UK Couple Living Off-Grid Facing Prison Unless They Move Back

A COUPLE living an “off-grid” lifestyle say they face prison unless they move from their own land in Willand and return to an existence in the benefits trap.

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.

Off the grid

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.

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.

They faced magistrates on March 31 when they were served with an injunction to leave within 28 days from June 1.

Dinah, 35, who spent a year with her husband clearing four-foot high nettles and thistles which engulfed the four-acre site, said: “How anybody can say the orchard was being conserved before is beyond my comprehension.”

Dinah works while Stig, 34, as well as making sure the children get to school on time, tends to the land on a daily basis where peas, potatoes, garlic, strawberries, raspberries and various produce have been growing since 2009.

Vegetarians Stig and Dinah claim council officers offered them bed and breakfast accommodation in Cullompton at taxpayers’ expense and suggested they live on take aways, which are likely to cost around £20 for each family meal.

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.

Stig, chairman of the Willand Composting Scheme and a member of the primary school’s PTFA, sells eggs, produce, and hopefully cider in the future but explained that planning permission to live and work on the land was refused in 2009 which they are appealing against.

He said one of the council’s reasons for refusal was based on a belief the couple had did not have a “sound enough business plan.”

As well as plans to sell more produce locally, the couple say it is only likely to take them a further two years to get to a stage where they will be able to grow six to eight months’ worth of vegetables.

Check out: I Live Without Cash and I Manage Just Fine

Dinah, who is a community care worker, cub leader and also a member of the PTFA, said: “To live in an agricultural area you need to have a financial need, but this gives us enough to live on, but our whole ethos is not about making money.

“The council is saying by us living here it becomes mixed-use and is therefore no longer deemed agricultural.”

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.

Dinah said removing them from their land will render them homeless and is concerned they will have to pull their children out of Willand Primary School if they have to move out of the area.

But several people from across the country have written to the council in support of the family’s retention.

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.

“Neither condition was met and therefore took the necessary action to protect the nature of the rural landscape and prevent unlawful habitation.”

The council said it cannot comment on individual cases of housing need and said bed and breakfast accommodation is offered if people are homeless.

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26 Responses

    • steve reeve

      Disgraceful !! What the hell do these people want from folk? These people are taking nothing from the state and providing a meagre living. Good luck to you both i say, and well done…i so wish i was younger and fitter to do something like this.

    • Angela

      I think these people are to be admired. They are independent, not living off the state and making their own living, possibly be able to make a small business out of this, enough to keep their family. They are teaching their boys not to be layabouts living off the state too!!! What do the stupid people want who are trying to move them? Have faith in them, they seem to be doing a good job! Let them make their own living on their own land!!! Who has the right to interfere when they are on their own land anyway and not doing anything wrong? They seem to be doing everything right!!!! A good example to others! Well done the Mason’s, keep on going, fight the interfering ‘authorities’! It is your own land!


    THis is why we Declared Independence from the "CROWN", not the British people, and kicked the Kings' arse out of the colonies. We were British Subjects, the colonies were British Territories, and King of England was our King. We overthrew our government and instilled a Republic which places limits on government by delegated and seperated powers.

    It's a shame your government can tell you how to live and not to live. This is intolerable. Their telling you to be a debtor slave/serf. Your independence isn't being tolerated. Throw the tyrants out!

    • george hart

      excuse me! here in the united states of america, we have systematically reduced our individual liberties to jack squat, a child cannot even go to a neighborhood store, without someone calling the police, Oh we have the right to bear arms, if the government says you can if not, you go to jail, after 9-11, Adolf and the boys in black are back again, look at the customs, and airport security uniforms, No, we have allowed republicans to steal our rights, and the last president acted like a king, and the present one acts like some sort of puppet, read his books sometimes, we are in serious trouble, so lets clean our house first, before we dump on others for garbage!

    • Andy

      You need to check your own country first, you’re one step away from being in Nazi occupied territory.

    • Ged

      You clearly haven’t had to deal with US zoning laws – in the States these people would have been kicked off their land by armed police years ago with no recourse and no help with rehousing.

  2. kenneth mclaughlin

    I hope these guys do well, that's whats wrong with rural Britain, there are thousands of acres lying unmanaged and instead of opening the land up to prospective tenants they are trying to remove people from the land. Ridiculous. I really hope these guys get to stay. I think that there is also a problem where land owners leave the land derelict because it has become difficult to manage and then try and hold out for that big offer by the rick city business man that exceeds the value of the property and gives the land owner a healthy profit.

    This does happen often but it makes no sense compared to having someone living and working on the land whether they have employed one worker or not!

  3. Wake Up

    This just goes to show that our corporate run governments are scared to death of the real possibility off grid living catching on. If we all did this the global economy of greed and slavery would crumble.

    • Deena Stron

      They should be allowed to live a life of self sufficiency, without being a burden on the society. What they are doing takes courage, determination, perseverence and hard work. It should be admired and encouraged not damned and punished! They should have the right to live as they please!

  4. Mafewindu

    This has more to do with the way in which British politics works on a day to day basis.
    Technicalities are used to justify injustice, and when that fails they use your frustration against you, claiming one is clearly unbalanced and shouldn’t be allowed to look after their own children. At this point they move swiftly, remove the children and place them, purposefully, in foster care or adoption, knowing full well there have been problems in doing so in the past.
    By the time the parents sort this disgrace years would have past, ergo the powers that be win.
    May I add, those who do this to individuals trying to live an unsupported life, by the state at least, are usually acting out of some form of small minded vengeful attitude towards those wanting ‘out’ of the mainstream system.
    It has nothing to do with a persons right to free life, this is purely about breaking the will of those who have acted legally within their rights as defined by British law.
    Those acting against them do so because they have become welcome slaves to a system THEY fear!

  5. Terry fowler

    I to have a problem with local council trying to run over the top of us.
    Some neighbours living in large houses close by complained i was mining while really i was draining to manage the water
    But then it has been relentless they are spending a fortune.
    I required the man acting as a judge to be on his oath as no crime had been committed. But he was bought and paid for before we even started. Very corrupt

  6. Terry fowler

    I also have a former residential caravan. Now is a poultry trailer filled with chickens i produced photos in court But they disregarded. Saying it was a caravan. I replied i am not refusing to. Move it just as soon as i get your order i will organise asap as you would not expect a man to work for. Free.
    A man acting as a judge would notgive his name .
    I found out later in a newspaper

  7. Tina gill

    If they paid for the land why can’t they live there .it provides for the family needs that’s ehat matters council should concernate on family eho need help and stop wasting taxpayers money

  8. Daniel

    Someone else wants the land to develop and has given someone in the council a bribe to make sure it happens, pure and simple. Hope they win.

  9. Doug

    They can’t tax them to death so they don’t like it

  10. ron angel

    Reading through article a legal reason for staying on the land would be somebody has to be there to tend to livestock. In this case maybe a couple of goats and or chickens or other small animals (guinea pigs) would be a good reason for living there. Ask solicitor to contact council regarding this.

  11. Peter Parslow

    A quick read & Google search shows that the issue that’s got them into trouble is building a house without planning permission. Nothing about on/off grid, or paying taxes, or not registering children – they’ve clearly registered their kids: they go to a normal local school (what you in the US call a ‘public school’).

    Over here in the UK we live in a small quite crowded country. We can’t afford to have anyone just build where they like.

    There are reasonable questions about why they didn’t get permission, and why they were refused permission retrospectively. Although that’s usually to avoid setting a precedent.

    Pity the rest of the commenters here didn’t bother to check (or even read the article that closely!)

  12. Theodora Anagor

    Anything designated green belt or agricultural can not be lived on, if they sought planning permission this would be a different story. It’s the same as the guy who built a huge castle like house on his farm without planning permission, he had to tear it down.

  13. mahfuz khan

    this is bullshit! if MP’s dont help them then theyre freemason pain chowd we should all campaign to help this innocent couple

  14. John Dolan

    Are the family being supported with their case? I’m thinking Chapter 7/Simon Fairlie as a starting point.

  15. Julie Shackson

    This is scandalous and callous! Is there a petition?

  16. Ronald White

    UN Agenda 21 in action…google it, then check out its real intent as revealed by many You Tube researchers…

  17. Pete Tinsley

    The problem is, the land they bought was not approved for development or habitation. Land that is approved to live on is much more expensive. You can’t buy cheap agricultural land and build a dwelling there, they won’t even allow a vehicle to stay there long-term. This law is to protect agricultural land from development. If these people hadnt broken the law and had asked for planning permission or boight land that was approved for development or habitation, there wouldnt be any problem.

  18. mrnudie

    Correct me if I wrong, but in the USA the people have Allodial title? This means you can do what ever you want on your land…

    • Survival Spot

      I wish that were the case but people can only do what the zoning permits them to do. There are also tons of restrictions as far as building codes, waste disposal, permitted uses, etc. It varies state by state.


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