Transition Culture

An Evolving Exploration into the Head, Heart and Hands of Energy Descent

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19 May 2009

Rethinking Land Use at Dartington: my presentation to an amazing Think Tank day

Had a fascinating afternoon recently at Schumacher College (you can read Simon Berry from DEFRA’s account of the day here).  Schumacher is part of the Dartington Estate, and I was asked to speak about the future of Schumacher as part of the wider Dartington Estate.  At present Dartington’s land is let for conventional dairy farming, and the lease comes up for renewal in 2014, so the process is starting of thinking what to do with the Estate’s 1000 acres.  Here is the talk I gave, filmed on Simon’s phone…

What was so fascinating for me was that on the spur of the moment just before I left to cycle over to the College, I thought I would print out and take with me the timeline from the still-being-written Totnes and District EDAP that related to Dartington and food, and read them out like a story.  I had no idea how it would work, and whether reading out a timeline like that would be something that would capture peoples’ imaginations.

As it turned out, it did, and powerfully so.  The result of the day has yet to be seen in terms of what emerges as actual policy from the Think Tank, but I am told by those who stayed on for the second day that there was great energy for the idea of the Estate ‘going Transition’ and becoming the UK’s first agroforestry estate.  Very exciting.  Anyway, enjoy the talk.

Comments are now closed on this site, please visit Rob Hopkins' blog at Transition Network to read new posts and take part in discussions.


Ben Brangwyn
19 May 5:54pm

Brilliant stuff. And check out 21:30 for the worst joke Rob’s every come out with (by his own admission).

Mel Risebrow
19 May 11:18pm

Thanks for a provocative talk. The power of writing our own story empowers and evokes.

Annie Leymarie
20 May 3:29am

And endless possibilities for the Dartington vans:
“We plot, you crop”
“We’ve gone nuts so you can crack!” etc…

Andrew Clarke
21 May 12:13pm

Wasn’t a very similar review of a sustainable vision for farming on the Dartington Estate undertaken a few years ago, headed up by John Seymour? I remember him doing something very similar with the Dartington Estate which was very visionary at the time although seems to have been largely ignored! From memory I believe he wrote a summary of his findings in his book Bring Me My Bow.

21 May 12:29pm

Indeed, and several other people since. The historical precedent would indicate that exactly the same thing will happen again, but we’ll see.

21 May 3:18pm

Considering the ambitious claims made about ‘permaculture’ and ‘agroforestry’ around these sites over the last year (‘highly productive’, ‘low maintenance’, ‘feed 10 people per acre(?)’ ) we desperately need a commercial operation that can demonstrate this. (Not one fund by grants, courses, publications, videos, DVDs, media appearances or volunteers etc.). It’s a pity though that it would be in the South Hams as this is a very favoured environment compared to most of the rest of the U.K..

Cany Ash
24 May 6:56pm

Thanks so much for telling me about this event and this impressive window into it from a mobile! We did enjoy working with Dartington as architects fro the ‘Arts Park’ concept even though it was a fraught time for relations with Totnes. We were and still are really excited about the potential of the bigger picture of a working estate instead of a place with its various discreet cultures..some so impressive like Schumacher. We too wanted to make food the centre of a new kind of campus community and research park and found lots of support for the idea. But being closer and stronger I really hope you can keep a momentum. Hope to share some of the design thinking we have on materials for landscaping and building. Maybe there is a good slot for us to do a short talk? (Maybe you will be in London and do one for a new group called Heart of Somers Town?)We found that there had been so many masterplans for Dartington that we could just pick a good idea from the late 60s and add some cycling culture. Don’t go into the archive…forward with the nutcrackers.

25 May 6:54am


It’s not a level playing field. Conventional agriculture couldn’t possibly survive without massive subsidies from both EU and UK. Permaculture systems do take time, energy and money to set up and become productive. Existing operations are all small scale, providing for the needs of families not communities, and investment is needed to scale those up. A body like the Dartington Trust would be well positioned to make that investment. If they don’t do it now, someone else will very soon. Peak oil will tilt the economic playing field drastically in the other direction…

Also, don’t criticise projects that use volunteers. Education is a valid output, and if people learn through volunteering then you are not taking advantage of them. At least, if you do, they won’t come back…

25 May 9:22pm

My posting supported the permaculture experiment didn’t it? The reason that I support it is that permaculturalists seem to claim to be able to support the worlds population with their systems. That would be wonderful but I don’t know of any realistic example, on a meaningful scale, in this area and it seems somewhat risky to suggest that 8 billion people can fed by systems that have only been proved on a family scale.
We also need to know the extent of the ‘time, energy and money’ needed to set them up because I’ve certainly not seen any discussion of this around here previously. Hopefully they can become productive before an energy squeeze happens.
I didn’t ‘criticise’ projects that used volunteers. I merely seem to remember ‘permaculturalists’ claiming that their systems were low-maintenance. I take that to mean that they wouldn’t need ‘volunteer’ labour.
As for subsidies, are you suggesting that permaculture does not qualify for Single Farm Payment?