Ed Tyler and I delivered a workshop on Bioregional thinking at the 2018 National Permaculture Convergence, which took place in Hulme, Manchester last weekend. The session was well attended and enthusiastically received which was a relief after all the stressing out and prep I did beforehand. I didn’t manage to cover everything I wanted to include, so the slideshow linked to here (pdf download): Bioregionalism in these islands includes more than was discussed on the day.
In the presentation, I tried to position bioregionalism within permaculture thinking using the work of David Holmgren and multiple applications of the zoning model. The main image above presents Bioregionalism as a design strategy within permaculture, based on some example principles and patterns, with some suggested techniques that might emerge from such a strategy (a non-comprehensive list!).
Antony Melville was also in attendance and brought his work-in-progress bioregional map on the ‘Upper Thames Bioregion’ which we also displayed. Both Ed and Antony are involved with the Bioregional Community of Practice that has emerged through Isabel Carlisle and The Bioregional Learning Centre.
Bioregionalism is such a rich topic, it was perhaps inevitable that we would be limited in what we could do in an hour session, and I don’t think we really drew enough on the inspiring work Ed and Antony are doing and we didn’t mention other bioregional activity happening in these islands. Given we were in Manchester, it was a shame we also didn’t manage to connect up with, or even mention!, Mark Burton of Steady State Manchester, author of A Green Deal for the Manchester-Mersey Bioregion (2010). So let’s hope that this was the beginning of something richer.
There were some clear connections with other stuff talked about at the Convergence, not least the ongoing CTRLshift activity ‘to develop a shared agenda for shifting power over our democracy, economy and environment, from Westminster and multinational corporations, to people and communities across Britain.’ Andy Goldring of the Permaculture Association proposed that there might be a bioregional session in the next CTRLshift summit in 2019 – which would be a useful bridge and could help develop a set of appropriate techniques within a bioregional strategy.
Another, unexpected, connection occurred at a fringe event hosted by the Northern School of Permaculture close to the Convergence. Angus Soutar presented a provocative talk ‘Plan B for Permaculture’ suggesting appropriate and inappropriate concerns for permaculturalists at this time. Angus drew on the concept of ‘Plan B’ introduced in the article ‘Peak Oil Clouds Our Focus‘ (Permaculture Activist, #60, May 2006) by Poul Erik Pedersen and Tony Andersen, (with the support of the other participants at the 2006 Scandinavian Permaculture Teachers’ Seminar in Svenshogen, Sweden) and expanded on it’s concerns by placing them within a contemporary UK focus.
‘Plan B requires us, in our projects and approaches to the surrounding society, to systematically seek to become of essential value to those around us in our locality. If not, we will likely be sacrificed and washed away in the inevitable conflicts to come, and the primitive processes of protectionist exclusion that will be the expected response of society groupings. This is a worrying prospect to the extent that some eco-villages and permaculture projects have developed isolationist and even elitist attitudes towards their surrounding bioregions.
This is where the concept of the Bioregions comes in, as an important aspect of permaculture. If we want to survive the crash, we should have already started to build up some robust bioregional networks in order to have the people, the knowledge and the contacts ready for action. Our resources need to be organised geographically, according to the areas that can supply themselves with all basic resources, preparing for disruption to our modern (and vulnerable) supply-systems.’
Angus celebrated the work of permaculturalists active in their localities, while disparaging those that focused on current ‘distractions’ like Brexit. He mainly discussed projects in and around Manchester, but similar work in Bristol was evidenced in Sarah Pugh’s presentation at the Convergence on the activity stimulated by her and colleagues inspiring Shift Bristol course in practical sustainability.
While I see Brexit as a driver rather than a distraction, in conversation we did not seem so far apart in our thinking. Although I acknowledge that my attempts at framing my concerns within ‘meta-narrative frameworks’ risks misdirecting energies perhaps better applied to practical tasks. It’s often easer to theorise about local community actions than it is to actually speak to your neighbour and find your common ground – although this is perhaps the key task of living bioregionally.