Working with nature, not against it

Ecology Architect, Steve Hart, at the Organic Dairy and Pastoral Group conference in March 2019. Photo: Catherine Fry.

“Permaculture needs to play a huge role in future farmscape planning,” says ecology architect Steve Hart.

Steve is passionate about Permaculture, and understanding the need to do something about the impending collapse of agriculture in our world, has convened courses on the subject, and has a deep appreciation of it.

And so, at the recent Organic Dairy & Pastoral Group annual conference in March, he outlined some of the Permaculture design principles he uses in his work, and the way to bring them into farm management.

The name Permaculture comes from the two words – permanent and agriculture. The word was coined by David Holmgren and the ‘father of permaculture’ Bill Mollison, authors of the thesis ‘Permaculture One’, in 1974.

“I try to integrate Permaculture with mainstream architecture, which is sometimes a challenge in the professional arena,” says Steve.

 “Permaculture is summed up by the ethics: care for earth, care for people, share the surplus.”

The aim is to work with nature not against it, using a set of principles below that can be applied to any landscape.

Steve says each function of the landscape is supported by many elements. Critical functions such as water, food, energy, and fire protection are supported in two or more ways.

And each element in the landscape has a minimum of five uses – for example, a tree could provide wood, shelter, food, shade and habitat.

Permaculture design also uses plant stacking – different heights above ground and different depths of root systems below ground, utilising both horizontal and vertical space, all working in harmony to benefit each other.

Another principle is accelerating succession. Instead of letting nature regenerate bare ground to a forest at its own pace, we can plant all layers of a forest at the same time, and not have to wait for each step of the process to complete,” says Steve.

Then there’s stability in diversity.If left to its own devices, nature forms stable ecosystems from species that can grow well together, with a high degree of natural order.”

While plant guilds – also known as companion planting – is where plants assist each other with health, protection from elements, and adding nutrients to the soil.

The edge effect is the boundary where two biological communities overlap, such as forest/grassland, or water/land. A non-linear edge takes up a little more space but creates a larger area for two ecosystems to overlap, and a third ecosystem to thrive in the overlap.

“Applying these principles offers a sound basis upon which to restore and regenerate agricultural land,” says Steve.


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