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North Britain: settlement, exploitation and Big Ideas

a personal view from Angus Soutar, October 2011

I would like to thank Graham Bell for his genial guidance and wise contribution to this work.

What is North Britain? I live here, so I just need to look around me. And perhaps remember what the older members of my family have told me, reflect on what I learned at school, do a bit more research ...

Observation is one of the most important skills that we learn in our permaculture training. Most of us need lots of practice in this, and these days I get simple enjoyment from "seeing how the land lies". And I find it useful to  look at the big picture as wells as the small details. I let my focus drift, I set aside any fixed ideas that I have.

The observation, and my reflections, that I outline here are about an entire region that my colleagues and I call "North Britain". I hope this small exercise will be the start of a bridge between the global, conceptual aspect of permaculture design and the local, practical application on our "home turf".  At the Institute, we have a sense of shared work: there are some important jobs to do. If we are to re-integrate ourselves with the landscape, and live lightly on the land, then we need a good grasp of who we are, where we are, and what the land can give to us.

t's easy to lose our sense of place in the modern, sophisticated world of today. I am fortunate that much of my life has been spent either living or roaming around in North Britain. It is my home, and I would like to see it in a better state.

Our main challenge is to act within the "third ethic" of permaculture - to live within the limits of what the land can provide. The whole of the British Isles regenerated itself after being covered in ice 20,000 years ago. This story is about how we settled in that wilderness and how we went on from those exciting beginnings.

This is my first attempt at telling the tale. I look forward to others, more eloquent than myself, to take the observation further. It is an important story, and it need to be told. All stable societies have their creation myths, a sense of where they come from. They have a relationship with their home landscapes and a deep understanding of the natural world around them. It is even more important because, as the philosophers say, those who cannot learn from the past are condemned to repeat it.

Some regions of North Britain

Lancashire and Cheshire
The Lake District
The Isle of Man
Galloway and south Ayrshire
The Atlantic coast to the north of Glasgow, including  the Western Isles
Inverness and the far north
Highland Perthshire
Morayshire, Aberdeenshire, Angus, Tayside
The Kingdom of Fife
The Central Belt
Lothians and Borders
Northumberland and Durham
The Yorkshire Dales
The East Riding,
South Yorkshire and Lincolnshire
The Yorkshire "Woolen District"
The Peak District

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