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Why I would include this subject.

Natural regeneration provides us with powerful models for our design work. Since 1986 I have been privileged to observe on an almost daily basis this and have found it hugely inspiring, encouraging and empowering. The patterns unfolding in regenerating systems have applications not only in environmental design but also community and personal development.

To make effective use of the principle "work with nature not against it" requires us as designers to have an understanding of how nature works and what nature is trying to achieve in any given situation. Most of Britain was forested in the past, (I have seen estimates ranging from 80-97% forest) and that's what most land is trying to turn back into today. The only reason land doesn't turn back into forest is due to the limiting factors that apply on any given site. Initiating regeneration is simple and generally requires only the removal of those limiting factors. The initiation of regeneration, and the observation and interaction with this dynamic process is a hugely empowering experience.

I generally broaden regeneration out at some point. I remind people that we are dealing with a holistic system which includes both matter and consciousness. In the same way that environments and soils have become eroded and degraded, so too have we as individuals and communities suffered erosion and degradation. I present the idea that regeneration of individuals and communities can be approached in the same way as that of environments; that is, we can think of ourselves and our communities as having similar tremendous powers of regeneration, able to recover from enormous damage, heal ancient wounds, re-create our natural diversity and abundance.

There are a number of concepts or topics in Permaculture Design which are particularly suited to the communication of the holistic perspective; that is, concepts which permeate all the ethics and principles. It should be clear from what follows that I feel and think regeneration to be one of these key concepts in Permaculture Design.

Nb. I am indebted to Phil Corbett for first making clear to me the similarities between erosion of soils, individuals and communities, (1991).



Regeneration can be taught at various stages in a design course. I have at times gone straight from ethics (Earthcare) into regeneration or from principles (Work with...).


Guide to session duration.

This can be taught as an independant unit in a one hour slot. It can also be expanded to relate to regeneration of communities and ourselves as individuals in which case a day could be set aside. This provides an excellent holistic approach to the ethics for example.


How I teach this topic.

1. If I am teaching from my home I will show students the regeneration project on site. I find this to be an incredibly powerful teaching resource. The site can largely tell its own story and it is only necessary for me to provide a commentary on what people are looking at, answer specific questions and point out examples or evidence for the main points.

2. If I am teaching in another locality I will try to find examples of regeneration nearby. This is usually straightforward as nature is always trying to colonise everything; possible sites include any so-called derelict land, railway cuttings, building sites, abandoned quarries, overgrown gardens, the cracks between pavings, roadside verges etc. etc. Once students' attention is focused upon the concept of regeneration they will find many examples.

3. As well as site work or if a site is not available I will use a set of slides to show some of the stages in the regeneration process. The slides picture the progress of my own regeneration site and also cover other examples of regeneration in different situations.

4. I will also generally make some form of presentation of succession on a white or black board. I have used an Ice Age model, (see illustration), which shows the movement from mineral rich but organically poor soils after the ice age through to high forest. I draw this as a curve and include quick sketches of plants, animals etc. I usually get the students to drive this presentation by asking what comes next in the succession. There are no "wrong" answers here as I can fit any contributions within the basic curve and keep prompting until gaps are filled. Great detail on species and precise orders of succession are not crucial here. The presentation allows me the opportunity to make the main points if they do not arise from the group.

5. Lists of succession can be obtained from various sources, (see bibliography below). I use my own generated through observation of my own site. I point out that there is no single line of succession, that on any site the process will be complex and flexible depending on the limiting factors relating to a specific site and how much intervention is made. Also, after a few years, examples of all stages of succession will be present at the same time, particularly if paths and clearings are maintained, (say by grazing animals). The list I use as the basis for a presentation is as follows:


Main Points:

There are a number of points to be made regarding natural regeneration; these are not all of them.

    Land is a dynamic ongoing process.

    Sustainability; attention needs to be pointed to three main areas: water, soil and biodiversity

    Limits to yield; identification of limiting factors and their ordered removal. For eg.

    Steering; in practice, the regenerating system can be steered toward any of the zones


    Maintenance as harvesting

    Not always appropriate (eg species rich meadows, wet lands).


Link to principles.


Design exercises/group activities.

On guided walks I take some pieces of fencing wire that have been bent into the shaoe of the sole of a boot (about size 10). If I come across something unusual (like an orchid) I place the wire boot around it and make acomment. This marks delicate specimens so they don't get trodden on and makes people more aware of what they can crush if they tread carelessly. I also get them to toss the wire boot onto the ground and do a species count within the outline. This forms part of our "sensitivity training".


Mind Map summary/flow chart

Ice age model.


Graphics and photos.

I have a full set of slides depicting the regeneration process.


Living examples.

Argel, Tir Penrhos Isaf.

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