Community ProjectsDemonstration SitesEarth BanksGabionsLandSwalesTerraces

Permaculture at the Al-Baydha Project in Saudi Arabia – Neal Spackman, Video 1

Do you remember Geoff’s recent Saudi Arabia consultation? Well, left behind in the Kingdom as project manager to implement the work is Neal Spackman. Neal has kindly followed up on my request for reports, providing the video and images below. After the video I’ll give you a little more swivel-chair commentary based on info I’ve had via email.

The new site recently sustained heavy rainfalls. Older locals said it was the biggest storm the area has seen in more than twenty years. It was great timing for the fledgling project, as it gave opportunity to show exactly where the incomplete system required more work, and where it was working well.

The following image of a road busted up by one of the flash floods gives a decent concept of how much rainfall suddenly descended down hillsides largely devoid of any vegetation that would otherwise slowed its progress and reduced its destructive force:

Neal said that the earthworks already established, or semi-established, held up a lot better than he expected considering the deluge. He goes on to give some details that will interest the earthworks-oriented permaculturists out there:

The Bad

1. The series of 8 gabions in the main wadi washed away in the flood, with the exception of the first and last gabions.
2. The water hit the flood plain with force and overflowed the previous wadi boundaries. Five of the gabions we had built to direct water into the swales were bypassed, four were completely buried, and the swales filled up halfway with silt.
3. We need to rebuild and fortify the initial series of gabions, rebuild some of the gabions that were supposed to direct water into the swales, and build earthworks for all the water’s new entry points.

The Good

1. The swales captured approximately 9.75 million liters of water (assuming 6.5 kilometers of swale, water 1/2 meter deep — which is what the lines show and how much silt got in — and 3 meters wide).
2. 80% of the mountain gabions stood through the storm and have started accumulating silt fields on the uphill side. Some of the silt, even at the very top gabions, is still wet 9 days later. This means water is still flowing under the earth onto our demonstration site, and that we succeeded in slowing it down.
3. All the terraces stood through the storm, and have started to create flat spaces and silt build-up.
4. Based on this test, we can improve our water system before we plant our forage/food forests, resulting in a better water system and a safer site for the rest of the project.

As many of you will know, water is the first aspect to think about when designing a new site. And a site as radical as this, where all of nature’s moderating features have been chopped down, dug and/or chewed up, and you’re dealing with steep inclines and sudden rain events, reversing the destruction and designing for stability can be challenging. Neal’s ongoing experiences, and Geoff’s subsequent visits will be interesting indeed. I’ll probably tag along with Geoff at some point as well to give this project even further coverage. Given the future currently facing many dry regions, from Saudi Arabia to Australia to California, etc., these examples are worthy of our attention and collaboration so as to increase our collective knowledge for their restoration.

Once the water soakage situation is in place and stabilised, expect to see this area start to re-green! With local cooperation, there’s really no reason the forests cannot return, and with it, rain.

I’ll put a few more pictures below so you can see some of the work going on to date.

Terracing to collect silt and slow and soak water

The shallow slopes don’t require a lot of digging to terrace. Collected rocks start
the process of silt collection behind them — self-flattening over time

A rock wall gabion slows the water and collect silt to build fertility

After rain events have passed, the silt can be moved where it’s needed

Large on-contour swales create temporary water storage and soakage points,
ensuring the flows stay long enough to benefit the area, whilst reducing
soil erosion


  1. Very, very cool. My favorite permaculture videos are of the desert variety :). Thank you much for the article, and sharing the video with us

  2. Thank you for this report. I found it informative and useful and look forward to hearing and seeing your progress in the coming seasons. The pictures give us a good idea about what you’re up against. I wish you success in this critical project.

  3. Here is a better description about how to use the SolSource 3-in-1:

    “The SolSource is a lightweight solar energy device that provides users with a low-cost and portable means of cooking, heating and electricity generation.”

    “A cooking, heating, and electricity solution for 2.5 billion of the world’s poorest people. At a price they can all afford.”

    – Download the SolSource 3-in-1 Brochure:

    I think this should be a splened device for the nomades of Saudi Arabia!

  4. Amazing! Looking beyond the swales and terraces I see an even greater permaculture technique. That is your ability to mobilize and motivate the community to do so much work in such a short time. I pray they are not discouraged at the loss of infrastructure but excited after seeing the potential and motivated to catch more than 9.75 million liters next rain fall. Courage to you and have fun.

  5. Great stuff. Watched all the videos on your youtube channel, and await the next ones with trepidation. Would be interested to see the amount of moisture in the sediment that is trapped behind the gambions

  6. @Oyvind:
    That SolSource looks great! Even better: The -lowtech- CooKit, which people can easily make themselves. All that’s needed is cardboard, relective foil, a plastic bag and a pan painted black. Watch here:
    As soon as the instuction-video in Arabic is available on the web, I’ll let you know.

  7. An example of permaculture design principles in action .I first experienced this type of simple and very effectve lanscape transformer in the Negev Desert in 1979.Great to see something old, the Nabatean revisited ,revised for present situation and conditions.I plan to be in Jordan for the IPC10 for september and would love to visit this place a give and hand in the rock work .

  8. great report thank you. hopefully this project will be documented not only through video but also a more detailed case study because this experience will be very useful and relevant to other countries with similar conditions like here in syria. for the moment is it possible to get some figures regarding the area of the project, the expected timeframe, size of needed/available funding, stakeholders involved…. thanks

  9. Two thoughts of possible action to reduce rockwork/terrace blow out.One ,placement of keyline culivation ,using the rockwork terrace slightly off contour [down slope ]extend to a suitable ridge /valley shoulder [broad and gentle .This would hopefully take water flow and pressure/energy away from the center of rock workterrace on the contour .Truck in silt/caly from the floodplain to behind terrrace rockwork where possible .This would hold heaps of warer and kickstart plant growth which would strengthen the terrace rock work.Plant hardy food and oil plants which would give a great first immpression . Should be heaps of funding from the private sector in the Islam community.Look into the Koran for guidance and inspiration .Neal,contact me via the PRIA.

  10. About to watch the video (and I know this comment is 11 months after posting :)) but I wanted to ask if you are familiar with Induced Meandering? When I saw that you had gabions set up and that most of them washed out in the deluge, I immediately thought of “Let the Water Do the Work” by Bill Zeedyk and Van Clothier. In the book, they describe many of the ways that we attempt to control the flow of water- be it a continuously flowing river, seasonal stream, or even a gully that sees high flows- and how many of our techniques fail. Maybe you have read, or maybe you have not- but I just wanted to plug for Induced Meandering and hope that if you are unfamiliar, that maybe you’ll take a look and see what may be applicable to your situation.

    Well wishes with the project, I hope to help on one someday in the future :)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related Articles

Back to top button