Property: Sky's the limit at top of the tree

If we're serious about conservation, building methods must change. Robert Nurden visits homes of earth, air and straw
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Tom Iglehart claims to be the only person in Britain living in a tree who is not an anti-roads protester. Well, not just one tree, but seven. His 40-foot-high, three-storey wooden "sky temple" extends across seven spruce trees on the banks of the Solway Firth in Scotland. He has lived in it for five years.

"Yes, I'm a dreamer," says Tom, 26. "But I'd rather be here with nature than in some mock Tudor monstrosity or a polluted town. Just smell the air."

Tom's project got off the ground after he walked out of his architecture degree course because it was "too boring". But the rudiments of construction he learned were useful when he built his wooden home.

Tom's cabin moves with the wind - in gales, as much as four feet. Springy planks are nailed to the trunks to form cantilevered platforms, so that house and trees become one swaying entity. His symbiotic relationship with his seven trees goes even further: his aerial apartment grows in tune with his micro-forest. Wanting to stay at tree-top level, he added another level at 30 feet, and this year a third at 40 feet.

The roof is a teepee which can be rolled back in 30 seconds. "It's much drier than a conventional house because after rain the wetness just evaporates," he says. There is a mains electrical link so he can watch television, listen to music and get warmth from a two-bar heater and an electric blanket.

"I suppose you could call it the height of luxury," said Tom, who works in his father's glass workshop making chandeliers. "It's great settling down under the stars to watch a good video with my girlfriend. Once we watched TV when the set had an inch of snow on top of it."

The building regulations covering tree houses are hard to get hold of, and Tom didn't bother looking for them. Nor has he been shackled by the red-tape strictures of buildings insurance and mortgage repayments - or, for that matter, subsidence or negative equity.

It took him just one afternoon to build an extension to the top floor in time for his birthday party, when he and nine friends jived the night away on what must be the world's most rickety dance floor.

At the foot of the tree is his bathroom. Water flows from a natural spring, via a hose, into a bath raised two feet off the ground. It takes a log fire beneath the bath 45 minutes to heat the water.

He has one more dream - to build luxury tree-top retreats for stressed- out rock stars. "There's no way I would want to have a monopoly on this relaxed and healthy way of life," says Tom.

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