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A Curious Calling: Adrian Leaman

Grab your notebook, you’re about to get a lesson in permaculture

Written by . Published on October 17th 2011.


A Curious Calling: Adrian Leaman

THE industrial revolution may have mechanically delivered us out of sewage flooded streets and slow-motion communication, but it also overthrew a value system that was not entirely worthless. The mystic wonder of potent herbs and surprising weather was replaced with that of machines, screens and chemicals. The old devils were also replaced. Now it is dogmatism, un-seeable particles, SUVs and plastic bags that are going to wipe us out. The backlash in England is picking up speed. Growing your own vegetables is no longer the pastime solely of retirees and eccentrics. The popularity of films such as 127 Hours and Into the Wild are only symptoms of a much broader love affair. Humans are falling back in love with the wilderness. But to love something properly, you need to know what it is. Through his company, Whole Woods, Adrian Leaman runs courses in traditional woodsmanship, woodland living, bushcraft and permaculture. He also teaches on permaculture courses in London. As well as teaching, he designs and builds natural buildings, using traditional techniques and materials.

How did you get into this?
I’d been working in film special effects for six years and wanted a change. Many years ago at college I’d studied 3D design, so I had experience working with craft projects and that sort of thing. I spent five years going on every course I could get my hands on. I became a bit of a course junkie. I did lots of volunteering as well – building things, habitat management, woodland management – and eventually decided to quit my job and do it full time.

Can you explain what permaculture is?
It was invented by a couple of Australians, and it’s part way between a philosophy and a design system. It’s about thinking about how you live, work and interact with the world and trying to make that as sustainable as possible.

 

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Is that possible for people in London?
It can be applied in any situation, at any level. You can apply permaculture thinking even if you live in London and have an office job. There are a million things you can still do; you don’t need to be on a farm on some ideal, peaceful countryside hill.

 

Like growing your own vegetables?
Saving energy, growing you own vegetables, insulating your house, buying organic food. Permaculture is really a system of thinking – a holistic way of thinking about all the different aspects of your life. It includes things as banal sounding as making sure you don’t boil too much water in your kettle.

Why have people become so removed from knowing the impact we have on our environment?
In part because people actually physically are so far away from it. Particularly if you live in a city, it’s easy to forget that there’s a natural world out there that might be suffering as a result of your actions. You can easily be swept along by the tide of things and get excited about using lots of different products without thinking about where they come from or what damage they cause.

Do you think it’s possible for people to remember?
Yes. Particularly if you get involved in food growing, you’re working with plants and the soil and you start thinking more about those things globally. It’s a cultural thing. If you’re involved in that stuff you meet lots of other people who are involved and you make close friends based around those interests and it changes you.

 
I tried to grow some spinach and beetroot but all that happened was the slugs got gigantic...

Slugs are a powerful force. It happens in our garden too.

So you don’t live completely in the wild?
No. It’s actually very difficult to live that way in the UK. It’s one of the most densely populated places. Land prices are very high. We have a planning system that makes it very difficult to build interesting DIY buildings. Hardly any of the UK is actual true wilderness that’s never been shaped by the hand of man. Most places that look wild and remote actually do have a human history.

Does that mean it’s difficult to forage?
No not at all. I used to do a lot of foraging in London. There are loads of nettles and a multitude of interesting berries.

 

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Can you eat those bright red ones?
Bright red berries of an indiscriminate nature are probably to be avoided. Anything unless you know it well and have it on extremely good authority is to be avoided. You need to build up your knowledge and experience. Even someone who’s experienced can make a mistake. Just the other day I ate something I thought was a strawberry and it turned out not to be a strawberry. There are a couple of plants that are similar – they’re sort of deceiver strawberries. Fortunately they’re not poisonous, but they don’t taste very good.

 

What about mushrooms?
People who teach how to pick wild mushrooms say that you should only get to know one new type per year. You should get to know the mushroom in each season, in each part of its growth cycle, identify it on many different occasions, make tests to see if it’s the right one and reference it in lots of books. You have to be really cautious.

Most people would be at a complete loss if they were dropped in the middle of the forest...
Yes, but most people are also at a complete loss walking their dog in the woods. In terms of understanding what they’re looking at, feeling a connection with it, understanding how it changes in the seasons, what the animals are doing, what food there is. It’s one of those things that the more you know about it, the more pleasure you get from it.

What’s your favourite woodland animal?
The human being – am I allowed to say that? I love seeing people outdoors. Most people work and live in towns and cities. There aren’t enough people enjoying rural crafts. I love being in the woods on my own but if you’re there with a group of people all involved in doing something it’s fantastic. Being able to share it is a wonderful thing.

To read about more curious callings, please click here

 

More Information

Adrian’s company, Whole Woods, can be found at www.wholewoods.co.uk

Information on his London courses can be
found at www.organiclea.org.uk


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