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RESOURCES: Ecological Design “We have lived our lives by the assumption that what was good for us would be good for the world. We have been wrong. We must change our lives so that it will be possible to live by the contrary assumption, that what is good for the world will be good for us. And that requires that we make the effort to know the world and learn what is good for it.” - Wendell Berry

Written and illustrated by James Chapman


Permaculture’s main aim is to help people live in a truly sustainable way. Permaculture Design is the process of creating truly sustainable habitats for people, crops, animals and wildlife – places which are both productive and resilient. Permaculture is based on the laws of

ecology; by studying natural ecosystems we can take inspiration from nature. How is nature so abundant, efficient and stable? Permaculture uses the same principles to create abundant, efficient, stable, and productive habitats for us. It was given a name and popularised by Bill Mollison in the 1970s. He wrote books mostly

about permanent agriculture but over time this has developed into the wider notion of creating a permanent culture – encompassing all aspects of life. Some aspects of permaculture are very new whilst others have been have been practised for thousands of years.


The three ethics of Earth Care, People Care and Fair Share are core themes. These three ethics can be observed in many successful cultures around the world. The type of success permaculture is interested in is sustainability – how long can a way of life keep going for? Australian aborigines for example have a culture which is 50,000 years old – in order to survive this long, they must have been doing something right! They must have been caring for the earth and caring for each other. They will also have had a Fair Share ethic, only taking the food and materials they needed from the ecosystem – a different way of life to a lot of our current activities. The aim is not to become a culture from another time and place, but to start including these themes in our own ways, in our own lives and projects. If we don’t start doing things differently how long can we survive?

Observe Nature

4.5 billion years of research has gone into natural ecosystems. Not surprisingly, they are now extremely good at doing certain things. Native woodlands are a great example. Compared to a field of wheat, a woodland has a lot going on: • More varieties of plants and animals • A lot more biomass • Very efficient cycling of energy and nutrients • Zero waste • As trees and plants die the fertility of the soil is increased. • Plenty of seeds to expand the habitat • Woodlands are very stable places – they can cope with heavy rain, cold, heat and drought. There is one other magical thing about woodlands – if you leave a patch of ground totally alone, nature will reclaim it – over a number of years a woodland will appear. All this is happening without any work or intervention from us.


The main permaculture design principles are visible in a natural woodland – Permaculture uses these same principles to create productive human systems. We take advantage of the same techniques but use them to provide other yields we can not get from a natural wood. The principles feed directly into the design process.

Design process

The design process is a fluid set of steps which help us create a really effective design. The steps are Survey, Analyse, Design and Implement. 70% of your total design time should be spent in the survey phase ; if a project has really solid foundations, it is much more likely to stand up once you implement it.

Truly sustainable

Permaculture is interested in creating productive habitats which are also very


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As you are surveying a sight, write down all your ideas as you go along. Revisiting your ideas once you have completed the survey will help you spot the best ones for your project. Include other people in the project – sharing and learning together can be fun and big jobs happen a lot quicker. Go on a course – there’s lots to learn from books, but nothing beats a course.

Links to networks •

• • • • resilient. A resilient system is able to cope with changes in the climate, fossil fuel supplies and the economy.

Positive Living

As well as producing food and materials we all deserve to live in a warm, healthy, energy efficient home. We also need access to friends and enough free time to enjoy ourselves. Having moral support and people to celebrate with are essential to a sustainable culture.

Positive Yields

Organic food growing has so many benefits – better food, more biodiversity, exercise, less fossil fuel energy, fresh air, education and an opportunity to improve the soil. There is one other major yield – a social one ; most organic growers know and help other organic growers. Organic growing can easily include all 3 of the permaculture ethics. With all these benefits, we could describe organic growing as a positive spiral – it can be a pattern which is constantly improving many aspects of life.


The permaculture network is worldwide and full of diverse, creative, knowledgeable, generous people. Tapping into the network really allows you access the best possible sustainability resource on the planet – other people working on similar projects. Being part of the network also takes the pressure off – you no longer need to know everything. If you need some information for a project, just ask the network – someone is bound to have an answer.

Scottish permaculture yahoo group and Facebook page Edinburgh permaculture yahoo group Glasgow permaculture yahoo group (To join yahoo groups, search for them on Permaculture Association of Britain –

Websites • Permaculture Scotland – www. • Alan’s Scottish Forest Garden Blog– http://scottishforestgarden.wordpress. com/ Courses For a full list of courses in the UK, visit Recommended Books • An Introduction to Permaculture by Graham Burnett • Permaculture in a nutshell by Patrick Whitefield • The Earth care Manual by Patrick Whitefield • Creating a Forest Garden by Martin Crawford • The Permaculture Garden – Graham Bell All text and pictures by James Chapman James is Scotland’s busiest permaculture teacher and designer.

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Observe the amount of sun and shelter – all annual veg needs a lot of sun and all plants do better with shelter from the wind. Shady areas can be useful for storage, shade tolerant trees, perennial plants and mushroom cultivation

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Resources: ecological design: permaculture  

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