Ahead of an open Network planning meeting at the Biospheric Foundation’s ‘Irwell House’ from 6 to 8.30pm on Monday 15th October, MCFly asked Jane Morris to explain a bit about what permaculture is, and what it has to offer a genuinely sustainable and just Manchester.
Manchester Permaculture Network learning from nature and evolving designs – a forest gardener’s viewpoint
by Jane Morris, September 2012
Informed by discussion with Vinny Walsh, Liz Postlethwaite & Rob Squires who has kept the Network’s website together – thanks all.
The word ‘permaculture’ (copyright: Permaculture Institutes & their graduates) is from ‘permanent agriculture’ and ‘permanent culture‘, It is an approach to designing whole systems, through maximising the interconnectedness of elements with its scientific base in ecology (CPUL 2005). So working with, rather than against, nature it enables the design, assembly and cultivation of ecosystems, ways of living and communities that endure because of the beneficial relationship of elements to each other and to the energy flows (eg from the sun, rain, human effort or money). A correctly designed system will, like a natural ecosystem, become increasingly diverse and self-sustaining.
Permaculture is, thus, study of the design of enduring systems that support and sustain human societies, from agricultural and architectural design, to community, organisational or economic development. Described by its originator Bill Mollinson as the only organised system of design He says it is about“protracted and thoughtful observation rather than protracted and thoughtless action; looking at systems in all their functions rather than only one yield; and allowing systems to demonstrate their own evolutions”. For more exploration
This systems approach can be applied to a garden, project, household, service or business, or to develop more sustainable and productive, non-polluting and healthy neighbourhoods and communities. It can mean adapting existing places, settlements and spaces or starting from scratch, creating more stability and social justice, increasing tree and ground cover and deepening soils, building community strengths and reciprocity and improving chances of peace, adequate shelter and supplies, if not abundance, and health and well-being.
Its ethical framework of co-operation with nature and each other, earth and people care, is rooted in traditional resource use strategies and innovative sustainable agriculture, most often applied by people living close to nature in rural areas (eg at Middlewood in the NW http://www.middlewood.org.uk/middlewood.html) and especially established the South West of England. A few urban communities have used permaculture over some time (eg Springfields on the fringe of Bradford and London’s ‘Naturewise’). It has become more prominent in towns and cities over the last decade, generally on a small scale affecting people’s perspectives but yet to be very productive or have significant ecological impact in urban areas.
Permaculture design evolves as the environments worked within change and it is instigated, operated and allowed to operate at different and sometimes nested levels. Applicable to small yard or garden, household, business or bioregion; redesign of many places/spaces, planning and building, preserving fragile ecosystems or regenerating damaged habitats, permaculture design and strategies can make neighbourhoods more productive and inclusive. “Good design depends on a free and harmonious relationship between nature and people, … through continuous and reciprocal interaction” see http://www.David Holmgren design principles. Assembly of such carefully designed environments in our metropolis with the diversity, stability and resilience of natural ecosystems could produce needed and desired yields and many dividends in terms of health, sustainability and security.
Resilience is the capacity of a system to deal with change and continue to develop; withstanding shocks and disturbances and using such events as catalysts for renewal and innovation. This concept related to robustness and adaptive capacity is used across disciplines from engineering to psychology and most crucially in socio-ecological systems. Destructive monocultures have undermined mixed sustainable farming, subsistence and ecology. Resilience is intrinsically linked to diversity of knowledge, materials, methods, skills, yields etcetera for individuals, organisations and whole systems, see the work of Vandana Shiva, eg: http://www.navdanya.org/climate-change-and-biodiversity, a guide to indigenous knowledge and climate change: http://bit.ly/indigenousknowledge and Lin Ostrom reviewed: http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol17/iss2/art31/
Biodiversity is the alternative to fossil carbon and the foundation of life, it underpins ecosystem services and resilience, beyond the yields of food, wood, fibre, fuel and freshwater to regulation of climate and disease – it supports our soil, security, health, social relations, cultural opportunities and freedom of action. It is fragile and being diminished across the globe. So, as well as protecting remaining rain forests and ancient woodlands, we need to re-forest and increase tree and ground cover and biodiversity in all sorts of spaces
’Gardening with Nature’ using trees and other perennials, nitrogen fixing and self-seeding plants imitating the patterns and other processes of natural woodlands, in forest gardens can produce a range of food and other plant products, and high yield compared with orchards and other monocultures. Forest gardening as pioneered by Robert Hart (1991) is based on the seven distinct layers or ‘storeys’ of the natural forest, creating guilds of plants to support each other in a low maintenance, productive and sustainable ecosystem see http://www.spiralseed.co.uk/forestgarden/page2.html. Agroforestry and forest gardening can be applied in all sorts of spaces including roofs, yards, larger balconies and atriums. Even inner-city communities can develop self and mutual reliance, and use abundant materials from:
- Nettles, Mints and Sweet Cicely see http://www.pfaf.org/Myrrhis+odorata to Blackberries, Rosehips, Apples and Elder flowers/berries and Lime leaves and flowers;
- Parks, Avenues and Groves, and community gardens, orchards and woodlands/forests and biodiverse grounds with improved soils – some managed for particular yields/outcomes others naturalising or wild;
- cleaner and safer air, soil, water and cycling and pedestrian routes, and
- mutually beneficial social enterprises.
Lost habitats, resource depletion and global warming and its associated extremes increase the need for all kinds of resilience. We can’t predict much about how these climate changes will come about nor crises in supplies, but permaculture’s practical approach, careful observation and natural system designs can help prevent or prepare for floods and other consequences of climate change, energy transitions and “all aspects of creating a sustainable future” (http://xa.yimg.com/kq/groups/Oct Leeds PDC.pdf). ‘Future Scenarios’ (Holmgren, 2009) shows permaculture’s particular potential after peak oil and cheap fossil fuels. The inevitable ’Transition’ or ‘Energy Descent’ may take different paths with or without nuclear energy and collapses/crashes. Permaculture could be applied in the different scenarios and can be used in countering pollution, erosion and desertification and response to crises. It often emerges in the toughest of places and hardest of times eg: http://www.permacultureglobal.com/Marda-permaculture-farm, Palestine
We can smooth transition to food, energy and general security, hopefully with extremely low maintenance forest gardens abounding and other self-maintaining systems finding their niche, and evolving earth stewardship and symbiosis with nature. Certainly we can increase biodiversity and ecological health and improve quality of lives via greening of inner cities, repair of degraded environments and whole systems approaches in all sorts of places, groups, communities and organisations see http://www.unep/pdf/Blue Planet Imperative to Act. Perma-cultures with a stabilising climate on this ‘Blue Planet’ may be feasible if we imitate nature’s designs, up-cycle, rationalise trade eg with regard to food miles and seasonality, use waste productively and ”innovate to make consumption of those products a positive action, responding to all basic needs for water, food, energy, health and shelter” see http://www.blueeconomy.eu/our philosophy.php. Integrated and holistic permaculture solutions do tend to solve many different challenges simultaneously. Opportunities arise from crises and from demand for more inclusive environments, transport and land use; ‘green’ economy and ‘localisation’ and from the imperatives of public health, post-industrial regeneration, food and fuel poverty and international injustices see http://www.permaculture.org.uk/principle/12-creatively-use-and-respond-change
Manchester Permaculture Network’s events and other activities in the metropolis and surrounding counties have clusters and phases of activity reflected by various projects/courses and collaborations eg with ‘Abundance’ or local Transition initiatives. The Northern School is currently running a 72-hour international Permaculture Design Course (PDC) in North Manchester that will award participants the Permaculture Association certificate. Network aims were discussed following review of the recently completed Salford Permaculture Design Course, and a few years ago when working on a possible draft constitution, they can be summarised as to:
- link the ever growing web of permaculturists in Manchester and the surrounding bio-region but especially in the urban areas;
- create support and beneficial connections between individuals, groups and projects; &
- learn together and educate about permaculture and related topics, co-operating with other organisations.
The Network supports numerous community projects including:
- Birchfields Park Forest Garden in Rusholme – we need more gardeners in our most public of forest gardens! see last month’s article by Yasmin Quayyum http://manchesterclimatemonthly.net/2012/07/18/birchfeeields-park-forest-garden/
- Burnley ‘Offshoots’ which is has wide-ranging projects and activities including training and eco therapy see http://www.offshoots.org.uk/
- Leaf St Community Garden in Hulme;
- Two allotments designed on permaculture principals near Southern Cemetery started by Action For Sustainable Living see http://www.afsl.the-lost-plot
- MERCi Sustaining Change, ‘Herbie’ Fruit and Veg Van, flax growing etcetera
- Saddleworth Community Hydro & Stockport Hydro;
- Salford’s ‘Biospheric Foundation’ where a 72 hour design course ran over two weeks this summer and a Forest Garden emerges between the riverbank and the mill under renovation. There’s a range of projects around food, energy and waste including fresh fruit and veg delivery and ‘Epoch 6’ design studio (for innovation/other research around challenges facing inner city communities and ecology) http://biosphericfoundation.com/
Wigan Allotment Network with workshops and opportunities for organised groups and individuals to volunteer eg on the community allotment at Worsley Hall.
The associated e-list includes others involved with more local and other projects from Trafford and Stockport, Prestwich Forest and the Calder Valley to Leeds and beyond. The diversity and variation of permaculture activities in and around Great Manchester should be celebrated, says Vinny Walsh of the Biospheric Foundation “This is how true resilience emerges, as research suggests from the Stockholm Resilience Centre” See http://www.stockholmresilience.su.se/21/about-us.html
The next event an open Network planning meeting will be at the Biospheric Foundation’s ‘Irwell House’ from 6 to 8.30pm on Monday 15th October. Ideas for further events include a wider Forum for local/urban perma-projects, visits to each other’s projects; follow up to MERCi’s ‘Blue Economy’ seminar &/or a workshop with ‘Steady State Manchester’ on design solutions. For latest news and events, PC TV, how to join the Network’s email list etcetera see http://manchesterpermaculturenetwork.howcreative.co.uk/node
Robert A de J Hart, 1996 ‘Forest Gardening: Rediscovering Nature & Community in a Post-Industrial Age’ Green Earth Books, Dartington
David Holmgren 2009 ‘Future Scenarios: How communities can adapt to peak oil and climate change’, Green Books, Dartington.