survey 2

The board of trustees had received expressions of interest but no proposals to take on the management of the field, by the beginning of the summer. In order to facilitate the Strategic Plan and ensure the good management of Trust assets, a further design cycle was implemented to support the aims of building engagement with the land from the point of view of trustees and community members and sustainable management of the field. To this end I organised a survey day led by Hans-Guenther Kern, biodynamic expert, and invited interested community members. This was catching and storing the existing energy of people expressing an interest and building engagement with the field and possible projects. The collaboration with Hans-Gunether meant we were working with existing impulse of biodynamics in the Community, building connections with it from community members who were not interested in biodynamics, learning from each other and building community! We were also creating connections between biodynamics and permaculture. Because the rental agreement was still in place, this could not be a community event as part of a community design process, rather was a survey for the Trust. This survey provided a further survey of the site and the people involved so far.

Working with Hans-Guenther, we reflected on the differences in approach between permaculture and biodynamics. At this early stage of collaboration and in this particular stage of surveying, we found:

  • in addition to the permaculture site survey techniques, this survey included tapping in to people’s feelings on site and their sense of the elements in terms of fire, water, air and earth and the connections between them
  • the biodynamic approach also emphasised the significance of the intention and vision of the people engaging with the land.

I find these differences in approach to surveying not incompatible and indeed enrich the survey process.

soil surveying


  • introduction: central questions and surveying principles
  • soil life
  • plant life
  • environmental factors or the ‘elements’ (earth, water, fire, air)
  • dialogue the land and ourselves: group experience of elements, what we would like to bring to the individually, what unites us, listening to the land again
  • our shared vision for the land
  • next steps

Process in the field:

  • we went out and looked at the field as a whole, making observations
  • we took soil samples in various locations
  • we stopped in different places to get a sense of the balance of elements
  • we stopped and looked out at the field again as a whole before returning inside
  • inside we drew maps of the field and zones for different elements
  • discussion of the essence of the land and our vision for the land

Introduction: central questions and surveying principles

central questions

Hans-Guenther began by talking about nature and human intervention:

  • from a consciousness of being at one with nature, we have now become separated
  • permaculture takes its roots from indigeneous cultures, caring for nature and cultivating nature, now called forest gardening
  • biodynamics takes its roots from central Europe, a context of monocultures importing more and more inputs into the land, an industrialised farming consciousness which needed healing.

Hans-Guenther suggested the central questions might be:

  • how can Ashurst Field be diversified from a monoculture to diversity in caring for the land?
  • how can Ashurst Field be integrated into the Community again?
  • what does the land want to become?
  • what can we give the land?

surveying principles

  • the mineral holds the memory of the land
  • the plant life is the connector between past and future
  • the farm works on a vertical plane as a window to the cosmos and on a horizontal place as a social connector
  • the farm organism is an individuality which needs to express and manifest itself
  • questions to ask are: what is there? what is within ourselves?
  • it is a healthy marriage of people and place, not an exploitation
  • it is a giving and receiving relationship, it is community, not separation
  • through living with the land and plants, we learn to be open, integrating the past and the cosmic
  • the less we know, the clearer our perceptions
  • we use all 12 senses
  • we aim for no preconceived ideas or expectations, rather this is a journey of discovery

and something about soil…

  • has texture – the size of soil particles
  • has structure – the connection between the particles
  • has life – fungi, bacteria, animalia
  • there are more microorganisms in a handful of soil, than there are people on the earth
  • it takes 500 years to build about an inch of top soil

soil & plant life

AF survey

in general: deep top soil, very compacted, clay / grass already in spring going to seed indicating stress

central area, closer to the housing: windy, exposed, soil 20-30% clay, not much humus, grey showing a lack of iron/air, mid-brown and rust colour next to roots, lots of worms showing an excess of life forces, need to oxegenate, at 25cm down, still worms and more iron rocks, a rich soil, but stagnant

soil close up north side vegetation

central area, middle of field: more clover indicating the soil is recovering nitrogen, compositae decompacting the top soil, plantain

middle field soil

slope facing west: soil poorer, less humus, more sand, not as deep, more aerated, more iron; moss, indicating acidification, waterlogging, buttercup, compostitae, plantain

west side vegetation

lower area: still, warm, away from the community, enclosed by trees and slope, elements are strong but not connecting, earth needs uplifting

paddock: large amount of manure, enough to cover the whole field, with lots of nettles, sparse vegetation, bare soil, buttercup, compacted soil particularly at the top, less roots and worms, less stagnant


concluding observations: field currently two-dimensional, weak connection between above and below and on the horizontal place between the field and the community, perhaps needing a vision and an entrance from community space to field as quieter, meditative, transformational educational space

Mapping the elements

In groups, we mapped the elements on maps of the field:

  • pink for earth/mineral
  • blue for water
  • yellow for air/light
  • orange for warmth/cold.

What would we individually like to bring to Ashurst Field?

We shared in small groups, what we would personally like to bring to Ashurst Field. This was from one group only:

  • trees
  • different zones
  • animals for fertility
  • greater biodiversity
  • arbors, gazeboes
  • terraces
  • more of a garden feeling
  • the field as a sacred site
  • different areas
  • paths
  • people.

What unites us?

In the whole group, we shared our visions and focused on what united us:

  • small areas or rooms
  • diversity
  • sacred sites or temples
  • open to all
  • trees
  • paths and edges
  • reconnection to Hoathly Hill Community
  • food security for Hoathly Hill Community
  • education
  • children.

Listening to the land again

  • soil is deep
  • soil is compacted
  • lots of potential
  • can support a lot of life
  • strong metal element

It is a fine balance between what the land wants naturally and what we need. The land and ourselves need to express our full potential. Is a forest garden the answer to this, combining a natural system with human needs.

Sharing vision

  • realise the full potential meeting the needs and vision of the land and the needs and vision of the people
  • improve the fertility of the soil
  • create a diverse, harmonious ecosystem
  • key impulses are integration with Hoathly Hill Community and education
  • could this be a community farm with different projects or a more unified response to the question, can Hoathly Hill Community sustain itself?

Next steps

  • continue observations, from the perspective of one who wishes to work with the land
  • meet again to begin consensus design process.