Permaculture Strategies in a Karst Landscape

Andrew R. French
10 min readDec 29, 2021

Kart is a landscape topology formed by the dissolution of soluble rocks such as limestone and dolostone. Karst landscapes are critical landscapes because the separation between surface and groundwater is very thin to nonexistent, and thus the potential for groundwater pollution is higher than in other areas where the soil layers provide filtration between the surface and the groundwater. In a Karst landscape the protective filtration effects of hundreds of feet of soil is reduced to less then a foot on occasion.

Groundwater is arguably our most important natural resource and accounts for less then a percent of all water on earth. We must focus our most intense conservation efforts on protecting this resource, and by association Karst landscapes as well. Karst landscapes account for up to 25% of all human drinking water (Gunn, 2007).

What does this mean for permaculture designers and landscape architects? Designing for a Karst landscape means designing for groundwater protection.

There are two branches of design, active and reactive. On the reactive side we have to map and categorize all potential functions and elements on a site. On the active side we have to incorporate elements and functions, and identify their inputs and outputs. Every step of the design process is about connecting element/functions with each other and the site.

The overall goal in a Karst landscape site plan is to implement element/function relationships that create surface water and carbon creation cycling. This is not unlike other topological landscape types site goals, but it is of increased importance on a Karst landscape.

A Karst landscape is dynamic, which can complicate agriculture. Soils on Karst landscapes are often thin, patchy and fragile. In a Karst landscape the soil is sensitive to continuous tillage and has potential for sink holes in large rain events.

A Karst environment influences the water movement in the rock layers. In a porous karst landscape, water moves more easily between groundwater storage areas and surface water features like streams, lakes and rivers, meaning that contaminants that show up in groundwater are quicker to show up in surface water, and vice versa. “In karst landscapes, the distinction between groundwater and…