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What is permaculture?

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Logo: Permaculture Association

Wisdom from nature

By Ryan Sandford-Blackburn, Permaculture Association (Britain).

Infinite growth, reckless consumption, eroding soils, concreting over precious habitats. Mental ill health, loneliness, social deprivation. The symptoms are plain for us to see. The solutions? They are also hiding in plain sight.

Bedford Fields forest garden (Permaculture Association)
Bedford Fields forest garden (Permaculture Association)

Permaculture teaches a collaboration with land and nature. A concept originating in Australia in the 1970s, it provides a set of tools to add to your toolkit. Design thinking, with practical techniques and wide applications.

David Holmgren, one of the co-originators, described permaculture as: “Consciously designed landscapes, which mimic the patterns and relationships found in nature, while yielding an abundance of food, fibre and energy for provision of local needs.”

At its heart permaculture has three ethics: Earth Care, People Care and Fair Shares. The core concepts are heavily influenced by Aboriginals and other Indigenous people around the world. Combining them with the science of ecology, design approaches and appropriate technology. This makes permaculture a unique toolkit that is used to design and implement regenerative systems at all scales - from homes and gardens to community projects and farms - all around the world.

Permaculture across the UK

A movement of millions of practitioners has built up over the years. Here in the UK, the Permaculture Association (Britain) supports a network with the power to create healthy cultures and ecosystems. The Permaculture Association’s Learning And Demonstration (LAND) network has over 140 projects and sites in England, Scotland and Wales, showing permaculture in action.

Permaculture Association members come together at monthly calls and regular events, giving lots of opportunities for learning and networking.

Applications at all scales

Bedford Fields Forest Garden, Leeds, West Yorkshire

A group of volunteers identified an unused bramble and bindweed-choked site in the Hyde Park area of the city. Over time, they have transformed it into a valuable community resource, providing solace as well as an abundance of food.

Bee Cages in Burnley Parks (Permaculture Association)
Bee Cages in Burnley Parks (Permaculture Association)

The forest garden is planted in 'layers', like you find in a forest - much more complex than conventional planting in straight 2D rows. Following this pattern, you can get more yield, reduce maintenance time and build a more resilient and diverse garden. When all the plants in the garden are either edible, medicinal or useful in some way, it turns a small space into a highly productive, low maintenance resource. Project Drawdown lists multistrata agroforestry systems as a climate solution, with strong potential for carbon sequestration and increased food and financial yield. Studies have shown that one hectare of forest garden can support up to 10 adults with their nutritional needs.

Go to the Park, Burnley, Lancashire

Burnley Borough Council is developing an alternative model of park management by sustainably managing large areas of the town's parks using ecological and permaculture techniques. “We are rethinking our parks in Burnley to make them more attractive, cheaper to maintain and better for wildlife.” Simon Goff, Burnley Borough Council.

Working with Offshoots, the project combines six elements: meadow management in heritage parks, woodland management and timber production, conversion of annual bedding to perennial planting, development of bee populations in parks, Volunteer in Parks programme, and commercial crop production on parks’ perimeters. The project saved £67,480 in the first year of operation.

Huxhams Cross Farm, Dartington, Devon

The newly nicknamed muesli field, such abundance of fruits and oats ©Huxhams Cross Farm
The newly nicknamed muesli field, such abundance of fruits and oats ©Huxhams Cross Farm

Huxhams Cross Farm is 13 hectares of two wetland meadows, 1 meadow and 3 arable fields that were down to barley and industrial agriculture for 40 years. The arable fields were put down to deep rooting green manures for the first two years to recover, and 3000 agroforestry and fruit trees were planted. The farm produces the following that are all registered Biodynamic: all year round vegetables on a field scale and in polytunnels; soft and top fruit; eggs; small scale grain and flour; cut flowers, and preserves.

Agroforestry is the integration of trees into a farmed landscape. It is an ancient farming system that has had a revival. At Huxhams Cross, they use “alley cropping “ to grow extra crops and to provide “environmental services” - they help to manage the water on the farm, they provide windbreaks and are a home to predatory insects.

Using the Farm Carbon Toolkit methodology they have found they are now sequestering 112 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) per year, sequestering three times as much carbon as we are emitting. The organic content of the soils have gone up by 38% on average.

Global movement

On the first Sunday of May, permaculture around the world is showcased and celebrated on Permaculture Day. Join the celebrations in 2022 by taking part in an event online

Find out more about permaculture and practical solutions on the Permaculture Association knowledge base 

Find permaculture jobs at www.permaculture.org.uk/jobs

And sign up to the Permaculture Association’s monthly newsletter to stay in the loop.

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