Designing Swales with 3D Mapping App

Swales are a key feature in permaculture and sustainable landscaping, designed to capture and utilize rainwater effectively. Essentially, a swale is a shallow trench dug along the contour of the land, with a berm (raised barrier) on the downhill side. Here’s how they work:

  1. Capturing Runoff: When it rains, water flows downhill. Swales are positioned to intercept this runoff. The contour alignment ensures that the swale captures water evenly along its length.
  2. Slowing Water Flow: By capturing runoff, swales slow down the movement of water across the land. This prevents soil erosion, which can occur from rapid, uncontrolled water flow.
  3. Infiltration into Soil: The slowed water has more time to soak into the ground within and around the swale. This increased infiltration helps to recharge the groundwater and provides moisture to plants situated near or on the swale’s berm.
  4. Reducing Water Loss: Swales can reduce water loss due to runoff and evaporation. By holding water and allowing it to seep slowly into the ground, swales make more water available to plants over a longer period.
  5. Supporting Plant Growth: The berms of swales are often planted with trees, shrubs, or other vegetation. These plants benefit from the extra water availability and, in turn, help to stabilize the swale structure with their roots.
  6. Creating Microclimates: Swales can alter the microclimate in their immediate area. The increased soil moisture and vegetation can create a cooler, more humid environment, which can be beneficial in dry climates.
  7. Nutrient Capture and Cycling: Swales can also trap organic matter and nutrients that are carried by the water, further enriching the soil.

In permaculture, swales are used to mimic natural water flow and maximise the beneficial use of rainwater. They are an example of working with natural processes to create sustainable, efficient systems for water management and land improvement.

Embracing Techology

In the world of permaculture and sustainable landscaping, designing swales is a critical task that requires a keen understanding of land contours. Thanks to advancements in technology, tools like 3D scanning apps with LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) technology, available on mobile phones, are revolutionising how we approach this task.

Visualising Land Contours Like Never Before

A prime example is the 3D Scanner App (, which leverages the power of LiDAR technology in compatible smartphones. This app can scan your land and provide a detailed 3D model, revealing the subtle contours and slopes that are crucial for effective swale design.

The LiDAR Advantage

LiDAR technology works by emitting light pulses and measuring how long it takes for them to return after hitting an object. This data is then used to create precise 3D models of the scanned environment. In the context of swale design, this means being able to accurately determine the contour lines of your land, a task that traditionally required manual surveying techniques or expensive professional equipment.

Streamlining the Design Process

With a 3D model of your land’s topography at your fingertips, designing swales becomes significantly more straightforward. You can easily identify the best locations for your swales to maximise water capture and soil hydration. This technology not only saves time but also ensures that your swale placements are as efficient and effective as possible.

Empowering Permaculturists and Gardeners

This approach is especially empowering for permaculture enthusiasts and gardeners who want to optimise their land use without incurring the high costs of professional surveys. With your smartphone, you can take control of the land assessment process, paving the way for more informed and successful permaculture designs.


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Naturally Sufficient is a small private farm which aims to educate people with skills to become more self sufficient.

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