IMG_3239Last week I attended a three day course in Somerset with Owen Hablutzel from California. The course was about Keyline Design; a template for whole-farm planning using Yeoman’s scale of permanence and other dynamic design tools.

The course was structured around Yeoman’s scale of permanence. We worked through all the different factors that influence land-based decision making, from climate to soils. Owen shared his experiences of consultancy work and we had practical tasks like learning how to use different surveying tools. We looked at how key line design can help us in creating systems that are increasingly resilient in our changing socio-economic and unprecedented physical climate change. Through managing wholes we can navigate complexity.

IMG_3244A key part of key line is understanding geography; observing ridges and valleys, landshapes and water lines. These observations help us identify key points and key lines. The key point is basically the point of deposition, where materials, such as soil participles, are no longer being transported. Something I really enjoyed about the course was the emphasis on social geography and how the social and economic climates are just important to consider as the ecological ones. They aren’t separate and we need to survey and observe all of it extensively to make informed decisions.

We looked at the water aims of a key line system; maintaining household and farm water supply, improving the water cycle and putting water to work. Owen described it as, “Working with the self-organised properties of water”.

The primary ways to meet these aims are keeping the soil covered, optimising transpiration, building soil water holding capacity and utilising the geography of our landscapes to aid water catchment and storage. Through dams, ponds and planting patterns all of this can be strengthened.

We then covered roads and access. There were multiple factors at play but one permaculture principle stuck in my mind – that we can stack functions and make roads multifunctional. Roads can aid us in channeling and diverting water.

Agroforestry was the next area we covered. It reaffirmed to me the power of polycultural assemblies! Owen introduced criteria of what defines an agroforestry system (compared to just say trees in a field). Agroforestry systems are intention, intensive, integrative and interactive. Practices include windbreaks, riparian forest buffers, forest farming, alley cropping and wood pasture. He shared a photo of incredible ribbon forests and the natural patterns of windbreaks that nature has created.

Next up was soils, something I can never get enough of. Thankfully my inner soil geek was satisfied as we looked at soil formation essentials and the impact of the Yeoman’s plough. Owen describes it as a revolutionary piece of agricultural equipment. Unfortunately we didn’t get to see a real-life plough but did witness a sub soiler in action.

Overall I learnt a huge amount and am looking forward to taking on more broad scale projects where I can apply my learning.

For more regenerative agriculture courses in the UK visit:

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