Tuesday 21 June 2022

Regenerative Landscape Design - Site Visit/Consultancy - Italy - Sardegna - 35.2 ha

Finally, after multiple thwarted attempts to make it, I arrived in Sardegna, Italy to meet Yvo Zanev and take a look at a 35.2 ha plot he and his brother have recently taken on. It's a magical spot!

Their plan for the site is to implement a regenerative landscape design with their primary goal being to create a small settlement on the site and grow food and resources to support those living there and run activities and events from the property. Yvo, his brother, and his brother's girlfriend have already moved onto the site last year and have installed access, water and electricity,  started to plant out a forest garden, and set up some very comfortable tents, a kitchen area, sauna and storage.

During this post, I'll share some observations from the site and cover my general approach to making a site visit. 

The Site 

Location: North Sardegna, Italy 
Climate: Mediterranean/ Warm Temperate 
KCC - csa
USDA Hardiness Zone: 9b conservative - 10b risky 
Latitude: 40° 
Elevation: 370m  high point - 230m  low point
Average Annual Rainfall: 553 mm 
Prevailing Wind:  W - N.W
Area - 35.2 Ha 
Soil - Sand with some Silt and low clay content. Rich organic matter deposits in gullies and fissures around the site and where woodland has established in the low lands.    

The site cadastral (property boundaries) in 2D and 3D view 

The purpose of the site visit was to gain a physical impression of the site, and to broadly observe topography, water, access, flora, and current cultivation practices in order to provide a quotation for regenerative design and development of the property. 

To make the most of a site visit it's important to plan out some specific objectives and if it is a large site plan a route so you can cover the entire site within the time allocated. The following information is very helpful to have in advance of the site visit

  • Information about any development restrictions there are on the property, specifically; are there protected zones (nature reserves), are there restrictions to pond building, and if so up to what size (in m3)?
  • Locations of Electricity, Gas, and Water Pipes/Lines  
  • Access -rights of way.
  • Ownership disputes/issues 
  • Locations of nearest public transport links, airports, etc.
  • A list of the client's objectives and goals.
  • A cadastral of the property on google earth with a topography map of the site or better yet a DTM at 1-2m resolution. This is really helpful to plan the route across the site and locate areas of interest to concentrate observations before arriving.
Yvo (pictured below, with one of his dogs) was a great host and showed me around the site, explaining what they would like to achieve and what they have done so far. 

Site Biodiversity 

The floral diversity was spectacular this time of year and the whole place with alive birds, invertebrates, and reptiles most noticeably Wall lizards -  Lacertidae. and Skinks - Scincidae. As common as they are I did not manage to get a clear photo. 

We did cross paths with Sardinian Marginated Tortoise - Testudo marginata and Yvo mentioned they are common on the site.

There are a number of medicinal herbs growing wild around the site including Helichrysum italicum - Curry Plant  (left) Hypericum perforatum - St Johns Wort (middle) and Lavandula stoechas. The aroma of these plants is often in the air while walking around the landscape. All of these plants are very easy to propagate and have great potential as groundcover for any future soft landscaping, that may be required on the site. Using native plants for soft landscaping in dry climates is always a great choice when the opportunity is there, especially when those plants are multifunctional, in this case  for medicinal, cosmetic, and culinary purposes as well as being excellent pollinizers and possible playing a role as "pest confusers"   

Arbutus unedo - Strawberry Tree, native to rocky slopes and hillsides in the Mediterranean is well established on the site, with small saplings popping up everywhere and large trees taking a share of the canopy cover. These plants are from Ericaceae,  a family of plants known to prefer acid soils. 

Other common trees growing in the area are Juniper - Juniperus phoenicea (i think ), Mastic tree - Pistacia lentiscus (looks like an excellent biomass plant), and various Oaks, Quercus spp.  A striking and common herb growing in a part of the site that used to be a vineyard was the royalty of Apiaceae - Ferula communis - Giant Fennel pictured below with Evergreen Oak in the background.

Rampant patches of Allium triquetrum - Three-Cornered Leek grow in the valleys where organic matter builds up over time and the soil is deep and moist, the plants were just starting to fade as were many of the other species of bulbs but even towards the end of June the diversity of ephemeral bulbs was striking, many of which I have not encountered before.

The rocky outcrops scattered throughout the site provide a prehistoric vibe and indeed it's likely people have lived within the caves and hunted for boar on these lands for tens of thousands of years. 

In fact, around the plot numerous sites of historical significance have been discovered, many of which date back 5000 years, possibly longer. One in particular that I visited was designed to interact with lunar eclipses. Li Mizzani Giants' Tomb, pictured below. 

Mosses and Lichens inhabit large areas within the rocky areas and soil is building within the crevices' with herbs and shrubs starting to grow out. As the roots of the plants expand with growth the rocks will shatter into smaller and smaller pieces over time. Amusing to think that over enough time these boulders will be pebbles in the soil.

Beneath the layer of organic matter on the north sides of the mountains,  the soil has a deep and rich layer of organic matter and a number of species of fungi can be seen.

It was clear from walking around the site that building soil here would not be a problem with the abundance of diverse organic matter and various water sources both perennial and ephemeral,  but there were areas around the site where organic matter was very sparse the soil very thin and eroding away from rainwater runoff. These areas tended to be where the soils and vegetation had been disturbed for access, clearing vegetation and below the Cork Oak Orchard that was planted on the site in the 1980'. 

 Tracing signs of water erosion to the source, locating water sources, and finding areas where flows and gathers during heavy rains is always a priority when observing a site in a dry climate and the first two days were dedicated to this. The site has great potential for rainwater harvesting and with some relatively simple earthworks, much of the water currently draining off the site and causing erosion could be either, distributed more evenly over the landscape or, stored in reservoirs.  There were already a few places on the land where water was naturally accumulating, the most prominent being a wetland area that appeared to be fed with a slight trickle from a natural spring.  You can see the wetland pictured below, easily identified by the dark green clumps of rushes (Juncaceae), and in the very low area, the ground was moist with water on the surface in places. 

On the third day, we ventured up into the mountain. The mountain makes up a significant % of the property and is predominantly wild vegetation. Yvo and his brother had previously cut a trail through.   

The plan is to run activities from the project and the high terrain is perfect for mountain climbing with spectacular views from atop. A local climber joined us to plan routes with Yvo.

During the visit, we spoke about the challenges facing them and I offered some general advice on how to improve the soil erosion issue and how this could also provide a design framework for the site, 

Pretty much every place I visit or person I talk to I find myself repeating a few key points so I thought I'd include them here. 

  • Create a master plan/ vision for the site. Start to map your plans and make numerous iterations until a clear option presents itself
  • Get your water/irrigation sources worked out first and ensure they are reliable throughout the year (especially during the heat waves and droughts) If you have a very wet site, get your drainage and flood relief worked out. 
  • Establish access around the site that works with the topography e.g. eliminates erosion, harnesses water harvesting potential, or drainage.
  • When managing water flows across the site (rainwater runoff or pumped water) have the overflow route planned and implemented.
  • The access layout will make apparent subdivisions within the plot that can be assigned to purposes that best suit the locations, i.e orchard, wild area, intensive forest garden, vegetable garden, meadow, etc. Create a broad vision of what you want to do in each subplot.
    • Break down your plan into manageable pieces, focus on the most relevant/essential aspect of the plan first and only move on when you are comfortable and confident it is complete. 
    • Clear only the areas that you intend to immediately work on, otherwise, leave them to grow wild
    • Be aware of the maximum width and height of the trees and shrubs you will grow to avoid overcrowding them when they are maturing and just starting to become productive.
    • Size your access up to the width of the machinery you will be using and design your corners so that the machinery can comfortably and safely turn corners 
    • Annual vegetable production for domestic production is best concentrated in a very small area that will get daily attention. Load up this area with the best soil and have a reliable and easy-to-use irrigation system in place for the crops and make it easy and comfortable to walk around and work in. 
    If you are interested in Yvo's project and would like to get in touch you can reach him at yvozanev@gmail.com 

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