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Fascines

I first remember these from perusing my Dadís copy of the 1795 edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica as a kid (twenty volumes bought at a farm sale in Cumberland for 30 shillings and transported home in two sacks tied to the pedals of his bycycle).

Fascines, according to this illustrious dictionary, are six feet long bundles of thin poles and brash about 1 foot in diameter, bound in the middle and at each end. They were used extensively for all forms of earthworks and light road construction, particularly over marshes and broken ground, usually combined with Gabions (in those days woven from willow or cane rather than wire mesh). The fascines were laid out side by side and covered with earth, then another layer of fascines was placed at right angles to the first and covered with another layer of earth and so on up to the desired height. The gabions were earth filled and positioned at the edges of the fascines for additional stability.

I started making them as a way of dealing with brash from 18-20 year old birch and willow rather than bothering with machinery for chipping or shredding. Its quite surprising how much brash goes into one neat, easily moveable fascine.

two fascines; bundles of small diameter  sticks bound together as described in the text

I use my fascines mainly for causeway/dam construction to create wetland, building up the water storage capacity and also sequestering the carbon in the construction. I intend to extend this use to stabilisation of banks and steep slopes and light track construction but imaginative designers will see other applications such as inclined planes and large scale earthworks. The fascines can also be re-cut into faggots to suit wood fuel burners by using additional ties and cutting through at the appropriate length with a chainsaw or bow saw.

For an additional yield, I often do coppice work in the spring and early summer when the leaves have come out. I make the fascine as usual but hang it up for animals to browse first. Horse particulalry enjoy this treat. Once they've stripped off the leaves and some bark I then use the fascine as normal in causeway construction. Depending upon the vigour with which the animals devour the leaves, the fascine may need some minor repair, such as re-tying, before further use. Be careful how you tie the fascine upfor animals to eat. Make sure that even if the ties come loose, the animal can't get caught up in the string.

a horse browses leaves from a fascine tied securely to a wooden fence

Out of interest, the root of the word comes from fasci, the bundle of sticks with a small axe, carried by Roman lictors as a sign of their office. Itís the same root as fascist but obviously much more politically correct in this form.

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