non-native species

Pacific Edge Permaculture + Media pacedge at
Fri Mar 23 00:02:01 EST 2001

Hello Hannah...

> From: 1Earth Permaculture <permaculture at>
> I am an American University student, spending 4 months in Australia
> studying environmental issues and sustainable agriculture. I beginning
> to do a research project on the tension between conservationists and
> permaculturists over the use of non-native species in permaculture. I
> am wondering if you are aware of anyone who has done research on the
> use of, or potential problems associated with, the use of non-native
> species in permaculture systems?

The most authoritative person would be David Holmgren from Holmgren Design
services in Victoria. David is a bit of an innovator when it comes to
recombinant ecologies such as native/ exotic systems and has unorthodox but
profoundly ecological views. I believe a lot of his work in this area is
based on the systems ecology approach of Odum.

At the end of this email is an excerpt of a piece I wrote for the
Permaculture International Limited newsletter - David's URL for an article
he wrote appears at the end.

> I am aware that a lot of the information and opinions on
> this subject are viewed as being very biased

As a permaculturist who has completed a TAFE certificate of bushland
regeneration, I hear what both sides are saying. My conclusions are:

- Australia has a serious problem with invasive, exotic plant and animal
species and some species are best left out of species mixes in some areas

- campaigning against permaculture designers using an international suite of
plants is too little too late; the main source of exotic invaders is the
commercial nursery industry, not permaculturists

- I have seen no direct evidence implicating permaculturists in the
introduction or spread of invasive species; my conclusion is that much of
the criticism of permaculturists is baseless

- perhaps the most articulate critic of permaculture is naturalist Tim Low,
an Australian who brings up the subject in his latest book; even Tim admits
that not all permaculturists are to blame!

- for me, bushland regeneration is a technique for the management of
permaculture zone five systems when the decision to maintain an ecology in a
particular biological state has been made

-  around Sydney, bush regenerators sometimes attempt to maintain ecological
systems as eucalypt forest; they are aware that changes in the forest is the
result on the increased nutrient load coming mainly from home gardens and
that this is nature's response to extra resources; the dominant eucalypt
forest is also the result of tens of thousands of years of low-intensity
burning by Aborigines and that, this controlling feature having been
removed,  the forest changes accordingly; Bill Mollison once said that
eucalypts were weeds which dominate in conditions of constant burning

- it is likely that the present suite of plants in Australia is here to
stay. this includes weeds rampant and less rampant; my suggestion is that we
find economic uses for weeds and treat them as a resource, thus controlling
them, rather than continuing to view them as a problem; there they are
likely to take over entire ecoosystems - such as the camphor laurel and
privet do in some regions - then, remove them for sure.

Here is the excerpt mentioned earlier:

Perhaps no one has studied the question of environmental weeds and
recombinant native/ exotic plant. ecologies as much as David Holmgren who,
with Bill Mollison, first articulated the permaculture design concept in the
late 1970s.

David is at present working on a new book (Weeds or Wild Nature: Migrant
Plants and Animals in Australia) which will either add fuel to the fire or
clear up misconceptions, depending on your point of view. An article in
Permaculture International Journal 61, 1997, previewed David¹s argument when
it tackled the weeds and permaculture issue.

Writing of land degradation and revegetation, David said: ³...increasing
awareness of both the loss of indigenous species and their underestimated
values has become a central issue for many environmentalists. The passive
destruction of indigenous ecologies by environmental weeds became a primary
target, overtaking the traditional campaign focus on destructive development

³...increasingly, government and community resources are being used to
destroy healthy existing vegetation. The other values of this non-indigenous
vegetation is not considered while the adverse impacts or removal methods

(eg herbicide) are not properly assessed. The problem of isolated pockets of
indigenous vegetation surviving in isolation from surrounding landuse are
ignored or vaguely addressed by grandiose schemes to progressively get rid
of Œall the weeds¹².

Nature as designer
David writes that, in pemaculture, nature itself is seen as a designer. That
is, nature develops its own species mix from whatever is available to
revegetate and protect degraded land and to utilise the increased nutrient
load flowing from settled areas into native bushland, itself adapted to
mainly nutrient deficient soils.

This emergence of mixed native/ exotic species David terms Œecosynthesis¹.

In some places, particularly along streams, ecosynthesis has now advanced to
a stage of complexity at which it demonsttrates systemic characteristics.
Despite this, he writes, study of the phenomenom is largely absent.

³Recognition of the amenity values of these areas is begrudging at best
while their hydrological and soil building values remain undocumented,² he

The full text of David Holmgren¹s article is found at:

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