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Designing the Landscape

The  Dyffi Biospehere - how schools will investigate it

We ask a lot of the land around us. We need it to provide food, construction materials, water, fuel, and space for roads, houses, golf courses and shops. In addition we need it for less tangible ecosystem services like oxygen, carbon storage, biodiversity and the absorption of water to prevent flooding. We also want it to look nice and cheer us up when we go for a walk in it. And all this has to be organized and paid for somehow, which means that political and economic decisions have to be made.

This is something that concerns all of us, as voters and consumers and maybe as farmers and growers. So how do we look at the big picture and make sure that we get the best outcome? It’s a huge topic, requiring as it does a vast amount of information and local knowledge about what can be done with our countryside. It also needs discussions about what future different people want to see, reconciling conflicting points of view and developing some sort of consensus about values and procedures.


Education for Sustainable Development and Global Citizenship is the term given in Wales to this sort of big picture thinking. It isn’t just about deciding how we are going to cut our carbon footprint and halt global warming; it’s also about empowering people, examining shared values, and practising skills of empathy and debate. It is compulsory in our schools now, and one way to help schools engage with it is to ask them what they want to see in the land around their homes. Do they want roads, gardens, housing estates or nature reserves? Do they want their community council to create more allotments or would they rather rely on imported food – and hope that cheap oil lasts a bit longer?

Permaculture has a great deal to contribute here, offering as it does a set of principles and ethics that can structure such discussions. The concept of zoning, for instance – vegetables around the house, cash crops further away, wilderness and water storage in the hills – is easily grasped, as is the idea of multiple yields from single elements, and turning waste into resources. It’s common sense that has been set aside because we have collectively been more interested in money and short term gain

So let’s think how we can help schools get to grips with these questions. Organic Centre Wales hopes to involve schools in the Dyfi Biosphere in an investigation of land use in 2011. Concentrating on food as our most immediate connection with the countryside, we are encouraging schools to look at the food that is being produced in the Dyfi Valley now and compare it with the much wider range of foods that the area supplied in say 1900, or even the 1950s, when cereals were grown for milling and every family kept a pig. There is a wealth of information available on tithe maps, in museums and in people’s memories. Schools are well placed to tap into local knowledge and record it before it goes for good. The countryside wasn’t always like it is now, and it doesn’t need to stay this way. What future would they like to see

If you would like to get involved in this project, please contact Jane Powell on This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Jane Powell

Canolfan Organig Cymru / Organic Centre Wales

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