Permaculture Earthworks is about moving soil to capture water and shape its flow as it moves through a landscape, making the land more useful, valuable, and productive. We take water, slow it, stop it, spread it, and soak it through a landscape making sure we hydrate and stabilize the soil to also mitigate droughts and floods.

If you only do one thing
—collect rainwater. - Bill Mollison

Course Description

This course will teach the theory and practice of Permaculture Earthworks. We cover on-site design skills, surveying and directing earthmoving machines to establish ponds and dams, swales, drains, benches, terraces, access roads, and crossing pipes, and how to plant up afterward, so you get the best result. 

Students will understand:

  • How to read a site 
  • Where to place elements in a design and how to identify the crucial points in a landscape
  • Interpret contour maps 
  • What tools and machinery are needed
  • How to use surveying tools
  • How to direct earthmoving machines
  • How to apply earthworks to soak water
  • How to apply earthworks to hold water 
  • How to use earthworks to drain water
  • How to stabilize soil

Students will be able to use the basic terminology for earthworks and soil water management and work with contractors to direct earthmovers. 

Earthworks construction can be a rewarding investment in your property. Enhancing your landscape’s aesthetic appeal, functionality, and value are realistic outcomes. However, it can be intimidating to order large machinery onto your property, and getting it wrong can be discouraging and very expensive. This course will give you the knowledge and confidence to get your earthworks right.


9am – 5pm


Meals are not included, but lunches will be on offer for R120

Tea & Coffee also available for a fee.


For accommodation enquiries please contact Belinda


Phone: +27 82 258 2693

Course Outline

Reason for earthworks and types of earthworks

Earthwork elements and types of machines

Learning how to use survey equipment; learning practical surveying and design of dams and swales

Learning how to direct earthmovers


Design systems with multiple elements

Specifics of dam construction and design issues

Tour farm site to identify different elements on the farm

Survey of dams. Break into groups for survey designs


Specifics of swales

Integration of swales into a system including planting-up of the system

Visit existing swale sites

Surveying of potential sites. Break into groups for survey designs


House Sites/Benches/Terraces

Access tracks/driveways/crossing pipes

Activity: Stability Plan-Ups and Erosion Control

Placing of swivel pipes and crossing pipes


Questions and answers from the class

Miniature Earthworks Exercise by students

Completion of unfinished design projects with groups

Included in the course

Face to face

lectures &

on the ground practical


Classroom lectures delivered by a world-renowned teacher


Question & answer sessions


Practical sessions on the ground with the earthmover


Farm Tour



Learning how to use survey equipment


Learn how to survey dams


Learn how to place swivel pipes and crossing pipes


Please contact Belinda to enquire about accommodation options and prices.


Phone: +27 82 258 2693

Camping options may be available depending on numbers.

Students not staying on site will need to pay a day fee of R60


The main facilitators for this course are Geoff Lawton and Sam Parker-Davies. Geoff is internationally recognized as a leading earthworks engineer – having extensive experience worldwide in setting up earthworks systems that drought-proof land and optimize productivity.

Whilst we try to ensure that we advertise the correct teacher information on the site, due to unforeseen circumstances, the teachers may change at short notice.

Geoff Lawton

Geoff Lawton is the main facilitator for this course. He is a Permaculture consultant, designer, and teacher. He first took his Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC) Course with Bill Mollison in 1983. He holds a Diploma in Permaculture Education, Design, Implementation, System Establishment, Administration, and Community Development given by the founder of Permaculture, Bill Mollison.

Geoff has undertaken thousands of jobs teaching, consulting, designing, administrating, and implementing, in 6 continents and close to 50 countries around the world. Clients have included private individuals, groups, communities, governments, aid organizations, non-government organizations, and multinational companies.

He has currently educated over 15,000 students in Permaculture worldwide. These include graduates of the Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC) Course and courses focused on the practical design of sustainable soil, water, plant, and legal and economic systems.

Sam Parker-Davies

Sam Parker-Davies has directed earthmoving machinery for the Permaculture Research Institute of Australia on dams, house pads, roads, swales, rice padis, reed beds, gardens, food forests, orchards, canals, and many other features. He is a professional designer and consultant who has worked on large scale water cleaning system installations in Iraq, many various systems throughout Europe, Bahrain, Jordan and on his own property development projects around the Australia. Sam currently teaches whole systems Permaculture design for Geoff Lawton in the Greening the Desert Project in Jordan, and Zaytuna Farm in Australia.



This course will be taught at Santa Paloma, a farm and eco centre that is nestled in the beautiful coastal forest of the Eastern Cape in South Africa.


Need More Help?

Please Email

The Next Steps

1. Check our Courses & Events page and enrol in an additional course to broaden your Permaculture knowledge.

3. Create a profile and join the Permaculture Network

Santa Palma


This course will be taught at Santa Paloma, in East London, South Africa.

Address: 1101 Thornycroft Road, Summerpride, East London, South Africa

Nearest Airport

Regional: King Phalo Airport, East London, South Africa
International: Port Elizabeth, Gqeberha, South Africa


Travel on the N2 out of East London towards King Williams Town. Take the Amalinda off ramp. Turn right towards Voortrekker Road, turn left into Voortrekker and then the3rd right turn into Thornycroft road. Follow the signs down to Santa Paloma. You will need a gate code to enter