On Friday night I had the pleasure of attending a talk organised by Somerset Wildlife Trust given by renowned permaculture designer, teacher and author, Patrick Whitefield.

The talk explored the ‘Living Landscape’; how we can read and understand what we see around us. Patrick wove together an introduction to the core influences of our environment; the rocks  and soils, the climate and the ‘biotic’, all the living beings, trees, plants, animals and insects. Humans also come under the biotic and it is clear that we effect the landscape more than other species, but as Patrick revealed this can often be in subtle, unnoticeable ways.

His slideshow of photographs illustrated each of his points, whether it was comparing the height of a tree that had grown in a sheltered spot to one bearing strong winds, or the different plants which can indicate acid or alkaline soil. He also warned about not jumping to conclusions when reading the landscape, giving an example of a boggy area of a woman’s field, which she had suggested for a pond, only to learn it was compaction of the soil that had made the puddles.

My favourite part was his observations of trees, why some had grown gnarled and crooked, and others thin and spindly. What came across was that we are living in a managed landscape, where humans have a function in coppicing trees to stop their crowns from splitting, or thinning out trees to allow light in to the canopy. We sometimes forget the extent to which we have shaped the landscape, you so casually drive past fields and woods and you never stop to think (unless you’re now a landscape reading addict after Patrick’s talk), why is that field that shape? Why is that tree that tall? Why are heathers growing in one spot but not another?

What I took away was looking at the land on a holistic level, considering all of the different processes of social and ecological change that contribute to how the land is shaped. I’m a bit of a self-confessed plant geek and sometimes I am so busy looking down at the ground layer that I forget to look up at the or the trees or sky and the weather above my head and think about their role in it all.

The passionate curiosity for trying to read and understand the landscape came across in every sentence Patrick spoke. I doubt anybody left the little hall in Ilminster without learning something new which will make being outside even richer.  I am pretty certain that everybody left seeing the landscape with new eyes, even though it was dark, everyone in our carshare home was certainly peering out the windows trying to put our new knowledge to use!

If you’re interested in learning landscape reading skills you can buy a copy of Patrick’s book, here or see his website for the courses he runs. Thanks to the wildlife trust for organising the event, for a bargain of £2!

One thought on “Living Landscape Talk with Patrick Whitefield

  1. Permaculture Farming on 9th May 2011 at 11:25 am

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