National Permaculture Convergence 2018

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Your humble correspondent setting up with a BGS geology map and Robert Szucs’s river basin map [photo courtesy of Alan Charlton]
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!).

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Ed Tyler (left) [photo courtesy of Alan Charlton]
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.

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Antony Melville’s map of the Upper Thames Bioregion

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.

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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.

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 ‘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.

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4 thoughts on “National Permaculture Convergence 2018”

  1. Thanks James, shame I wasn’t there to engage. Angus has a point, also if the bioregional planning ends up like Transition’s Energy Descent Plans then we might as well give up now. That’s maybe unfair, as they lead to some nice spin offs, however almost every group that did one burnt out because of it. I always feel daunted when thinking of London’s bioregion as the city itself is such a voracious beast – any tips on that?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Stef, I guess a starting point for me is David Fleming’s oft-quoted line that ‘Localisation stands, at best, at the limits of practical possibility, but it has the decisive argument in its favour that there will be no alternative’ which I might parallel with the idea that the human future will be bioregional or it will not be.

      I’ve not been involved with creating an EDP so I can’t comment from the inside on their efficacy or whether they are generated in a sustainable way. As an outsider, I’d observe that, if it is true, that generating an EDP tended to burn out a Transition group and make them less rather than more effective – then that that is a powerful action learning that should be fed back into the system to re-design how EDP’s are generated, and/or to re-evaluate whether generating an EDP was a SMART goal – and if this learning wasn’t previously fed back (which burn out occurring more than once would imply) it suggests other weak points in the Transition model which also might benefit from addressing through a design approach. Your comment suggests that not every group which generated an EDP burnt out – so there are obviously success stories as well as warning stories to draw on. I’m sure someone involved in Transition would be able to give a fuller and more cogent account.

      RE: London – as Peter Berg noted, due to their large human populations and significantly high consumption level of resources, cities pose both a significant challenge to re-inhabitation and a wicked problem that must be addressed (http://www.planetdrum.org/bioreg_approach_cities.htm ). I think that there are massive opportunities for reducing London’s ecological impact and sourcing the city’s needs more regionally, and we know many of the projects doing so already which could be scaled. Nevertheless, the Thames river basin has a population of over 13 million people living in 16 000 km2 or 16 million hectares (roughly 20% of the UK population on 7% of its area); London’s population of 8.1 million alone has a per capita ecological footprint of 5.4 ha (total of 43,740,000 ha or 437,400 km2) and that indicates to me that in the medium to long-term, even with lifestyle change and infrastructure adjustments, the number/distribution of the UK population will be altered by external factors if not electively altered beforehand.

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