Rewilding Design System

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“(The) focus in permaculture on learning from indigenous tribal cultures is based on the evidence that these cultures have existed in relative balance with their environment and survived for longer than any of our more recent experiments in civilization.”

–David Holmgren

The Rewilding Design System (RWDS) is permaculture. All of its premises, tools, and methodologies either derive from, or are inspired by, earlier innovations by the permaculture community, or resonate with the ethics of permaculture. The RWDS has been developed over the last decade by Wilson Alvarez and Benjamin Weiss, first individually, and then jointly. Though the paths by which they came to the notion of merging permaculture and “primitive skills” were different, eventually they found amazing synchronicity in their ideas and began to develop this unique system for rehabilitating wild lands, people, and culture.

A Note on the Phrase “Primitive Skills:” In our classes and our literature we prefer to move away from the use of this phrase, reserving only for very introductory conversations about the RWDS because it is familiar to many people who approach our work. The notion that the technologies of pre-industrial peoples were “primitive” is offensive, narrow-minded, present-centric, and counter-productive to cultivating a reverence for a more simple, Earth-based worldview. We prefer to use the term “Native Science,” developed by Gregory Cajete in his incredible book of that name.

Essential Concepts

Redefining the Zone Map: The RWDS is grounded heavily in the Permaculture Zone Map, one of the excellent conceptual tools developed for permaculture design. The classic Zone Map is portrayed like this:zm

And each Zone represents the following:

  • Zone 0: The human within the design; the designer of the system; the homestead at the center of a sustainable human habitation.
  • Zone 1: Aspects of the design or system that need daily tending/interaction, such as vegetable gardens.
  • Zone 2: Aspects of the design or system that need weekly tending/interaction, such as forest gardens.
  • Zone 3: Aspects of the design or system that need monthly tending/interaction, such as grain fields.
  • Zone 4: The semi-wild edge of a sustainable human habitation.
  • Zone 5: The wild.

In this classic Zone Map, there is a heavy focus laid on observing and designing systems within the human habitat for the support of the people in the system (Zone 0), as is evidenced by the designation of Zones 0-3, all of which represent human systems as opposed to wild systems. For the purposes of the RWDS, however, we have altered the Zone Map concept:

  • Zone 0: humans & necessities
  • Zone T (technosphere): classically Zones 1-3; designed to support Zone 0
  • Zone 4: semi-wild ecosystems
  • Zone 5: wild (or rewilded) systems
  • Zone G (Gaia): the wild consiousness

The Importance of Zone 4: The RWDS focuses on the potential that semi-wild systems present us for the generation of sustainable human societies. Because the edge of our cultures and developments are the place where we interface with nature, it is there that we can begin to re-learn how to live in accord with the Earth.

We have developed “The 5 Ideal Functions of Zone 4” as a guide to understanding the value of semi-wild systems. Click here to view a slide show about these functions: The 5 Ideal Functions of Zone 4

The Pillars of Rewilding: To correspond with the three ethics of permaculture which have been articulated as Earth Care, People Care, & Fair Share, we have designated three pillars of rewilding, which are both ethics and goals:

  1. Reconnect to the wild earth, the self, and the community of life.
  2. Regenerate wildness within and without.
  3. Reject the culture of oppression and the degradation of earth, self, and community.

The Ouroboros of Rewilding is a symbol developed by Wilson that we use to guide our students through a fully immersive process and practice of deep awareness. We insist that only through deep awareness and constant observation can a person (or community) develop the necessary understanding to ethical reintegrate with and redesign semi-wild ecosystems. Click here to view a slide show that explains the observation practices latent in the symbol: The Ouroboros of Rewilding


The Phases of Rewilding: We have articulated 5 in our work:

  1. Deep Observation
  2. Basic Ethical Interactions
  3. Simple Modifications
  4. Complex Modifications
  5. Scaling Down/Expansion

These are the basic phases of human engagement with a semi-wild ecosystem that constitute the entirety of the RWDS. The details of the activities and practices of these phases represent the bulk of what we are developing and researching as we craft the RWDS.