon and help landscapes and people adapt to climate change.
At Wild Hart we use larch thinned from local woodlands to make beautiful round pole frames for our cabins, tree houses and raised platforms.
Sheep’s wool insulation
Everyone at Wild Hart is excited to be using sheep’s wool insulation on our latest project, ‘The Beehive’ – a two storey off-grid cabin in mid-Devon, with two double bedrooms, living room, kitchen, toilet and shower. By insulating our glamping units well, we can reduce the energy required to warm them. The UK’s premier energy saving advice portal ‘The Green Age’ suggests that: “One of the most natural and sustainable ways to insulate your property is to use sheep’s wool insulation.” They have listed six features that make sheep’s wool so good:
• it is an outstanding insulator
• it purifies the air
• it regulates humidity
• it insulates against sound
• it does not burn
• it is safe and easy to work with.
By reducing our reliance on fossil fuels we can greatly reduce our carbon footprint. Adding solar power to a glamping cabin can remove the need for mains power and potentially reduce the set-up cost as well as monthly bills. There are many existing companies working in the industry to provide excellent portable or fixed units. Our off-grid cabin at Hornton Grounds uses solar power to run 12v lights, USB sockets and, excitingly, infra-red heat mats. These help keep the cabin warm and cosy.
Not only is planting trees a great thing to do to help absorb carbon, they also add beauty to a site and provide shade, privacy and even fruit! Equally, leaving areas of long grass will encourage wild flowers and insects, adding to the biodiversity of the area. Bird boxes and bug hotels provide interactive enjoyment of nature. Even nature play spaces can help promote a respect for wildlife by encouraging children to explore, learn and enjoy the natural environment, thus gaining an interest in conserving it. Our carved hollow log in particular promotes real imagination and exploration as you can climb through and over it.
How we regulate
If we are to respect the needs of nature, help tackle climate change and lower carbon emissions, we at Wild Hart believe it is vital we consider how we build and measure the carbon footprint of different glamping dwellings. Instead of no regulation with a caravan classification, or too much regulation, with modern dwellings, timber glamping structures could meet some basic criteria of carbon reduction yet remain simple in nature.
Technically, it can be a grey area but if we as designers and manufacturers enter into a debate about how we regulate the industry, we can make a difference. Looking at how we impact on the environment will be a step towards taking responsibility for some of the carbon footprint made by the holiday industry in the UK.
Our 2020 vision should be one that puts the environment first and gets us all closer to nature. As Peter Tyldesley puts it: “Delivering a zero carbon Britain holds the potential to be one of the most exciting opportunities in our history, offering us the chance to simultaneously resolve many other problems.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Nick Sneller founded Wild Hart with his partner Colette Hudson, designing and building unique spaces including cabins, pods, treehouses, gardens, playspaces and furniture.
As a team of highly skilled craftsmen and landscapers, Wild Hart enjoys co-designing with clients to offer the best solutions. It uses sustainably sourced timber and work collaboratively with local businesses. 07971 869058 / www.wild-hart.co.uk