Swales, raised beds, or water slowing earthworks in general seem synonymous with permaculture design. There’s hardly a system without them. But where in nature are there steel machines greedily tearing the earth to build such structures? Or when looking at a natural landscape, does it resemble our contrived catastrophes? This article by Toby Hemenway suggests a little known explanation.
The fact is, there are such creatures, although they are flesh and bone, not steel. Further, the normal landscapes we call natural are actually far from it because the said creatures have been removed from the systems.
Beavers build dams and flood water with ingenious aptitude, which Toby covers in depth. Just think how different the landscape would be if we had the 100 to 400 million beavers said to live in America before its colonization.
The best earth movers I have seen for sure are pigs, since, until lately, we have for several years kept pigs on our farm of the Gloucestershire Old Spot type. Being a heritage breed, they were allowed access to large outdoor pastures with some tree cover, making nests to have their piglets in with a surprising amount of success.
It was amazing to watch the mother in midsummer go about the field biting large mouthfuls of just past seeding grass to add to the strikingly bird-like nest made under a black willow tree.
After raising the piglets in this nest, it became a rich new forage spot because the grass seed sprouted up in the copious decay of nutrients. This mowing and subsequent grazing kept the field very lush compared to how cows pick out the good and leave the weeds to thrive.
Even more striking, our one boar, Patrick, dug massive “jacuzzi’s” as my Brother the pig caretaker calls them. Patrick made several different versions: the “silver” addition was rather shallow and dried up quickly in summer; the “gold” addition had a patio step to collect water to the lower wallowing spot, so it got more water; and the “platinum” addition was just huge, in depth and breadth, such that it never dried simply due to size.
The biggest surprise here is these held water because our ground is clay, and clay, when wet, can be smeared, becoming watertight; so our Boar’s wallowing holes became fairly legitimate ponds.
I do mean legitimate too. Once left for a while, these pools grew algae, cattails, hosted frogs, and any other water creatures that could get to them.
So I just wanted to add my observations of these lesser known “allogenic ecosystem engineers.”
Enjoy the article.