The Ethics of Permaculture

The Ethics Of Permaculture - Written by Maddy Harland, Editor of Permaculture Magazine

Permaculture is not just a green way of living or a guiding system of ethics, it is a way of designing using nature’s principles as a model; ‘bending’ them as much as possible to create fertile, self-reliant, productive landscapes and communities. This is what defines permaculture and it is uniquely effective and powerful. Where permaculture stands out from the crowd as a design system is in its capacity to integrate the intellect with ethics. It can teach us to ‘think’ with the heart and respond with the head. By combining pragmatism with philosophy, we can create a greater synthesis.

The three ethics are: Earth Care, People Care and Fair Shares. They are not exclusive to permaculture and were derived from the commonalities of many worldviews and beliefs. They are therefore shared by many throughout the world. What permaculture does is it makes them explicit within a design process; removing them from the realms of philosophy and practically rooting them in everybody’s lives. This transforms thinking into doing. It is their combined presence within a design that has a radical capacity for ecological and social transformation.

Earth Care

Imagine the originators of permaculture, Bill Mollison and David Holmgren, in the 1970s, seeing the devastat-ing effects of a temperate European agriculture on the fragile soils of an ancient Antipodean landscape. Like the dust bowls of Oklahoma in the 1930s, an alien agriculture has the capacity to turn a delicately balanced ecology into desert. Their initial response was to design a permanent agriculture with tree crops and other perennials inhabiting all the niches, from the canopy to the ground cover and below. The soil is left untilled to establish its own robust micro-ecology. Key to this is that the land must be biodiverse and stable for future generations.

This ethic of Earth Care was the basis of permaculture design, but it was bound to grow and pervade all aspects of permaculture... How can we have an organic agriculture or horticulture and manage our landscapes to sustain themselves over gener-ations on one hand, then consume goods from industries managed in ecologically damaging ways on the other? It’s pointless designing an organic garden and then buying a gas guzzling car or building a house from concrete and steel, when we can use local materials with less embodied energy.

The original vision of care for all living and non living things has grown to embrace a deep and comprehensive understanding of Earth Care that involves many decisions; from the clothes we wear and the goods we buy to the materials we use for DIY projects. Though we can’t all build our own house or grow all our own food, we can make choices about what and how we consume and conserve. Key to this is the understanding that up to one third of our ecological footprint is taken up by the food we buy, so even growing a small amount in a city allotment or container gar-den can make a difference. Permaculture is all about making a difference.

People Care

Fundamental to permaculture is the concept of Permanent Culture. How can we develop a permaculture if our people are expendable, uncared for, excluded? People Care asks that our basic needs for food, shelter, education, employment and healthy social relationships are met. Genuine People Care can-not be exclusive in a tribal sense; there can be no elites here: no plutocracies or oligarchies, all members of the community must be taken into account. It is a global ethic of Fairtrade and intelligent support amongst all people, both at home and abroad.

At the core of People Care is an understanding of the power of community. If we can change our lives as individuals and make incremental differences: think what we can do as a community! The permaculture designers who helped initiate Cuba’s post oil urban agriculture are a good example. They mobilised a whole country to become self-reliant. Ecovillages and cohousing communities who can significantly reduce their ecological footprint by sharing resources are other good examples.

In smaller ways; in our cities, towns and villages, we can all benefit from deepening community links. I may not have all the skills to grow all my food or eco-renovate my house, for example, but by developing good networks I can expand my capacity to live more sustainably and become more self-reliant. This is a decentralised, democratic vision of social transformation where grass-roots initiatives like the Transition Towns movement can begin to plan for a low carbon ‘energy descent’ on a community level. There is no time to wait for central government to act, or eventually to react.

Fair Shares

The last ethic synthesises the first two. It acknowledges that we only have one earth and we have to share it with all living things and future generations. There is no point in designing a sustainable family unit, community, or nation whilst others languish without clean water, clean air, food, shelter, meaningful employment, and social contact. Since the industrialised North uses the resources of at least three earths, and much of the global South languishes in poverty, Fair Shares is an acknowledgement of this terrible imbalance and a call to limit consumption (especially of natural resources) in the North.

Who We Are


Catherine Middleditch

Cat is described by those who know her best as an energetic, inspirational, creative problem solver.  A love for art, design, music and travelling has lead her to work all over the world including Western and Eastern Europe, South East Asia, Australia, New Zealand, Tasmania, Nepal, Kashmir and all over India.

She gained a Bachelor of Arts Degree from Brighton University in 2000, trained as a web designer, then moved into documentary film making and post production whilst travelling extensively between jobs.  In 2006, Cat discovered Permaculture and enrolled in a 2 day Introduction Course with Naturewise in North London. This course was quickly followed by a 2 week Permaculture Design Course which lead to doing her Permaculture Teacher Training.  In 2007 she took a leap of faith and moved to rural South Devon leaving a stressful multi-media career and London behind her.

She discovered Wayfield (a 5 acre small holding) in 2009 which enabled her to put the theory and her new found passion into practice.  Cat and Doug Lane (her partner at the time) officially opened The High Nature Centre in June 2013 after 4 years of working hard on the land experimenting with various community initiatives.  In winter 2014 Doug and Cat went their separate ways and Cat took on the management and development of the business.

She continues to holistically manage the Centre  focusing on business development, administration, marketing and human resources.  During her time off she loves to grow food, hang out with her family on the beach, travel, climb mountains and dance until the sun comes up!


Tobdan Loyopa

Tobdan is one of those types of people who will put their hands to anything.  Born in a Buddhist village called ‘Hillu Twan’ nestled in the Pangi Valley in the foothills of the Indian Himalayas he has grown up in a culture where being resourceful and multi-skilled is essential to survival.  Known as the ‘High Nature Fixer’ you can often find him in his workshop fixing or building something.  Whether it’s mechanics, carpentry, plumbing or farming, Tobdan is the man to go to!

He joined the High Nature Team in 2016 and alongside Cat has played a key role in helping to develop the Centre.  His experience in farming, trekking and tourism along with managing beach huts and a beach restaurant in Goa for 4 years has proven him to be an invaluable asset to the Centre.

Tobdan is also a dedicated parent and a fantastic cook!   He adores his daughter Tanzen and if you’re lucky, you might spot them practising their acrobatics outside reception.

He can often be mis-interpreted as a serious character being rather difficult to read at times.  However, it doesn’t take long to get to know that just below the surface is a very cheeky light-hearted character ready to make you laugh at the drop of a hat.  In his spare time you will find him watching or playing cricket, preferably playing!


Jordan Dyer

Jordy joined High Nature in April 2020 during the pandemic.  At that time lots of people in the area found themselves un-employed and in search of alternative ways to occupy their time.  High Nature provided Jordy with an opportunity to connect more deeply with his love for food by volunteering in the kitchen gardens.

He specialises in outdoor cooking and seafood but has more recently been switched on to cooking seasonal organic health foods for staff and volunteers here at High Nature. He has also provided Summer cooking workshops working with our partner Lifeworks. who provide support to young people with autism.

Originally from Gloucestershire, Jordy moved to Devon in 2016 and has spent time working for the famous Cricket Inn at Beesands, The Tower Inn at Slapton as well as being ‘guest chef’ at The Mill Brook Inn located in South Pool.

In the Summer of 2020 we took the initiative of test-piloting our field kitchen providing much needed Alfresco Dining events to our campers and the general public.  The pilot was incredibly successful and we hope to officially launch the High Nature catering enterprise this year with Jordy at the helm.  On his days off Jordy can be found cooking or enjoying a pint at the Pigs Nose Inn, often with Cat!

The History of High Nature

'From Seed to Fruition' - Written By Catherine Middleditch

In 2009, myself and my partner (at the time) Douglas Lane began working on a 2 hectare (5 acre) smallholding called Wayfield Nurseries located on a coastal plateau in East Portlemouth, South Devon. Doug and I met through the UK Permaculture Network and were keen to put our skills and knowledge into practice.  At the time, the site was owned by forward thinkers Alan and Jonquil Stapleton, who supported both commercial and community initiatives on the land.

Initially we engaged the local community by offering the opportunity to grow food on the land. A group of us then set up a community egg initiative by introducing chickens and ducks. We also decided to hold a little festival with live music, local food, apple pressing, coastal walks and skill swapping. We grew lots of food and also opened workshop spaces for arts and crafts. Various locals got involved with doing felt making, greenwood working, restoring furniture, upholstery and pottery.

In 2011 I found myself in the position to be able to purchase the land.  The next step was going through the planning process to set up the Centre which was not easy! The concept of setting up The High Nature Centre came about by us wanting to set up a multi-functional diverse business, but with a central focus. We wanted to incorporate our shared interests in permaculture, food growing, arts and crafts, ecology and conservation, so we decided a nature centre would encompass all of this and much more.

We explored the different ways we could potentially generate an income from the land using permaculture design tools and techniques, and it was clear that our site and location provided us with the perfect platform to set up an educational eco-tourism business. Being in a tourist hot spot enabled us to tap into the popular glamping market, which provided an immediate return on our investment. The provision and promotion of rural arts and crafts activities such as green-wood working, willow weaving, felt making, scything and hedge laying were an integral part of our whole plan to kick start an alternative rural industry in an area dominated by the service industry and conventional farming. 

Another part of the business plan was to encourage people to reconnect with nature by exploring the surrounding landscape. We are located just above the National Trust Heritage Coast, with some jaw dropping beaches and walks, including a beautiful woodland walk containing some ancient small leaved lime trees. The idea was to offer guided nature, marine and foraging trails to visiting groups and tourists.

A year later, good design, local support, perseverance and a passionate three minute talk to the District Planning Committee gained us our 10 year temporary permission.  We were granted temporary permission to change the use of the land from agricultural to a mixed use of tourism, education and light industry including 5 yurts and an 18m diameter roundhouse to be used as a central operational building.  Obtaining this permission was an amazing achievement.

We hit the ground running in Spring 2013 having taken the risk to build 2 of the yurts ourselves, then employed a friend Matt Boysons from 'Yurtopia' to produce the other 3 yurts.  The next major job was to implement the landscape design for the yurt camp.  The overall aim is to preserve and enhance the biodiversity of the land. This has been achieved by planting over 2,000 native hedgerow trees, sowing over 30 different species of wild flowers, planting perennial crops and herbs both in and outside of the polytunnels, and allowing certain areas of the land to grow wild. There are plans to implement a wetland system to manage all the grey water and surface runoff water on the site. This will introduce an important freshwater ecosystem aimed at attracting amphibians, dragonflies and aquatic life.

The yurt camp launched on the 17th of June 2013 and it was a very successful and fruitful first season.  We continued diversifying and developing the smallholding offering additional low cost business start-up space, arts and crafts activities, community events and tourist information about the local area.  In winter 2014, after a challenging year, Doug and I went our separate ways.  A few months later I took on managing the business on my own with help from lots of wonderful family, friends, local employees and volunteers.

Tobdan (my husband) has been working alongside me helping to develop the Centre since Spring 2016 (with help from our daughter Tanzen).  The business has been growing steadily with exciting new developments including social outreach programmes for disadvantaged and vulnerable people, yoga and wild running retreats, and more recently we launched our field kitchen and offering alfresco dining events.  We have also started an agroforestry project in an attempt to implement a coastal food forest throughout the site.  The next major development will be constructing our main permanent building, the roundhouse which is very exciting!

Over the years lots of people have commented that I'm 'living the dream'.  People often ask for advice on how they can set up something similar.  I usually re-direct them to an article I wrote in 2014 for Permaculture Magazine.  Hopefully those of you who are keen to set up something will find it useful and interesting 'How To Set Up A Nature Centre'.


Written by Catherine Middleditch