Couple who quit jobs to live off-grid face ruin from neighbours

Couple who quit jobs to live off-grid face ruin from neighbours

January 29, 2023

EXCLUSIVE: Couple who quit jobs as vets to move to rural Wales and live off-grid are facing financial ruin after neighbours ‘bought access lane to their zero carbon eco-farm and are threatening to sue them for trespass’

  • Matthew and Charis Watkinson uprooted their lives for a carbon zero farm
  • But their new life is now under threat from neighbours who seek to block access

A couple who quit their jobs as vets and moved to Wales to live ‘off-grid’ now face losing their carbon neutral home in the countryside after neighbours bought an entire road to cut off their access.

Matthew and Charis Watkinson uprooted their lives in Romford, Essex, in favour of a fresh start on a remote farm in Pembrokeshire countryside in 2016.

Their self-sufficient farm, described by Mr Watkinson as ‘a glorified recycling junk yard’, includes a person-powered washing machine and a gas cooker that functions on horse manure. They also have solar panel for electricity and a biodigester for gas, meaning they only have to pay for council tax.

Living on a zero carbon farm protected the family from soaring energy prices and the cost of living crisis, while its remoteness also provided a shield from the Covid pandemic. 

Charis and Matthew Watkinson, pictured with their children Elsa and Billy, gave up their jobs as vets in Essex seven years ago and moved to Pembrokeshire, south Wales, where they built Beehive Farm

 Their self-sufficient farm has been described by Mr Watkinson as ‘a glorified recycling junk yard’

But their new life is now under threat from nightmare neighbours who are seeking to block off access to their home.

A previously unregistered right of way, the access lane to their dwelling, has been purchased by a retired couple who are threatening to sue for trespassing and harassment.

Mr Watkinson told MailOnline that the row over the access is a ‘personal vendetta’ and argues that the retired neighbours have spent tens of thousands of pounds on an issue that is ‘just not a worthwhile cause’.

The couple, who have two young children Elsa and Billy, were able to begin living their green dream thanks to the Welsh Government’s One Planet Development Policy.

The scheme allows families to build houses on green-belt land as long as they operate on zero carbon – a target they must hit within five years.

Mr Watkinson said: ‘We have been here six years now. We are now living a very sustainable and low impact lifestyle. We have been shielded from energy price hikes, Covid, and the cost of living crisis. 

‘We have been very glad to be up here. The house is a glorified recycling junk yard. We have a horse lorry, a camper van, but it is all perfectly functionable.’

‘There was opposition when we first moved, but once we received planning permission, we thought we would be left alone. 

‘We were not being questioned just on the plans, it was a character assassination. We hoped that would go quiet, but that has not been the case. Once we hit the five-year target of being carbon neutral, we hoped it would prove our cause, but it has made it even worse.

‘It is 100 per cent a personal vendetta. They are a retired couple and have put £10,000 for footpaths they don’t need, plus whatever they have spent on legal advice. They are trying to evict us from a low impact home. It doesn’t make sense. It is not a worthwhile cause.’

Living on a zero carbon farm protected the family from soaring energy prices and the cost of living crisis 

They use an old car as a makeshift greenhouse, while nearby vegetable gardens are walled in by recycled tyres

Matthew operates the manual washing machine outside the property, which he made from an old barrel

The inside of the Watkinsons’ Pembrokshire home, which they are now in danger of losing after seven years

The couple gather lunch from the vegetable plot. Despite the rather ramshackle appearance of the family’s abode, there is an undeniable charm to their life on the hillside

The issue surrounds a historic footpath that has been used by members of the public for hundreds of years to access the popular Carningli Common.

The Watkinsons’ took the footpaths for granted, so they remain unregistered until being purchased by their neighbours, who have long been against the zero carbon farm.

They now fear their neighbours will erect signs and lock gates to prevent members of public from using the paths and, in doing so, also prevent the family from accessing their home.

A sign already erected states: ‘The use of this footpath between the public highway and Carningli Common is with the willing consent of the landowner. 

‘The only right of access over this footpath to Castle Hill Fields (also known as Carningli Sylvan and Beeview Farm) is for agricultural use and not to access any accommodation.’ 

Due to their low impact lifestyle and having quit their jobs as vets to move to the area, the family’s only income is selling the eggs from their many chickens and ducks and honey from their bees.

It means they do not have the funds to pay for a legal defence against any potential lawsuit.

Instead, they have created a GoFundMe page to ask for generous donations for their cause.

Mr Watkinson added: ‘There is a lot of support for us, but is just the age old problem that those who are furious tend to have more energy. We are never sure whether we are going to be approached when we leave the farm.

From a person-powered washing machine to a gas cooker that functions on horse manure, the couple and their two children have made everything at Beeview Farm self-sufficient

Matthew takes an alfresco shower. Matthew explains that their water comes from a stream that runs down the mountain

‘The impact could be devastating. If we don’t have access to our home then we will have to leave and have to start from scratch. 

‘We will just have to start again. I don’t know what property prices are like at the moment but it will be hundreds of thousands of pounds. 

‘It will be emotionally and financially devastating. It would just be the worse case possible.’

The family have so far raised more than £6,500 towards a £10,000 target, but have vowed that anything extra will be donated away.

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