Permaculture Earthworks Course Portugal 2019

~  3,4,5,6,7th of JUNE 2019 ~


In the face of drought and desertification, well-designed water harvesting earthworks such as swales, ponds, and dams are the most effective way to channel water into productive use.  The result can be increased food production, higher groundwater levels, reduced irrigation needs, reforestation and enhanced ecosystem resilience. Yet due to a lack of knowledge, designers, and landowners often build earthworks that are costly, inappropriately sized and sited, or even dangerous.  This course will give you the knowledge and confidence to get your earthworks right, first time around. Our mission is to teach you the techniques to construct multi-functional ecologically diverse landscapes, aiding in the regeneration of the biosphere.

Doc spice permaculture david spicer logo

This is a past event, June 2019. But please, do continue reading about the importance, reasons and benefits of implementing earthworks, big or small, in your landscaping plans. Be it for earth restoration, regenerative tourism, food production, fighting drought and fires, establishing a healthy food forest, making a natural swimming pond or.. whatever reason you need to help restore the soils hydrological balance and resilience.  On our youtube channel, you can find several explanatory videos from participant Nat Topa.

Smallholding, Agricultural, Tourism Or….

Earthworks construction can be a rewarding investment in your property. Enhancing the aesthetic appeal, functionality and value of your landscape are all realistic potential outcomes.This earthworks course is a hands-on course that will help you design and implement water harvesting strategies on your property. You will learn the theory and practice of Permaculture Earthworks – learning site design skills, surveying and directing earthmoving machines to establish dams, swales, terraces, access roads and more.

Some of the uses of a Water Landscape

Creating a water holding, or so called water retention space is of course, all about restoring the hydrological balance of our property. It is the first and most important step to having longterm sustainable yields while regenerating the earth. However, having to hire a machine to get your infrastructure right, doing this course to get the knowledge, can be quite an investment. However, the return on this investment may surprise you, as having a water landscape will and can serve multiple purposes (some of which may even create an extra income).

  • reverse the desertification process
  • can serve as fire protection. Not only by creating a green zone barrier (lake & wetter area & trees) in the midst of fire, but also as water reservoir for the fire fighters (make sure it is accessible for their truck and let your local fire department know where it is located).
  • prevents flooding and top soil rain erosion.
  • is a water reservoir for irrigation in times of drought
  • is essential for soil restore and thus reflorestation
  • is a watering place for animals and creates biodiversity
  • can be cultivated for water gardening
  • can be used as a fishery (for self consumption, for direct sales, for your own restaurant, or as a fishing pond where people pay to rent the canes and fish. Or all combined. )
  • cultivation of e.g. freshwater mussel or crayfish
  • can be used to grow organic products around and sell
  • can be used as part of a schooling program
  • can be used as a swimming area for your own use or for tourism
  • can be used as a recreational space for tourists, especially when bigger.  Swimming, snorkling, stand up paddling, row boats, fishing etc.


Earthwork Course Objective


Students will understand the principles of permaculture design in earthworks: reading the site, interpreting contour maps and using surveying tools, placing elements in a design. Students will be able to use the basic terminology for earthworks and soil water management, resolve issues and work with contractors to direct earth movers in action.

Introduction To Permaculture Earthworks


  • Reason for earthworks and types of earthworks
  • Earthwork elements and types of machines
  • Learning how to use survey equipment; learning practical surveying and design of dams and swales
  • Learning how to direct earth movers
  • Roads as water harvesters (hardware and software relationships)


Dams And Spillways


  • Design systems with multiple elements
  • Specifics of dam construction and design issues
  • Tour farm site to identify different elements on the farm
  • Survey of dams. Break into groups for survey designs


Freeboard and spillways

  • Free board for dams and swales
  • Marking out level sill-spillways

Swales, diversion drains and gabions

  • Specifics of swales
  • Integration of swales into a system including planting-up of the system
  • Visit existing swale sites
  • Surveying of potential sites. Break into groups for survey designs
  • Diversion drains, for harvesting water to dams
  • Leaky weirs


Earth Banks

  • House Sites/Benches/Terraces
  • Access tracks/driveways/crossing pipes
  • Activity: Stability Plan-Ups and Erosion Control
  • Placing of swivel pipes and crossing pipes


Review Of Earthworks

  • Questions and answers from class
  • Miniature Earthworks Exercise by students
  • Completion of unfinished design projects with groups

Your instructor – David Spicer

quite a big name in permaculture and permaculture earthworks

Looking for the propper instructor, with the right knowledge, with tons of experience, yet a down to earth and practical approach, to be able to give the earthworks course we had in mind, was like looking for a needle in a haystack. After reading about ´just the kind of course we needed´ , ALL the way in Australia, we got overly excited and started to research the instructor. We were quickly convinced this was the man needed for the job. Still thriving on enthusiasm, we contacted David Spicer and explained our concerns for the land and life here in Portugal,  and the need of education on good intervention in all of Europe.  And guess what? He´s coming!

He is renowned both for his work ethic and getting the job done as well as for his ability to explain concepts and ideas simply, conveying the basics. David Spicer’s approach to design and education is based upon a proven emphasis on practicality. So we are very happy to have him here!

Some Of David Spicers References

  • He has taught and worked extensively within Australia and internationally on various projects, covering six Australian states, Morocco, Jordan, New Caledonia and Palestine covering a broad array of different climate zones
  • Over 18 years experience in Permaculture education
  • working and teaching with Bill Mollison at the Permaculture Institute (Tasmania)
  • working and teaching with Geoff Lawton, the managing director of the Permaculture Research Institute of Australia and Zaytuna Farm
  • Valued member of the team headed up by Geoff Lawton
  • Registered Teacher #5 with the Permaculture Research Institute of Australia. See some of his blogs and works there.
  • worked as farm manager of the renowned Tagari Farm and Zaytuna Farm
  • Lead Consultant, Educator and Operator for Doc Spice Permaculture

Who is it for?

For everyone who is interested in making a positive long term sustainable change, be it on their own property or through consulting and inspiring others.
Everyone who has been looking for a practical hands-on course to master the knowledge and get started.  When we first started organizing and sharing our ideas amongst our network,  we noticed interest from a broad array of people, intentions and jobs.  For example

  • permaculturists
  • smallholding landowners
  • biological agriculturists
  • common agriculturists
  • eco-village founders
  • landscape architects 
  • permaculture designers 
  • local authorities 
  • adventure park 
  • ´quinta pedagogica´
  • accommodation holders for tourism  
  • reforestation association

Accommodation during the permaculture earthworks course :

  1. Some camping pitches are available at the site, there are limited places available so please make sure that you let us know if you would like to camp. Camping is free during the course.
  2. Bed in a Shared Tent (Dorm, max. 4 beds) for 15 euros p.p.p.n.
    Bedlinnen provided.
  3. Private Basic Glamping Tent  10 % discount for course participants.  Read more..
  4. Eco-Lodge the Straw Bale Hut 10 % discount for course participants.  Find out more.. 
  5. Exclusive Sturdy Mountain Log Cabin  10 % discount for course participants. See more..
  6. There are also a few small hotels in the area at 2 – 10 kms


use coupon code  PERMACULTURE-EARTHWORKS-COURSE   for  an extra 10% discount on accommodation. Applicable for stays between the 31st of May and the 10th of June

The problem(s) we currently face

Northward desertification. The Sahara is spreading not only south but also north and have already jumped over the Mediterranean Sea. The loss of soil life, biodiversity and clean groundwater is already quite dramatic in Southern Europe. Summer droughts keep increasing in Portugal, Spain, Italy and Greece. Through deforestation and agricultural monocultures, the capacity of the ground to hold water decreases. And the land looses her fertility, thus the ability to feed, not ´just´flora and fauna, but us, humans too. Portugal e.g. imports 70% of the food it needs even though it is a fertile country with lots of warmth and water.

Even in the temperate zones of Europe, the effect can already be seen. Sand from the Sahara gets blown into the Alps, and loss of soil and water life is noticeable.  How far north will the desert have to extent before we wake up?

Once we have lost the trees… the vicious cirle

The ideal vegetation for a consistent climate is a mixed forest that absorbs water warmth and light and slowly releases it.  After deforestation, forest fires, overgrazing etc. the soil is no longer protected from direct sunlight and it heats up.  Problem is that only cool soil absorbs rainwater, so if the soil is warmer thant the reain, the water cannot penetrate the ground and it will roll over the surface. Thus taking the last valuable nutrients with it.  The strong wind takes away the remaining moisture as there are no trees to function as windbreaks.
New plants and trees have to fight against lack of nutrients, water, wind and sun protection and stand little chance. The soil becomes dusty or hard and hot. Dry heat builds up, there is no dew or humidity anymore and the ground starts to radiate heat.  Because of the changing thermal conditions, new and different air currents develop, as around the Mediterranean and Tropics where severe air currents build up and can lead to unusual storms, hurricanes, unpredictable weather, big hail, strong gales etc.

Water is life. Breaking the vicious circle

Once we realize all above, we want the forest back.  And do all in our power to protect the remaining forest.


Water is the key


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