Ecosystem design


Ecosystem design is the intentional, strategic planning and creation of your vineyard to form part of a wider ecological system which is both sustainable and resilient.

It considers the interaction of all the living organisms and their environment: community, watershed/natural water cycles, and bio-region. The vineyard and its wider environment can then become a functioning, sustainable, and self-regulating ecosystem.

It is difficult to ‘retrofit’ ecosystem design into an existing vineyard, but creating a plan for your land, and evolving your land use along agroecological lines when replanting can gradually bring your land into a more coherent relationship with the landscape.

In detail

Ecosystem design refers to the intentional and strategic planning and creation of ecological systems that mimic natural ecosystems to achieve specific goals. Ecosystem design combines ecological knowledge, scientific principles, and creative planning to create sustainable and resilient ecosystems that benefit both nature and human communities. The design process builds the capability of people and the living environment to engage in continuous and healthy relationships through co-evolution.

The design process begins by seeing places as living systems and attempting to understand how the systems of life work in each unique place. It is a design process that engages and focuses on the evolution of the whole of the system of which we are part – community, watershed and bio-region. It involves the thoughtful arrangement and integration of various living organisms (plants, animals, microorganisms) and their physical environment (soil, water, climate) to create a functioning, sustainable and self-regulating ecosystem.

The main objectives of ecosystem design can vary widely depending on the context and goals of the project, but in general the process of ecosystem design typically involves the following steps:

  1. Site assessment: observing the natural patterns and learning to understand the local environmental conditions, soil type, climate, hydrology, and existing biodiversity is crucial to informing the design process
  2. Goal setting: clearly defining the objectives of the ecosystem design project, whether it is restoration, conservation, or sustainable land use, helps guide decision-making
  3. Species selection: choosing appropriate plant and animal species that are well-suited to the site’s conditions and align with the project’s goals is a critical aspect of ecosystem design
  4. Functional interactions: Integrating rather than segregating ensures that the selected species can interact and support each other in a way that creates a stable and self-sustaining ecosystem, a web of life. Each element should perform many functions and each function should be supported by many elements
  5. Implementation: properly establishing the ecosystem design on the site, including planting, soil preparation, and any necessary infrastructure
  6. Monitoring and adaptive management: continuously monitoring the ecosystem’s development and adjusting as needed to achieve the desired outcomes and address any unforeseen challenges

The principles of ecosystem design specified in relation to regenerative farming:

  • Design from place
  • Observe and learn from nature
  • Design ecosystems
  • Take care of your watershed
  • Never leave the soil naked
  • Don’t till
  • Increase soil organic matter
  • Build a living soil – feed the soil
  • Mulch – natures way
  • Create habitat, above and below ground
  • Increase biodiversity
  • Enhance ecosystem services
  • Polycultures, not monocultures
  • Intercrop with perennials
  • Multistorage forest garden systems
  • Capture carbon in soil and aboveground biomass

Further information