On technique…

Walking the transect

Permaculture designers working with teams and communities often have the same needs as field workers in international development. Permaculture designers do well to borrow techniques from their toolkit.

THE TRANSECT is a participatory technique used to gather information about an area of land for use in the design phase of a project.

It can be useful in site analysis, the phase of design that documents the characteristics of a site and plots the influence of external forces such as sun/shade patterns, winds, runoff and the condition of soils. The transect is a means of mapping a site.

Making transects involves participants in gathering information themselves. They provide detailed, baseline information about the existing conditions on-site. Once gathered, information is compiled on a base map to inform the design.

Transects are also used in monitoring and evaluation of projects. The technique is used to assess changes in landuse and soil conditions and to compare the information to that collected at the start of the project, the baseline data.

We borrow transects from the international development assistance tool kit. Field workers in developing countries make use of transects as part of the participatory mapping of village infrastructure and landuse.


  • are a means of making a detailed sampling of a site and what is found there
  • are made by a row of participants following a straight line across a site
  • contribute information to a base plan of the site.

The particularities of a site and need for detail determines distance between people. For example, where there is a variety of soils and terrain or a diversity of vegetation on a site, participants might be spaced closer together.

A simple tool of many uses

The transect is used to gather information about an area of land such as:

  • soil conditions and how they vary across a site
  • existing vegetation — species, distribution, abundance
  • the presence of human artifacts
  • the presence of soil degradation
  • terrain — slope, aspect
  • drainage — location of areas of moist or dry soil, runoff channels and direction, pooling, erosion.

Making a transect


A transect requires an activity leader and a group of participants.


  • clipboards, notebooks or some other means of recording information
  • string or rope if the transect course is to be marked out
  • a sketch map of the area to be walked or every team, with an accurate measurement of its size.

Hazards and safety

Coordinators should make a preliminary walk-through of the survey area to check for hazards.

Transect routes can be planned to avoid hazards, however the location and characteristics of hazards should be documented on the base plan.

Hazards include standing water, slippery and rough surfaces, thick scrub, cliffs and steep slopes. Tell participants about them at the briefing before the transect starts.

The process

Transects are made by small teams or individuals following a parallel route across a site and recording information as they go. The product will be a matrix of characteristics distributed over the site and compiled on a base map.

Identify your objectives in making a transect. What types of information do you want to document? Species of plants growing in the area? Variation of soil type and characteristic? Types of crops in production? Topographic change through an area to explore drainage, places where runoff will pool and so on? Landuse and distribution of buildings or food gardens in a village?

Agree on the boundaries of the area you want to survey by transect.

Make, copy and distribute a plan drawing of the area over which the transect will be made. Each team will have a drawing on which to record their findings. Where greater accuracy is required and a scale drawing of the site is available, this should be copied and distributed.

Explain the process to the group, the types of information needed and whether you want them to record supplementary, opportunistic finds.

Divide the group into teams of a minimum of two or three. Provide each group with a map of the site. It is okay for transects to be walked by individuals.

Appoint a scribe for each group who’s job is to record findings.

Make sure groups know the start and end points for their transect.

Walk the transects, recording information about the site.

After walking the transects, compile the information on a master map of the area.

From here, the collected information is fed into the site design or other process.

Sometimes, it is useful for the organisers to mark out a transect route with string, for the transect teams to follow. This keeps teams on course. It is useful where people could be put off course because of vegetation or rough terrain.


Coordinators should make a count to confirm that all members of the transect teams have returned.

This is especially important where teams are out of sight of each other and of the coordinators. While this might not be releavnt to surveying a site for a community garden or similar small area, it is important to make a count when surveying larger sites.

The Transect

Adaptable to both smaller and larger sites, the transect is a tried-and-proven technique of international development workers.

It has potential in our cities in assessing land for the development or small-scale urban agriculture and community gardens where detailed knowledge of a land area is advisable, for identifying patches of possible pollution and for identifying plant species transectin an area.