Saturday, March 21, 2015

Things that go bump in the night

Observation is the keystone of permaculture designing but even the most assiduous of observers has to get some sleep. We need a night watchman. Or an infra red scouting camera (a present for my 54th birthday from my mum). The first night, I rigged it up under our covered area that runs down the side of our house, just to try it out (I knew there'd be sure to be a few cats stalking about). When I checked the camera the following morning, I was surprised to see our little foxy visitor. Round here, they're proper countryside foxes, not like their bold city cousins, and won't approach built-up areas during the day. In nine years of living here, we've never lost a chicken to a hen. During the dark hours, when foxy comes nosing around, the hens and ducks are snoozing safely behind the wire netting of their runs.
Barn owl - Tyto alba

I tried for a few nights in our woodland, without success. I was still getting used to the settings and I wonder if my regular visits weren't leaving my scent to put timid night travellers off. Next stop was near neighbours Zied and Cécile, who run a dog kennels in our village. A while back an overly zealous official from the veterinary sanitary service demanded that they cleared a hay loft ... by Friday or be shut down! The hay had probably been there for over 30 years and had become a cosy home to a pair of barn owls. They had no option but to tidy up and, with the ever-helpful neighbour Paul and his venerable Massey Ferguson (older than the hay) we scattered the lot in our woodlands to dissolve into humus. Our only hope for the owls was to construct a suitable nest box, install it once the loft was cleared and hope for the best.

Zied has since seen owls flying in and out of the loft and there are pellets on the floor. The IR camera seemed a good way to see what was going on.
Pygmy owl - Glaucidium passerinium
After changing batteries, I forgot to reset the clock, so I can't say what hour they were photographed, just that they were ten hours apart. We were mystified why only one photo in a 24 hour period; surely, if they were nesting, there would be an outward journey followed by a flight home. We believe that these two species of owl are, at least for the moment, just using the barn as a quiet place to digest and regurgitate, hoping up onto the balcony of the nest box, prior to flying back outside.
Badger (bottom left of frame)

Having got the hang of how to set up the camera, I returned to the wood and found a little path clearly used by deer (plenty of footprints in the damp but firm earth). Sure enough, there's a male roe deer along with another pleasant surprise, a badger. Wild boar move around leaving their distinctive footprints, roughing up the woodland floor with their snouts and smoothing the bark of their favoured rubbing posts; I'm determined to catch one with the camera.

I'll return to the empty hay loft, with the clock properly set, and leave the camera for a week, so see if I can get a better idea of the nightly routine of the two owls; watch this space.
male roe deer

Saturday, January 03, 2015

Permaculture Principles – (Not) The definitive list.

There is a permaculture special in the Jan/Feb edition  of the French organic gardening magazine Les4 saisons du jardin bio and I have written an article on permaculture principles. 

As space is always at a premium in magazine articles, and as the principles of permaculture run to several different lists, I decided to translate them into French and host them on the French language version of this blog, with a link at the end of the article to guide readers to the resource on the Web.

The principles of permaculture are important as they guide our designing but we don't have a definitive list. To understand and then explain why in my article, I researched the history of the origins of permaculture. Back in the 70s, Mollison, who was a senior lecturer at the University of Tasmania, Australia, encountered David Holmgren, a student at the Tasmanian College of Advanced Education. (I put in this detail as it is often wrongly stated that Holmgren was Mollison’s student at uni, in fact, there's a lot of errors and misconceptions out there!)
In an apparently short yet intense association, these two created the backbone of the permaculture concept. After the publication of Permaculture One – a Perennial Agriculture for Human Settlements in 1978, they went their separate ways.

The charismatic, and sometimes provocative, Mollison continued to develop the concept by publishing several books, including The Designer's Manual (1988), then a concise version, Introduction to Permaculture (1991). Meanwhile, Holmgren, remained somewhat in the shadows, tested the theory on his property, called "Melliodora" in Hepburn Springs. He re-emerged into the limelight in 1995 with the publication of Ten Years of Sustainable Living at Melliodora, which details his own experiences of life on a smallholding designed using permaculture. In 2002, he published the reference book, Permaculture - Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability, which quickly became very popular.  
If you research the history of permaculture and the relationship between these two men, you will come across people expressing strong emotions and opinions. There are some trainers who say they teach using Mollison’s principles and others who say they teach the twelve principles of Holmgren. Do we need to treat them separately, or are they complementary?
  Permaculture One, the only book they published together (in 1978) does not contain an explicit list of principles, but most of the concepts that were later included in the list of principles are described therein.

In 1988, Mollison published, Permaculture: A Designers' Manual. Although “principles” do not appear in the table of
contents, in Chapter 2, under the subheading “The application of laws and principles to the design” he lists “certain design principles that have been condensed for use in permaculture.” Under each heading is an explanation.

In 1991, with Reny Mia Slay, he published a concise manual, Introduction to Permaculture. Chapter 1 is entitled “permaculture principles.” The principles are the titles to each section. For the principles (but without the detailed explanations you will find in the books) have a look at this page from the Permaculture Association.

In 2002, Holmgren released, Permaculture - Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability, in which he sets out and explains, with academic attention to detail, his twelve principles. They are set out here on his own site. As he introduced his 12 design principles, Holmgren said his group varies considerably from those used by most other permaculture teachers.” 

The subject deserves further study in order to be fully understood and applied correctly. A good start would be to read Mollison’s Introduction to Permaculture, Holmgren’s Permaculture - Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability and Patrick Whitefield’s The Earth Care Manual: A Permaculture Handbook for Britain and Other Temperate Countries (which is my favourite). Their sets of principles are quite different, yet complementary, and other permaculture writers and teachers have since adapted, added to and restated them. 

Permaculture principles, then, are not hard laws written on tablets of stone but they will provide you with a good initial guide to get you designing while you learn the underlying ethos of permaculture. Therefore, don’t feel restricted by these lists of principles rather research and, respecting the philosophy of the concept, synthesize the key ideas, observe and experiment, and so develop your own permaculture.