Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Terra Fluxus

As my thinking develops around Managed Retreat and the debatable lands of the English Orient, its hard to ignore all the flooding happening currently across the rest of the UK. This flooding is primarily pluvial, from rain over land rather than from incursions of sea (although the west coast has got a battering too) but the pattern of increasing indefensibility is common to both. A newly released report from the European Environment Agency, 'Climate change, impacts and vulnerability in Europe 2012' offers some more sobering predictions. The map below comes from the report and shows increasing risk of coastal and river flooding in the UK.

Without the flooding even happening, it looks like risk alone is going to start causing economic damage to people living in prone areas, with insurance being either unavailable or unaffordable, making houses unsaleable. So we are already retreating, but are we doing it consciously, strategically, and in a manner that is fair and cares for people and the planet? Clearly not I would say.

Floods at Curry Moor, Somerset (May, 2012)

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Survey - Where the Time Goes

Hours spent on various activities in average week.
Graph generated using "Create A Graph" on the NCES Kids' Zone site: nces.ed.gov/nceskids/createagraph/default.aspx

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Frameworks for Design - Presentation

Below is the slideshow element of my presentation of Permaculture Design Frameworks as given at the 2012 Permaculture Association AGM. I gave more information in my accompanying talk which will appear later when I've written something up. The slides should give something of the flavour though, and hopefully be an aide memoire for those that attended (thanks for your contributions!). It's best viewed full screen to avoid losing text on the right hand margin.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Eastern Region Permaculture Gathering 19-21July 2013

I am involved with the planning for the first East of England permaculture convergence. Details are emerging as plans firm up - but here are the dates and the venue:

Eastern Region Permaculture Gathering   19-21July 2013

Ringsfield Hall Eco Centre
Deepest Darkest Suffolk
NR34 8JR
Put a date in your diary so you can come along to the first Eastern Region Permaculture Gathering.


Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Permaculture Association AGM 2012

The schedule & programme of events for the 2012 Permaculture Association AGM has just been released (to see it bigger click on it so its on a page on its own, then click on it again).

 I'm on at 16:05 with my presentation on 'Frameworks for Design'.

Monday, 29 October 2012

Managed Retreat

The Division

Along the eastern shore of Britain the line between sea and land has been sketched many times and any particular stroke we might consider now as definitive tells us more about our place in time than about the place’s place in space. Up and down the coast are fields re-claimed from the brine, drained, each one a little victory in a guerrilla campaign against the tide, fought for and barricaded in, fortified with bank and stone work. The war, of course, was actually lost millennia ago when climate change had worked its assault on the northern ice and a distant frozen fortification was undermined - releasing a tsunami across Doggerland, our Palaeolithic Atlantis, the fabled land bridge across which the first hominids had walked here. Since then the German Ocean, the North Sea, has provided our moat – a stretch of water separating the British archipelago from the continent to which it belongs.

At the Essex shoreline by Ashingdon, a man named Canute made his landfall and later, on another beach he would demonstrate the futility of the commands that men make against the tide – but elsewhere and elsewhen engineers have been put to work, going into the debateable lands: marshes, saltings and fens disputing the shared commoning rights of earth and water in favour of settler claims for sole and undisturbed use.
Yet disturbation comes from time to time, the empire of the oceans may neglect its outlying territories for decades or centuries, but when the wind is right and the Moon aligned its legions may take back in moments that which was removed from its realm over lifetimes. The great storm surge of 1736, the high tide and winds of 1791, the severe gales of 1881, the 1897 hurricane, the watersnoodramp of 1953 – only the most recent incursions and inundations remain in the collective memory of man.

Each time man’s response has been the same – re-build the dykes, make the walls higher, drive more reinforcements into the earth. But shows of strength are often shows of folly – defeat disguised as victory. In the River Blackwater millennia ago, when the tide receded from the mud on the southern bank and the causeway to Northey Island was revealed, the folly of man was also unveiled. The tale is related in the Battle of Maldon (1), Old English verse telling a story of defeat by Norsemen after the over-reaching pride of the vanquished. Near the close of the poetic fragment that remains, Byrthwold a retainer of the fallen leader Brythnoth offers this counsel to his comrades:

‘Our hearts must grow resolute, our courage more valiant
our spirits must be greater, though our strength grows less.’

On that same island exactly one thousand years later to the year, a new negotiation with the sea began – aiming at accord, at truce making. The island’s titular owners, the National Trust, took down the wall, broke the bank letting earth and water re-enter discourse over the interior. The strategy was known as “managed realignment”, or more poetically (and preferably I believe) as “managed retreat” – the giving of ground. These lands of debate, marginal to farming are sanctuaries to avian migrants, local waders, mudskippers, to the halophyte vegetation: matrices of seablites, suaeda, glasswort, kali. They also form a softer edge, a thumb smudge of the pencilled line, rich ecotypes: yes, and they also take the shock of high water, disperse it, and ameliorate its impact.

‘Our maps must be the kind sketched in the dust with a stick, washed away by the next rain’ (2)

During the last ice-age, the pressure of a glacial mass on Scottish rock tipped our Alban head seawards, with a resultant kicking up of the island’s feet, lifting the south higher in the air. Now the south is falling, while Scotland rises again. After the ice – the isostatic rebound, pushing the austral soils towards water. And the sea also rises; a changing climate, global weirding, jetstream meanderings, new ice melt in the frozen lands, thermal expansion of the ocean – their tidemarks etch a warning on an out of date Plimsoll Line.
And so along the eastern shore, lines are being redrawn again, and we might respond with earth-movers and engineering or we might instead try to work with nature, we could restore the buffers and thereby give ourselves more time to complete the heavier lifting required to remove the weight of industrialism from our backs. More time to quiet the fossil-fuelled chimneys, to capture carbon in the topsoil and sequester it in the trees, to re-inhabit our life-places, to make a world within the limits of the Earth.

The great challenge of the coming years will be navigating the course of “energy descent”, the precipitous ride down from the dizzy heights of the petroleum interval. We need to step aside from the excesses - as a people, as a nation, as a region, as a community, as individuals – before we are pushed back, knocked over, deluged all at once with coming troubles. In the volume Anticipatory History (3) the authors remark of realignment that ‘the terminology might stink… but the possibilities of life without barricades is revolutionary’. I believe we should make a managed retreat.

1. Anon. Battle of Maldon modern verse translation by Douglas B. Killings.

2. Paul Kingsnorth & Dougald Hine Uncivilization: The Dark Mountain Manifesto (Lancashire: Bracket Press, 2009)

3. DeSilvey, C., Naylor, S. & Sackett, C. Anticipatory History (Axminster: Uniform Books, 2011)

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Frameworks for Design: Past, Present & Futures

Mindmapping the SADIM design framework
I've proposed a workshop for the 2012 Permaculture Association (UK) AGM based around recent research I've been undertaking on the origins of the design frameworks used in permaculture. Aranya's recent book Permaculture Design - a Step-by-Step Guide, and Mark Fisher's website provide some excellent information about the frameworks and how they can be used - but there is little information available about where they came from and how they entered into permaculture use. I plan to begin to address this. Below is the workshop proposal I made.

Workshop Synopsis:

Where do the design frameworks we use and promote in permaculture come from? Permaculture is a magpie discipline taking useful material from many places and often forgetting where it took it from along the way – what can we collectively re-member?  What are the histories of SADIMET, OBRDIMET and others – and might knowing those histories inform our use of them now? The workshop will present my recent research on the origins and will encourage input from attendees to fill in the gaps - permaculture elders and old hands are especially welcomed!

Permaculture Design Processes

Monday, 24 September 2012

Zone 0 Mapping with Floorplanner

I wanted to use our place as part of a design exercise on a session on retrofitting, which pushed me into creating some plans of the house at last. These are rough and ready and not totally to scale - this is more of a field map. I'm creating a fake estate agents document, so I wanted something that looks like it came from such a source.

I made these floor plans using the free ("Basic") version of Floorplanner (www.floorplanner.com) which seems to offer an immediacy that SketchUp didn't. At some point I should probably get to grips with SketchUp, but it doesn't seem particularly pressing at the moment.

The floorplans were exported as jpegs (the free version of Floorplanner only allows low res exports) and edited using Photoshop (although a  freeware image editor like Gimp would've worked just as well).

I've been trying to get it to do the garden too, but the export options in the basic version restrict the size too much to be useful:
 You can do slightly better be exporting the plan as an A3 pdf, then cropping out the image as below:

Thursday, 20 September 2012

History, memory and green imaginaries

On 30th November I'll be participating in the symposium 'History, memory and green imaginaries' at the University of Brighton's Centre for Research in Memory, Narrative and Histories. Below is the abstract for the short talk I'll be giving based on my Reels of Resilience work, after which I'll be taking part in a  round-table discussion and Q&A alongside Dr Rebecca Bramall, Senior Lecturer in Media Studies at University of Brighton, Tim Cooper, Senior Lecturer in History at the University of Exeter and Victoria Johnson, Head of Climate Change and Energy at the New Economic Foundation (nef).

I was invited to attend by Rebecca Bramall who was interested in the dual worlds I inhabited as a film curator and a permaculture educator, so this should prove a good opportunity to present some design thinking.

‘Re-member, Re-vision and Re-claim – Using archival film to facilitate local conversations about community resilience’ 


British non-fiction films of the first half of the 20th century display an apparently different country, one that is localised, less atomised, and more self-reliant. Propaganda films of the 1930s to 1950s, in particular, celebrate community and local resilience in a manner that appeals to the similar concerns of current social activists. What purpose might they serve now in kindling re-generative human habitats.

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Design: ALP Stage 2

I have been exploring some different ways of presenting the Action Learning Pathway for my Permaculture Diploma and also looking for tools to help me structure it most effectively. I was quite taken with the idea of considering the Diploma as a 'project' and using a Gantt chart to serve both the purposes described above.

I don't have any background in producing/using Gantt charts, just a basic concept of their operation, so this is experimentation with the form. I'm planning that learning how to use one for this purpose, will support me in using them on other projects in the future.

I plumped for using the open-source freeware programme GanttProject 2.5.5 (available for Windows/Mac OSX and Linux). There are some video tutorials on how to use it:

I'm not sure if it's going to completely suit my purposes, but if nothing else it has introduced me to the concept of the PERT (Program Evaluation and Review Technique) chart. I think I encountered this idea before, while doing (the largely useless( APM Certificate in Project Management, but it wasn't described as a PERT chart then. I used GanttProject's inbuilt functionality to turn my ALP Gantt into a PERT, the end result looked a bit skewy - so I messed about with it to create the top graphic - which felt like the first tolerable output of the whole process, but has probably totally messed up the standard PERT infographic. Also, I don't understand the different colours in the diagram, I think they must relate to something I did at the input stage.

I obviously need to get to grips with Gantts, PERTs and GanttProject a bit more to realise their potential - but my main learning from this process has been that using these tools is over-engineering and over-complicating the task I need to achieve right now. As a personal project, the Diploma does not have the range of other players a large project might have & I should be able to come up with a reasonable timetable without going to the lengths of a Gantt project schedule.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Design: Sustainable Commute Survey Stage 2

Road route is marked by thin blue line, with approximate train route marked by red line followed by tube route in green.

According to: www.distance-calculator.co.uk/distances-for-south_woodham... The approx distance between South Woodham Ferrers and London (oxford Street) in a straight line is 33 miles (53.1km) - while the actual driving distance is 40.6 mi (65.3km) (taking about 1 hour 11 mins in normal conditions).

According to www.nationalrail.co.uk/ a train & tube journey between South Woodham Ferrers train station and London Tottenham Court Road tube station in the morning should take between 1hr 1 min and 1hr 10 min from a scheduled start time. According to www.travelfootprint.org/journey_emissions/ - the train journey between South Woodham Ferrers train station and London Stratford station is 30.2 miles (48.6km) plus a tube journey of 6.4 miles (10.3km) - so a total distance of 36.8 miles (58.9 km).

According to a Personal Travel Factsheet produced by the Department of Transport and based on data from the National Travel Survey (NTS) assets.dft.gov.uk/statistics/series/national-travel-surve... : "The average journey time to work has been steadily increasing; it takes 28 minutes, an increase of 18% on 1995/97 (24 minutes). The average journey to work for London residents takes just over 41 minutes, 48% longer than the national average." While: "On average, commuting trips by foot take 18 minutes, by cycling 22 minutes, by car 24 minutes, by bus 41 minutes, and by surface rail 69 minutes."

According to a 2003 RAC Foundation study reported on by the BBC, the average UK commuter's trip takes 45minutes, while the average distance travelled is 8.7 miles (these 2 facts don't seem to add up though!) news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/3085647.stm The journey time was reportedly the longest in Europe.
A subsequent report by the RAC Foundation in 2007 indicated that the average distance travelled remained 8.7 miles, while the commuter travels for 54 minutes a day. One in ten commuters have a daily journey in excess of 2 hours. People working in London have average daily commutes of 86 minutes, almost double the commuting times of other regions. www.racfoundation.org/media-centre/files/theukcommute.pdf

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Rivers of Life

Over the last few years, I found myself called upon three times to draw up a 'river of life' presenting a pictorial narrative of my development with important people and events noted and acknowledged along the way. The first one I did was at the start of my Msc in Human Ecology in September 2008 with the Centre for Human Ecology at the University of Strathclyde, and if not currently lost is certainly mislaid. The second one I did is shown above and was created at the start of the Training of Teachers course  I did with Designed Visions. The third is shown below and was created in January 2010 on a Diploma induction day with Graham Burnett and Hannah Thorogood.

Being the kind of person I am, I wanted to know where this technique came from and have traced it back to the work of the theologian James W Fowler. In the Manual For Faith Development Research by James W. Fowler, et. al. the technique is presented as "The Life Tapestry Exercise" and its provenance is given thus:

The exercise entitled "The Unfolding Tapestry of My Life" (see Appendix 7.2) was originally developed for use in some of the workshops conducted by the Center for Research in Faith and Moral Development. It draws on the work of Levinson (1978), Progoff (1975; 1980; 1983), and others, as well as faith development theory.

The references given in that quote are to these books:

Levinson, D. J. (1978). The Seasons of a Man's Life. New York: Ballantine Books.
Progoff, I. (1975). At a Journal Workshop. New York: Dialogue House Library.
Progoff, I. (1980). The Practice of Process Meditation. New York: Dialogue House Library.
Progoff, I. (1983). Life-Study: Experiencing Creative Lives by the Intensive Journal Method. New York: Dialogue House

Daniel (D.J.) Levinson was a psychologist, and one of the founders of the field of Positive Adult Development. Dr Ira Progoff meanwhile was an American psychotherapist, best known for his development of the Intensive Journal Method.

Having this kind of context is very useful for me as a learner, although I am aware that my cognitive style and desire for this kind of context may work against the lived experience of just doing an exercise and feeling the results. I do have a tendency to over-intellectualization!

Design: Sustainable Commute - Survey Stage 1

(noun) a person who travels some distance to work on a regular basis

In May 2012 I began a new full-time job in central London, while living out in Essex. Not for the first time in my life, I became a commuter...

There are reasons and justifications for all the decisions that led to this situation, living in Essex - working in London. All of which are worthy of inquiry in their own right, but for now I'll just accept these as boundary conditions of a situation that requires design.

In fact when I began the job, I felt my options were limited and chose to repeat actions I had made before, which had largely worked. [this is a design process of a sort, of course, and one commonly used - what worked before? do that again - but a very limited one]. I bought a monthly season ticket for the local railway, which was expensive but affordable within my new salary and began a daily return journey to work using train and tube to get me to work.

I'm now in my fourth month of repeating that pattern and at the end of a 3 week hiatus after a week's leave followed by a fortnight of telecommuting during the Olympics. It seems to be a good moment to pause and reflect - to do a survey of how things stand as the initial stage of a design process.

I think a good place to start a survey/begin reflection might be with a client interview - a pre-determined list of questions that I can use to structure my reflections and guide me toward capturing valuable information that an informal account might miss.

There are a few pro-forma permaculture client interview sheets around, including:
  1.  one put together by Joe Atkinson for the Permaculture Association's Introductory Course materials.
  2. one put together by Aranya and provided as a download for purchasers of his book Permaculture Design - A Step by Step Guide.
  3. A client interview checklist printed in Patrick Whitefield's book The Earth Care Manual.
These all share many common attributes, not the least of which is that they are all land based/site focused. This means that they are not immediately appropriate for a non-land based design.

I feel that Aranya's provides the most easily modifiable to my purposes, so I have adapted his Client Interview questions for a wider context. [It's a quick and dirty solution however, as thinking about the type of information the site questions are seeking to draw out and considering the non-site analogues for that type of information, quickly reveals that a non-land based based client interview sheet really needs its own design].

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Natural Patterns

I've now tweaked the video of the Natural Patterns talk I gave at the 2012 London Permaculture Festival, incorporating the presentation slides at the relevant point, which will hopefully assist in communicating the information. Here it is: The book I mention in the video is Metapatterns: Across Space, Time and Mind by Tyler Volk, which I first encountered after seeing it referred to in Starhawk's book The Earth Path.

Volk has a few videos up on Youtube including a short series on Metapatterns. Here's the first:

During the Q&A I mention Vi Hart's videos on the Fibonacci sequence in nature, there;s an excellent series of 3 on Vi Hart's video channel, the first of which is embedded below:

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Patterns of Mind: Habits

Tyler Volk's book Metapatterns is subtitled 'Across Space, Time and Mind' - highlighting three distinct areas in which we might examine patterns. I have started to address some of the aspects of pattern in spatial terms, in my work on natural pattern that you can see some of here.

I've also been thinking a lot recently about mental patterns, patterns of mind - what we might also refer to as habits. This seems a fruitful area to explore for the Diploma student. In fact a commonly referenced book in regard to learning as a Diploma student, uses the formulation 'habit': Stephen R. Covey's The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People; Powerful Lessons in Personal Change.

Two other resources which may be useful in this regard are Leo Babuta's book and website Zen Habits, and  Charles Duhigg's book The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business.

Public Presentations

A good way of getting Permaculture ideas to reach a wider audience is to talk about it publicly - by which I mean outside the formal teaching context and its self-selecting attendees.

Thus far, the closest I've got to this if a kind of halfway house - giving workshops and presentations at small events and at the London Permaculture Festivals in 2010, 2011 and 2012.

Stills for films in the Reels of Resilience show
 At the first London Permaculture Festival in 2010 I curated and presented the 'Reels of Resilience' film show of archival documentaries from the 1930s and 1940s, encouraging the audience to find parallels between then and now. I tried to make it more than just a film show, so that the audience would both observe and interact with the material. I thought that the Permaculture ethics were apparent in the films and that they showed ordinary people creatively adapting and responding to change and inspiration to us now with our different challenges. I had presented these films (and others) previously in other Permaculture and non-Permaculture contexts including the Permaculture Picturehouse in Hackney (2nd June 2009), Green on the Screen in Crouch End, a Transition Leytonstone event, and at The Hornbeam Community Cafe in Walthamstow - I also repeated the presentation at the 2010 Permaculture convergence.

I first conceived the idea whilst studying Action Research with Nick Wilding during my MSc in Human Ecology during which I created the document Reels of Resilience - Audience Development and Sustainable Community outlining the project in more detail.

At the 2011 London Permaculture Festival I was involved in two public engagements. I gave a presentation of the life and books of Robert Hart alongside Claire White's presentation of Forest Gardening. I also led a workshop on Future Scenarios connecting with the Permaculture Association's work in this area. I've written more about that here.

At the 2012 London Permaculture Festival I gave an interactive talk on the subject of natural patterns within the context of Permaculture, I've written more about that here.

Saturday, 4 August 2012

The Trivium

First thoughts on The Trivium critical thinking meme - education #design skills for the #permaculture auto-didact?

I recently stumbled across the contemporary interest in The Trivium in the USA, which has revived my thinking around independent scholarship and the idea of the auto-didact.

This was completely new to me, before listening to this podcast the other day.

The upshot: classical (& Renaissance?) education was based around study of the 7 Liberal Arts - to be studied in a precise order and divided into 2 blocks The Trivium and The Quadrivium.

The Trivium: Grammar, Logic, Rhetoric
The Quadrivium: Number, Geometry, Music, Cosmology

The podcast led me to a contemporary US "movement" promoting The Trivium as a model for self-education and resistance to hegemonic power/propaganda. These seem to be the main nodes: Trivium EducationTragedy and Hope, Trivium Binder

A more general google search, once you get past the heavy metal band of the same name, tends towards the use of The Trivium in the US homeschooling movement, especially amongst the Christian edge of that.

Other negative associations - parts of The Trivium fanbase seems to include political conspiracy theorists and Ayn Rand style Objectivists.

Other interesting associations - Jan Irvin of Trivium Education also runs Gnostic Media and has background interest in psychedelics, qabbalah etc.; There's also a relation with the radical education views of John Taylor Gatto, spoken about by Derrick Jensen amongst others.

As with anything like this, there's a lot of crap out there, and while there's a wealth of interesting web audio/video - some of the more interesting commentators have terrible droney voices.

Nevertheless, I sense something important in all of this, and would be interested in yr thoughts and any connections/associations with any of this you may already have.

Natural Pattern Talk at London Permaculture Festival 2012


Raw video of the talk I gave at the 2012 London Permaculture Festival  - I'm currently working on an edited version incorporating my presentation slides.

UPDATE (9th Aug 2012). The edited/tweaked version is now uploaded and viewable on this page, where it is joined by further supporting videos & references.

Scything at Wimpole Hall

Saturday, 5 May 2012

TWIG Southend

Making a Smoothie on an 'energy bike'

Here's a video interview (below) with me talking about some of the the things we do at home to be more eco friendly, recorded for the Twig project in Southend. For more information on how you can save both energy and money head over to their website at www.twigsouthend.org.uk or follow them on twitter @twigsouthend

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Pareto Principle

Last weekend I attended a Permaculture Diploma support event put on by Claire White and Hedvig Murray at the Grow Mayow Community Garden in Sydenham. I was reluctant to go, the weight of an unfinished diploma and the sense of how much further on people who started much later than me were, bumming me out. But I did go, and realised how much further along I was, really most of what I need to do is to turn my notes/photos/plans into a communicable document.

A lot of people at the event kept referring to the 80/20 idea, which I believe is accurately described as the Pareto Principle. It's an appealing idea, which can be used as a quantifier for the permaculture concept of design intensivity.

I have my concerns over the wide application of 80/20 thinking though, which aren't limited to the perils of presenting is to procrastinators (who will find whole new reasons for delaying action (implementation)). I've been on the wrong end of some bad business methods based on interpreting 80/20 to suit pre-conceived ideological ends, and using the concept's apparent neutrality as a disguise for power plays.

It's a reminder that no tool is neutral, and the application of thinking tools can quickly reflect prior thinking biases - a caveat that should guide their use.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Using Photosynth

I'm always on the look out for new tools, and I've been meaning to try photosynth for a while. Being a Windows product, its not mac friendly, so It's taken until a pc entered the family for me to give it a go.

I'm already pretty happy with it, it adds greater verisimilitude than the panoramas I've been creating recently, so should help communication over the distance of space and time.

Saturday, 28 January 2012


The Wassailers Amass

Re-invigorating South Woodham Ferrer's Community Orchard 'Salthaven', Grounding Permaculture arranged a wassailing event. Thanks to Marsh Farm Country Park for letting it happen and a big shout out to Trefor and Holly of The Fancy Dress Party for playing some beautiful music.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Wassailing at Salthaven Community Orchard

Come Wassail at Salthaven Community Orchard

First local event in our new home town! After getting nowhere finding anyone involved with the 'Community Orchard', we decided to put on our own event. This eventually drew out the land owners: Marsh Farm Country Park - our town's council owned farm no less. After some initial argey, we all cooled down & agreed to collaborate. Downside - the advertised mulled cider is to be downgraded to warm spiced apple juice (party pooping courtesy of council health & safety issues - not that there's much alcohol left after you've mulled cider for an hour!). Upside, we're all working together and planning future events already.

We still don't know who will turn up thie Saturday, but we are promised a short set from a duo set from members of local band The Fancy Dress Party, who have kindly agreed to brave the cold!

Watch a video of the full band playing around the delightful church at Ulting, which synchronously Claire and I also stumbled across while cycling between Witham and Maldon a couple of years back: