The Mason family purchased an abandoned orchard and moved out of public housing. Their self-sustaining lifestyle has baffled local authorities however, who have ordered them to give up their property or face jail time. This Is Devon writes:
A family living an “off-grid” lifestyle say they face prison unless they move from their own land in Willand and return to a [regular] existence. Stig and Dinah Mason bought Muxbeare Orchard after a sudden windfall allowed them to quit their impoverished lives on a Hertfordshire council estate two years ago.
The Masons have transformed what they described as a derelict four-acre plot into a haven of self-sufficiency boasting a 400 sq m allotment, a polytunnel and greenhouses to grow fruit and vegetables, chickens for egg production and an orchard they have regenerated by planting around 14 new apple trees of various species. Dinah was bequeathed money from the sudden death of her aunt and £47,000 was spent on the land to create the smallholding where wood burners and solar panels provide their energy needs.
The couple, who have two boys, aged eight and nine, say because they moved onto the site in order to work the land, Mid Devon District Council is turfing them off as officers do not consider them to be conserving an agricultural area.
Dinah’s income currently provides the family with everything they need which they cannot grow themselves but is unlikely to stretch to cover kennelling costs for their dog, Moo.
They say they currently receive no state hand-outs but by giving up their “off grid” way of life, they fear they will end up in a council house, claiming housing and council tax benefits, as well as seeking grants to help pay for high utility bills.
Anne Wallington, whose family has had an interest in the village for 44 years, wrote to the council in support of the Masons by praising their hard work in reclaiming what was “rapidly becoming derelict land.” David Thompson, who also lives in the village, said “they are trying to live up to the Government’s pledge to take better care of the environment and this is the last orchard in the vicinity of Willand.”
John Clarke, planning enforcement officer, said: “To get planning permission to move onto agricultural land, you have to prove first there is a need for someone to live there, for example, to tend livestock and look after crops, and second, that the enterprise can provide living income for at least one worker.