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Value of Building Skills in Reading the Landscape

Value of Building Skills in Reading the Landscape

by April Sampson-kelly -
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Reading and Interpreting maps is a valuable part of Permaculture Design

It builds vital skills to:

1.       understand how nature uses gravity

2.       help predict and use natural forces such as gravity, seed dispersal, wind, sunlight and thermal bands

3.       recognise patterns in nature and use these to advantage

4.       understand other people’s findings on landscape (through maps)

5.       document our own discoveries

6.       manage water and nutrient flow in your permaculture systems

7.       interpret and improve a permaculture design

The ability to read the landscape has always been an essential part of Permaculture. Skills in mapping and reading the landscape help create reliable plans to build sustainable projects.

“One of the fundamental issues of permaculture design consultancy is the need for a thorough understanding of the processes shaping the landscape and their interaction with land use, contemporary and historical. This need is critical because permaculture relies more on working with natural processes than in transforming the landscape through high energy inputs‘’

 David Holmgren[1]

picture of micro-earthworks creating swales to redirect flood water

Mapping Skills in Practice

Mapping is an essential part of planning. The Permaculture principle of acting from patterns to details ensures that our mapping is patterned to include a variety of influences. And the details work to achieve the goals of the design. However, it is the mapping that shows the truth of a design. The map will detail the true efficiency of concepts and expose the true cost of a design.  Through mapping we can evaluate whether the concept design fits the landscape and be achievable without too much cost to the environment through earthworks or other resources. Detailed maps examine how the key features interact with the natural world.

Permaculture design makes good use of nature and includes natural resources such as sunlight, gravity, wind, and water. The beauty of natural resources is they are constantly reliable. For example: water nearly always flows downhill. With mapping skills, we can direct the water through a chain of ponds, use the water flow to maintain edges, harvest nutrients in the settled pools of water, build fertility and enrich food forest yields.

Without mapping skills, our designs could cause structural damage, unbalance ecosystems, position fences unwittingly to cause erosion, drown creatures in storm events, damage plants and some trees with frost, or shade out areas in the dark of winter.

In addition, the creation of healthy social designs also use mapping tools to identify the bioregion, locate useful resources and networks of key members of the social team.

[1]  David Holmgren’s Collected Writings Article 3 An eclectic approach to the skills of reading landscape and their application to permaculture consultancy