Five Reasons to Visit Findhorn, Scotland, the UK’s Largest Eco-Village

Findhorn is an eco-community located in the North of Scotland, next to the small village of Forres and just off the Findhorn Bay of Moray. After visiting this Winter I was amazed at the possibility of living a carbon neutral lifestyle on such a large scale. It is the largest single intentional community in the UK, an eco-village since 1985, and has an ecological footprint that is half the UK national average. The origin of the eco-village itself is a fascinating story, and although I won’t go into great detail, let me just say that it all started with a lady, a caravan and a field.

Here are five reasons that I think you should travel through the gorgeous Scottish countryside to take look for yourself:

1. The Community and the People

As we arrived to the community I felt that I’d stepped back in time – absolutely everyone that we met stopped us and said hello, asked where we were from, and thanked us for visiting – we hadn’t even reached our straw-bale house yet. Naturally, the people that you meet in an eco-village tend to be like-minded but the friendliness of these people was on a whole new level.

2. The Food

Within the community itself, everyone eats and prepares the food together. The food is wholesome, organic where possible, and absolutely delicious. Most of the vegetables are grown bio-dynamically on the 25 acre farm land which supplies 140 households within the village. Organic cheese, eggs and meat are produced by another local farm.

3. The Buildings

This is the main reason that I decided to visit the eco-village. After building a straw bale house next to my family home with the help of 20 or so volunteers camped in my back garden – I decided to check out the eco-homes on offer here. In fact, there’s quite a few to choose from! Findhorn currently has 61 ecological buildings, ranging from recycled car tires, straw, and natural non-toxic materials. The Findhorn Foundation has recently published ‘Simply Build Green‘, the UK’s first technical guide to ecological housing – the book has been positively received on an international level.

4. The Toilets

At last! An eco-toilet that looks like a normal toilet! After experiencing my fair share of outside sawdust loos, I was so excited by the toilets on offer at Findhorn. Here, the toilets flush like normal toilets but the sewage is actually dealt with by ‘the Living Machine ®’. To summarise, diverse communities of bacteria, algae, micro-organisms, plants and trees, snails, and fish decompose the seawage – at the end of the tanks the result is that the water is so pure it can be discharged into the sea.

5. To Learn

Whether you attend one of the courses at the eco-village, which range from permaculture to design for sustainability incorporating Transition Towns training, or opt to stay as a guest, you will no doubt learn a lot; not only about eco-village life, the possibility of alternative living, but also about yourself.

Charlotte Nicol is the co-founder of the UK based Tour company called Most Curious Tours. Recently launched, Most Curious Tours aims at showing tourists the hidden cultural hotspots of the UK, travelling in small groups by scenic railway routes, staying in independent accommodation, and attending local concerts and theatre productions in hand-picked destinations across the UK.

Go Overseas: Global Community of Volunteer Reviewers and Passionate Travelers

Many of our readers are interested in volunteer opportunities around the world, and are active supporters of travel experiences that help give back to local communities. We’re therefore very proud to collaborate with our blog partner Go Overseas, a leading review site for international study, volunteer, internship and teaching programs. We’ve interviewed Katie Boyer, Volunteer Abroad Director for Go Overseas, to learn more about their work and get to know the volunteer travel field better.

Interview with Katie Boyer, Go Overseas

TIES: Please explain what Go Overseas does and its mission. What do you do, what do you seek to achieve, and how do you approach it?

Katie: Go Overseas started because our founders, Mitch Gordon and Andrew Dunkle, were unhappy with the existing resources, or lack of resources, that listed and reviewed international programs. People have more resources and options for buying a new TV than for spending thousands of dollars on a long-term trip abroad. Our mission is to help travelers make the most informed and educated decisions possible about study, intern, teach, and volunteer abroad programs. We give anyone who wants to go abroad an online community to find reviews, articles, inspirational stories, photo essays, and share their own experiences.

TIES: What is the best advice to offer someone who wants to give back to the country they are visiting?

Katie: It’s important to be mindful and conscious of your impacts on your host country, no matter how big or small. Sometimes we forget the little things that matter, like supporting and buying goods from locals. Preparing as much as possible before your trip will help. Know what resources will be available to you and what the needs are for volunteers. You always want to keep your host community in mind to make sure you are doing more good than harm.

TIES: What is your favorite travel/voluntourism experience?

Katie: I have a fascination with Latin American culture and have volunteered in Peru and Mexico. This past fall, I volunteered in Oaxaca, Mexico with a women’s group and a bicycling/environmental organization called Mundo Ceiba. It was one of my best experiences abroad because I got to tailor my schedule and volunteer work to my interests.

TIES: What are some of the most popular destinations for people who want to travel with a purpose?

Katie: People wanting to travel and volunteering generally migrate towards developing countries where there is the most immediate need for volunteers. African countries (like Ghana and South Africa) and Latin American countries (like Peru, Costa Rica, and Ecuador) are popular choices. I’ve seen a rise in interest in lesser-known countries like Tanzania.

TIES: What types of trends have you seen among traveler’s who use Go Overseas?

Katie: Most of our users are in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia and are college-aged or recently graduated. This seems to be an easy time for people to take time to volunteer. However, boomer volunteering and teen volunteering is becoming more popular. Our diversity of users allows us to offer a wider range of content.

TIES: Have you seen a rise or decline in people wanting to volunteer abroad since the global financial crisis?

Katie: People may be spending less money, but the desire to help people and explore cultures is constantly growing. Today, we are more drawn to having meaningful experiences than luxury vacations.

TIES: Often people forget to discuss the re-entry process after extended stays abroad, what kind of advice can you offer to those coming back from teaching/studying abroad?

Katie: Great point! I definitely agree that culture shock can go both ways. The re-entry process can be extremely difficult, especially after a long-term travel experience. You get so used to your life abroad sometimes that you forget daily routines you had back home. Routines will help you get used “real life” again. One of the biggest things I learned from culture shock was appreciation. Instead of feeling sad or overwhelmed, try to appreciate your time abroad and continue to learn from it and share your experience. Help others learn from your experience as well by writing a review on Go Overseas!

TIES: Name one of the biggest misconceptions about volunteering abroad?

Katie: Many people see volunteering abroad as an expensive form of travel that only the well-off, educated can participate in. However, it’s more common to see a range of people from economic statuses giving back to communities. There are always cheaper options – from hostels to group homes to sponsorships to off the beaten track options – saving money abroad can be done if you get creative.

Australia is one of the world’s most diverse natural places!

The earth is a remarkable, exciting place, packed full of animals and plants. It is estimated that the world has 5,400+ mammals, 10.000+ species of birds, 10,000+ reptiles (and growing), 7,300+ amphibians, 950,000+ insects and around 310,000 species of higher plants.

But did you know that most of these can be found in 12 countries? These 12 are the Mega-diverse Nations (1).

12 megadiverse nations

60-70% OF THE EARTH’S SPECIES RESIDE IN THESE 12 NATIONS.

Australia (where you can play online pokies), Brazil, China, Colombia, Congo (DR Congo), Ecuador, India, Indonesia, Madagascar, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru together hold 60-70% of the world’s species.

Many of these nations are home to a host of endemic species – that is, species that occur nowhere else. Australia is home to 210 endemic mammals (5% of the world’s total), 355 endemic birds, 616+ endemic reptiles (nearly 10% of the world’s total reptiles) and 14,458 endemic plants.

Unfortunately, many of these countries are also on the UN list of the worst forest-clearing nations (2).

Worst nations for deforestation

ORANGE NATIONS ARE MEGA-DIVERSE BUT ALSO IN 20 WORST NATIONS FOR DEFORESTATION. YELLOW NATIONS ARE IN 20 WORST FOR DEFORESTATION. RED NATIONS ARE MEGA-DIVERSE BUT NOT IN WORST 20 FOR DEFORESTATION.

The worst land-clearing nations on earth are, in order (in bold are the countries that are also the mega-diverse nations):

Brazil, Indonesia, Sudan, Zambia, Mexico, Australia, Congo, Myanmar, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Argentina, Peru, Cote d’Ivoire, Malaysia, Cameroon, Venezuela, Colombia, Bolivia, Ecuador and Angola.

Aussies, unlike most of these countries, we are a developed wealthy economy. Why are we still cutting down forest that is home to a world-class fauna and flora diversity?