Site Survey in Permaculture Design | Permaculture Thailand

Site Survey & Assessment in Permaculture Design

The Permaculutre Site Survey allows the Permaculturist to gather data as related directly to site observations. In Permaculture Design we break the Site Survey into ten (10) distinct observation areas as follows:



1. General Information

2. Site Information Collation

3. Landform & Orientation

4. Water

5. Access, Utilities, Rights-of-way

6. Biological Systems

7. Microclimates

8. Soils

9. Natural Disasters / Catastrophe

10. Other Areas of Observations


Comprehensive Guide


Site Survey & Assessment

1.   General Information


  • Name of property or project:
  • Name of clients:
  • Location:
  • Legal description:
  • Property size:
  • Ownership:
  • Address:
  • Phone:
  • Email:

2.0   Site Information Collation

2.1   Climate


  • Sun Angle in relation to site architecture and layout;
  • What is the latitude and longitude of the site?
  • Find the sun angle in winter and summer solstice?
  • When the sun travels over the site are there any existing building, trees, structures which cast a shadow?
  • Will any proposed new buildings, trees, and structures cast shadows?
  • Are the overhangs of any buildings the correct size in relation to the sun angle for the sites latitude and longitude at each solstice?

 2.2   Aspect


  • Which way are slopes and structures orientated, sun and shade sides – Shading effects;
  • Number of days with sun and Hours of sun per day;
  • Does the pattern of sun movement across the site suggest suitable strategies for siting structures?
  • Have you observed any Microclimates?

2.3   Temperature


  • Average highs and lows for each month;
  • Plant Hardiness Zone;
  • Lowest possible temperature;
  • Highest possible temperature;
  • Shading effects on temperature;
  • Microclimates.

 2.4   Cold Air Drainage


  • main drainages;
  • areas of pooling;
  • obstructions;
  • deflections;
  • other factors that may affect drainage.
  • Siting structures?
  • Microclimates?

 2.5   Wind


  • Where does the wind come from seasonally?
  • How fast?
  • For how long?
  • What effects does it have? Examples include:
    • plant flagging, soil erosion, seed dispersal, where animals including yourself find it comfortable.
  • Is the wind flow ever damaging?
  • Does the flow of wind across the site suggest strategies for the suitable siting of structures?
  • What are the possibilities of harnessing the wind for home power?
  • Microclimates.

 2.6   Weather Extremes


  • When are major seasonal storms?
  • What effects do they have?
  • What are the features of such storms? Hail, lightning, flooding, severe winds, plague of locusts, etc.
  • Research major weather events throughout historic records, large floods and droughts.


3.0   Landform & Orientation

Create a base map with the following:

  • compass directions;
  • true North or South (depending on your hemisphere);
  • contours with elevations;
  • current legal boundaries;
  • neighbors;
  • proximity to:
    • main roads,
    •  towns,
    • cities,
    • ports,
    • industries,
    • large bodies of water,
    • the ocean, etc.


  • slope;
  • ridgelines;
  • catchment areas;
  • aspect;
  • buildings;
  • access;
  • fences;
  • utilities;
  • right-of-ways;
  • possible dam sites;
  • ridge sites for wind power;
  • subdivisions on the land;
  • how aspect creates microclimates.


4.0   Water


  • What is the watershed or catchment area?
  • Is it healthy?
  • When is the area subject to flooding and drought? Frequency, Location and Duration.
  • Springs, other water that is on the site or flowing through it; depth, quantity and quality of wells and ponds
  • How are neighboring wells performing?
  • How does shade, aspect, affect moisture on the site?
  • Where is there erosion? What is the severity? What are the causes? What creates differences in erosion patterns?
  • Look at how water interacts with slope, aspect, soil differences, vegetation, etc. What are the possibilities of increasing water harvest on site?
  • What are the regional strategies for using water?


5.0   Access, Utilities, Rights-of-way

Locate and identify:

5.1   Access

  • current access;
  • maintenance requirements and authority;
  • frequency of traffic;
  • heavy or light vehicles;
  • pedestrian traffic ways;
  • Utility lines including electric, telephone, gas, and maintenance authority.

5.2   Rights-of-way (to whom, for what reason, and what duration)

  • Historical areas, archaeological sites and special provisions
  • Does any of this create any special microclimates?
  • Pertinent local legal situation?
  • What are the zoning regulations for the site?
  • What are the laws regarding access?
  • How can land be subdivided?
  • Are there special laws governing the use of the land?
  • Specific crops or animals that are prohibited?
  • Water rights?
  • Building codes?
  • Any restrictions on house siting?
  • Future plans for the area: subdivisions planned, industry, tourism, etc?


6.0   Biological Systems

Create Species List:

6.1   Plant Species

  • what plants are present;
  • where are they growing;
  • what other plants are they in association with;
  • in what condition are they;
  • possible microclimate conclusions;
  • What species and crops are used locally?

6.2   Animal Species

  • what animals are present;
  • where are they living;
  • what other animals are they in association with;
  • under what conditions;
  • what are they eating;
  • where are they getting water;
  • what are they using for cover;
  • what paths do they use;
  • possible microclimate conclusions;
  • also, consider animals previously present on the site or in the region and ask the above questions.
  • What domestic animals might be appropriate for the area? What are local people using?

6.3   Succession

  • How would you classify the level of succession on the site?
  • What is the level of energy flow on the site, or, how much solar energy is being captured by photosynthesis?
  • Is it high, medium, or low?

6.4   Endangered Species

  • Are there any endangered or particularly fragile species present?


7.0   Microclimates


  • What are the various microclimates on the site?
  • What is the potential for creating additional microclimates?
  • What creates the microclimates that exist now?
  • How can those factors be enhanced or changed?


8.0   Soils


  • soil maps;
  • soil testing;
  • types;
  • underlying geology;
  • susceptibility to waterlogging;
  • flooding;
  • fertility of the soil;
  • possible suitable crops;
  • possible chemical residues;
  • special soil areas – banks of watercourses, clay deposits, accumulated mulch, etc.
  • Where is there evidence of erosion? Why? What is the severity?
  • Where is soil being built?
  • What are the primary factors affecting the accumulation of humus in the soil? Why?
  • What plants or animals seem to be most responsible?
  • Identify possible resources:
    • clay, stone, sand, gravel, etc.
  • What are locally successful strategies for developing soils?
  • Are there areas suitable or not for siting structures?


9.0   Natural Disasters / Catastrophe


  • type of possible catastrophes:
    • fire, earthquake, flood, wildfire, hurricane, severe cold, nuclear accident chemical contamination, epidemic disease, etc.
  • For each catastrophe identify:
    • periodicity, possible severity, areas of influence, factors of influence, behavior, etc.


10.0   Other Areas of Observations

10.1   Visibility and Beauty Factors


  • Are there any favorable or offensive views on the site?
  • Is there any noise?
  • Is there light pollution?
  • Are there any significant wildlife corridors?
  • Is there anything else on the site that catches the attention?
  • How does it feel being on the site?

10.2   Local Resource Factors


  • What are the possibilities for alternative energy on the site?
  • What are the resources in the region:
    • mills, factories, hospitals, schools, shops, fire stations, dumps, free plant & seed sources, sand, gravel, timber, mulch, water, fodder, clay, stone, machinery, etc?

10.3 The Human Factor


  • Past Residents;
  • Archeological History;
    • What is the archeological history of the site?
    • What native peoples lived here?
    • What was their life?
    • Where did they locate their settlements?
    • What food did they eat?
    • Were they agriculturalists or hunter-gatherers?
    • What animals did they hunt?
    • Did they have domesticated animals?
    • How many people lived in the settlements and how large were the territories that they harvested from?
    • What were the seasonal patterns of their lives?
    • Did they migrate during the seasons?
  • Recorded History:
    • Who lived in the area?
    • What were their lives like?
    • Where did the resources of their lives come from?
    • Were they imported? If so, how did they arrive?
    • What is the history of this specific site?
    • Who owned it down the years?
    • How was it subdivided?

10.4   Resource Extraction


  • What was the resource use or extraction that happened on site?
  • Were there any enterprises on site?
  • Was it used for logging, grazing, crops?

10.5   Native Inhabitants


  • Are there any remnant populations of the original, native people left in the region?
  • Do they maintain any of their traditional practices?
  • Do they maintain any of their agriculture practices, such as saving seeds?

10.6   Current Residents

Identify for each resident:

  • name, relationship, occupation, lifestyle, age, eating habits, exceptional abilities, any handicaps,
  • desired involvement in the landscape,
  • level of self-reliance desired,
  • priorities wants and needs (may have to help clarify),
  • privacy needs, any unmet needs.
  • What do the residents want to achieve?
  • Do they want to make money from the property?
  • Do they want to be more self-reliant / ethical / environmentally friendly?
  • Why do they want a permaculture design?
  • Identify by name and address like-minded people and organizations, and old-time residents.

10.7   Financials

Identify currents inputs for the land:

  • mortgage,
  • taxes,
  • upkeep,
  • utilities,
  • transport.

Identify current returns from the land:

  • crops, animals, timber, mining, rental income, stone, recreation, etc.
  • Is this yield sustainable ecologically, socially, and economically?
  • For whom?
  • For how long?
  • At what cost?

Identify the current financial situation of the residents:

  • Are they able to meet the input obligations?
  • What are the perceived financial limitations?
  • Goals?
  • Is their financial situation changing? How?
  • What is their desired future financial situation?
  • How do the land and its residents give to the community?