Conservation: The monk, the goat and the orchard

A Buddhist community on Holy Island combines an alternative therapy with alternative energy. By Fiona Macaulay

A dead thrush lay on the doormat of the abbott's residence at the Samye Ling Tibetan Centre in Dumfriesshire. "Oh, that'll be there for Rinpoche to bless," remarked Nicholas Jennings, as I stepped gingerly over the threshold. Animals are greatly respected in Buddhist philosophy.

My mission at Samye Ling, in the vale of Eskdalemuir, was to meet Mr Jennings who, on behalf of the centre, is managing a conservation project on Holy Island in the Firth of Clyde, just east of the Isle of Arran. The Samye Ling Centre bought the island in 1992 in order to create a retreat in a self-sustaining environment. Buddhist thoughts about the way we should care for the earth are very similar to those of conservationists. This convergence of beliefs was given further recognition and support last year with the formation of The Alliance of Religions and Conservation (ARC) which has been joined by nine of the world's major faiths.

For the ARC, Holy Island is a flagship project which is a fore-runner to an initiative to be known as The Sacred Land Project. This will be launched in April next year, its aim being to conserve, and if necessary reinstate, sites of spiritual significance.

Although Holy Island's spiritual history is Christian, the Buddhists respect and want to build on that. "It is an excellent place for undisturbed meditation," says the retreat master of Samye Ling, Lama Yeshe Losal. "The island has been sanctified by the intense prayer and contemplation carried out there."

Holy Island was the home of St Molaise, a 6th-century hermit who was said to have possessed miraculous powers; his cave is a favoured place for meditation on the island. And the ruins of a 13th-century monastery provide a similar sense of tranquillity.

One of the planned conservation projects is to re-plant the monastery orchard, which is believed to contain soil from the Holy Land. Some 27,000 trees of indigenous species have already been planted, mainly funded by a "Sponsor a native Scottish tree" appeal, advertised in environmental magazines.

After consulting local experts, rock whitebeam and downy birch were planted along with oak, ash, hazel, hawthorn, rowan, holly, beech, willow, alder and elder. The island's wild Eriskay ponies, Soay sheep and goats, which are thought to date from Jacobite times, have been excluded from the planted areas so as to encourage rejuvenation of the natural habitat. Initially it was suggested that the numbers of these animals should be reduced, but for the Buddhists a cull was out of the question. (Their respect for animal life also meant that Gary Rhodes on his Rhodes Round Britain tour was not granted permission to come on to the island to kill and cook a goat.).

During the summer, small groups of volunteers have been coming to the island in 10-day shifts to lend a hand. An ongoing chore is clearing the beaches of refuse thrown up by the waters of the Clyde. The Holy Island Project relies on this free workforce. As a non-profit making organisation, no one has a paid job - except for Mr Jennings who is in charge of fundraising.

His task is a daunting one, for the eco-architectural plans for a retreat centre at the south end of the island are expected to cost about pounds 5m - and there is no money in the bank. The design for a self-sustaining development is the brainchild of Andrew Wright, who has his own architectural practice and is also a consultant to the Richard Rogers Partnership. The plans won the main prize of the Bovis/Architects' Journal Award at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition in 1994.

"What I enjoy about architecture," says the 31-year-old architect "is a design approach that meshes together social issues, landscape, the science of structures and environment; that creates a harmony between them".

The basic idea for Holy Island is to build two sets of retreat rooms, partly dug into the ground, which will descend the hillside like a row of steps or terraces. "It's a simple idea," says Mr Jennings. "You dig out the back wall and use that earth to make the floor, then put a top over the gap like a lean-to."

The roof will be covered with earth and the rooms will have a sloped, glazed front. The energy-efficient features of the design are various - the rooms will be south facing, which together with the angled glass fronts will maximise solar gain in an area which has limited sunshine. It is estimated that this will provide on average almost half the space heating.

Andrew Wright's designs include a scheme to make the island water self- sufficient. Rainwater will be collected along a gully and stored in tanks above the retreat rooms, to be used for washing and cleaning. Below the retreat rooms, water running off the buildings will filter into a pond at the top of a garden area for irrigation purposes. There is enough fresh water from natural springs for drinking and food preparation. Most waste water would be naturally filtered through a series of reed beds.

Research is being done into the possibilities of alternative energy sources of which the most feasible is wind power. "We need to set up a local weather station," says Mr Jennings. "But local knowledge of wind speeds makes it look quite viable, it may even be possible to supply some of the electricity we would make back into the grid."

Some vegetables and fruit are already being produced under organic principles in the walled garden of the old lighthouse keeper's cottages, but Andrew Wright's plans provide increased garden areas, complete with irrigation systems and a series of greenhouses. In the words of Lama Yeshe Losal "the aim on Holy Island is to create an atmosphere of spiritual and ecological good health as an example for all".

For enquiries regarding The Holy Island Project contact Nicholas Jennings, Samye Ling Tibetan Centre 013873 73223

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - Junior / Mid Weight

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To support their continued grow...

Recruitment Genius: Marketing Data Specialist

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are the go-to company for ...

Recruitment Genius: Search Marketing Specialist - PPC / SEO

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join the UK's leadin...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This caravan dealership are currently recruiti...

Day In a Page

Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test
Tour de France 2015: Twins Simon and Adam Yates have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

Twins have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

Yates brothers will target the steepest sections in bid to win a stage in France
John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy