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david spicer
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tumut, nsw, Australia
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Permaculture Earthworks Course

Posted by david spicer about 9 years ago

 Earthworks are much like the skeletal frame of our bodies they support the system allowing us to fill the body or land with a living muscle and skin. 



Hardware and software, when designing it is always essential to keep in mind what will run water off called hardware e.g. roads, roofs will give almost a 100% run off and what will absorb water software forest, healthy soils, and gardens. We are always looking at hardware as water harvesters to divert to our software, water storages.


Thinking Earthworks

When thinking about earthworks design the aim is to keep water as high and as long in distance and time in the landscape as possible.

Water and the water’s edge is 30 times productive than land, having the classic edge effect.

Earth works are major elements in design; we are all ways starting with water in any design. 

 Planning of Earthworks

It’s best to plan all aspects of the earth-moving process before the machines or labourers arrive.

  1. Peg out site using a level (laser level, dumpy level, a-frame, bunyip level)

Making the final decision of placement of dams, roads, swales ect.

  1. Test soil by auger holes, soil samples and soil pits to check if suitable for your needs (ie. Dam needs at least 30- 40% clay). Seek professional advice or do more research before deciding conclusively.eg test holes
  2. Quantify volumes of earth to be moved, to hours of machine hire to give you real figure of cost involved.
  3. Plan a space to store all the TOPSOIL. Never allow it to be mixed. Remove carefully to be returned later as growing medium.
  4. Have on hand as many seeds and plant material as is needed to immediately cover disturbed soil.

 Earth moving machines types and uses

There all sorts of earth moving machines finding out what’s best for your job can save you $1000’s


Learning how to survey is a simple process once you have been shown using water levels/bunyip levels to the high tech laser levels


Barrage/valley dam, consist of constructing a compacted earth wall across the valley.

Keypoint dam is the same as a barrage dam but much higher in the landscape constructed so the high water mark is at the keypoint of the valley, it is the most economical dam to build also using the natural ley of the land to harvest water.

Contour dam is as the name suggests it is constructed on contour of usually gentile country with interlinking swales or diversion drains to fill the dam.

Ridge point dams are constructed at the end of a ridge usually it’s the highest dam on a farm.

Saddle dam is similar to a ridge point but much cheaper to construct as there is less earthmoving required it consists of constructing 2 walls either side of the saddle on the ridge.

Turkey’s nest or ring dam is mainly constructed on flat country as an open earth tank for either flood irrigation or water storage for stock.


Is Carried out by tracks on machines generally but some cases you will bring a sheep’s foot/pad foot rollers

Compact only 15-30cm of soil at a time. Even largest machines cannot do much more than this.

 Level sill spillways 

Are a insurance policy to gently allow the over flow of any dam or swale to passively exit the site.Level-sill-spillways-

 Free board

Is where we construct the wall of the dam or swale so there is an insurance that water will not go over the wall or swale mound in the event of a major rain event.

In dams we want a minimum of 700mm of free board, swale free board is determined  by slope or amount material excavated and how much water we hold in the swale floor and the height of our level sill spillway insuring we have enough free board in major rain events.


When constructing a dam/pond, excavate below original ground level for the keyway much like a woodruff key on a drive shaft it locks the wall in place also excavating below ground level you stop water from leaking under the wall. The key way is constructed with the best quality material you have from the site.


Keypoints are where the land form goes from convex to concave, the point of transition, the highest economical place in the landscape for dam placement, not all land forms have them. Its only in the humid climates they are formed.

Locking pipes

Are a system of baffles connected to a pipe to draw water from the bottom of a dam/pond, the baffles play a very important role in that they stop water from moving along the outside of the pipe [ which if happens will lead to failure of the dam wall ].

Diversion drains

A maximum fall of 1m in 400m or less, for every meter it falls 2.5mm which is hardly perceptible but enough to make water move to a point usually storage point e.g.  Dam/pond but not fast enough to erode or carry sediments.



A water harvesting ditch on contour, swales are a tree growing mound and have multiply benefits.

Aid the reforestation of landscape through the rehydration of soil across a section of land and providing seed for dispersal by wind or gravity.

Flood proof and drought proof land

Swales can be link to dams/pond to help charge the dam once full, plus act as an emergencies back flood system for the security of the dam if swale is link to the dam spillway.

Swales don’t work if there are no trees they become a contour drain.

It is essential that swales are planted out with a mix of tree species which aid in the water peculating into the subsoils through the roots of trees.

Swales help clean water before leaving the site allowing sediments, manures, detritus to drop by gravity to swale floor fertilizing trees and anything else below.


Roads as water harvesters

Roads can cause erosion and concentrate over land flow of rain events to culverts/pipes where the water is speed up when forced through the pipe coursing more erosion.

But they can be a great source of hard ware to harvest water from, in farm roads where possible we can design roads with a 1m in 400m fall to harvest water to charge dams, we can get multiply functions from a road ease of access water harvesters, fire breaks ect.roads-as-water-harvesters


Dam sealing

Sealing of problematic dams that are leaking, with gleying, manurial pugs or bentonite.

Dam wall and spillway repair and retrofits

Often exciting dam walls don’t have enough freeboard and the spillways are badly place, it’s really a simple matter of raising the wall height and fitting back flood swale and a level sill spillway

Minor land forming for benches, house/shed sites, terraces etc.

Weather your retrofitting or building new infrastructure installing gardens there is allways minor earthworks to be done

Our aim with this Intro course is to skill you up and give you the confidence to go out and install well designed elements in your property or clients

About the Trainers

David Spicer grew up with earthworks as his Father was a bull dozer opperator for many years, David followed his Father .David Spicer’s approach to design and education is based upon a proven emphasis on practicality, having over 15 years experience in Permaculture education working and teaching with Bill Mollison at the Permaculture Institute (Tasmania) and Geoff Lawton, the managing director of the Permaculture Research Institute of Australia and Zaytuna Farm. He is renowned for his ability to explain concepts and ideas simply, getting to the basics.

David previously worked as farm manager of the renowned Tagari Farm and Zaytuna Farm in northern New South Wales.

He has taught and worked extensively within Australia and internationally on various projects, covering five Australian states, Morocco, Jordan and Palestine covering a broad array of different climate zones. David is a valued member of the permacultureconsultants.com team headed up by Geoff Lawton.

He has the distinction of being Registered Teacher #5 with the Permaculture Research Institute of Australia.

David currently serves as Lead Consultant and Educator for http://www.permacultureworks.org/

Daniel Lawton

Set in motion with a permaculture design course at the tender age of thirteen in Tena, Ecuador, Danial followed up with a Permaculture Diploma in site development, site design, and research. At university Danial crammed in a Bachelor of Environmental Science with double majors in ecology & conservation biology and Land & Water Management, a Masters in Environmental Management and most recently a Masters in Environmental engineering. Danial also completed many specialty courses during his tertiary studies including Industrial Water and Waste Water Treatment, Hazardous Waste Management, Advanced Water and Waste Water Engineering, Renewable Energy Systems, Geographic Information Systems/remote sensing and ISO 14001 Environmental systems.

With 15 years experience in the Permaculture field, Danial has worked for international permaculture projects in Central and South America, as water systems manager for Tagari farm (PRI Australia) and later as farm manager for Zaytuna Farm (PRI Australia). Within this time Danial has taught and facilitated a variety of permaculture design and hands on courses through Griffith University, PRI Australia and Northey Street City Farm. As a design consultant Danial draws on environmental science and permaculture principles to design sustainable systems worldwide and for local Australian clients and government organisations.

for booking please go HERE


Venue: Eagles Deep  Jones Rd Tatong

you are welcome to share our meals with us, at no cost.

What to bring, You will need work boots, hat, water bottle, wet weather gear, ear and eye protection, note book, sun screen and your own camping gear.

When : 1st to the 5th of June
Fee : $1000.00

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My Permaculture Qualifications
PRI Unverified
Type: Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC) course
Teacher: Bill Mollison
Location: sisters creek tassmaina
Date: Oct 1999
Pri verified
Type: Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC) course
Teacher: Geoff Lawton
Location: tagari farm
Date: Jul 2000
Other course verified
keyline course
Type: Other
Teacher: Darren J. Doherty
Location: milkwood
Date: May 2009
Other course verified
teacher training
Type: Teacher Training
Teacher: Geoff Lawton
Location: zaytuna farm
Date: Mar 2010
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Climate Zones
david spicer has permaculture experience in:
Cool Temperate
Warm Temperate
Sub tropical
Wet/Dry Tropical
Semi Arid

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