December 2009

OK, sure, its only been a couple of months, but everyone else has a top 10, so why not us? The post coming in with the top number of hits was Were the Scottish really greener?. The complete list as follows (click on the title to read the post):

1 - Were the Scottish really greener?

2 - A Kapiti environmental history – Nga Manu

3Destruction of our forests over time

4The mysterious case of the disappearing river

5 - The lawn mower Part 2 – an “enduring relationship”

6- The lawnmower – the great New Zealand love affair

7A lesson not learnt – Lake Manapouri

8 - Why is understanding our environmental history so important?

9 - The “grasslands revolution”

10 - The ultimate paradox?

Possums are now estimated to number 70 million in New Zealand, and are acknowledged as a pest that inflicts colossal damage on New Zealand’s indigenous flora and fauna. However, only 100 years ago, they were highly valued and strictly protected.

Possums were introduced to New Zealand with the intention of establishing a fur trade. They were first released in the 1830s, but initially failed to become established. Imports began to taper off after 1900, and until the late 1930s, they were periodically protected as imported game – it was illegal to trap or kill them. As David Young notes, they were regarded by the government as “furry money-spinners” well into the third decade of the 20th century. (more…)

Episode 1 of the envirohistory NZ podcast series is out now! The envirohistory NZ podcasts are produced bi-monthly (or thereabouts) and are found on the Podcasts page. These podcasts will discuss themes explored in recent articles on the website and will also include interviews with people researching or “making” environmental history. Click on the link below to have a listen!

24 December 09 – Episode 1 – Introducing envirohistory NZ – (09:27 mins)

The article on lawn-mowing has drawn a lot of interest, and the following is a contribution from an envirohistory NZ follower, Paul Knight (now 74) who has demonstrated that he has had an enduring association with the lawn mower:

This is a photo of me in 1936, at 14 months, “mowing” the lawns on my grandparents’ one acre property in Pt Chevalier, Auckland. In fact, I did end up with lawn-mowing duties – I mowed gannie and gampie’s lawns from primary school age right through to when I went to university. I used to run there and back from Mt Eden, where I lived. (more…)

A lawnmower was an indispensable piece of equipment for the New Zealand homeowner for much of the 20th century, and a piece of equipment for which New Zealand men in particular have formed a kind of reluctant affection – perhaps more so than any other country in the world. (Though we as New Zealanders take our lawn for granted, many people in even the developed world have only a court-yard garden at most.) The traditional quarter-acre section, ubiquitous until the 1980s, but now subdivided into near-oblivion, was comprised largely of lawn, and the lawn mower was an essential tool for keeping the lawn (or perhaps more accurately in many cases – grass and weeds) under control. Lawn-mowing was the obligatory weekend task that could not be overlooked – even if Dad (because, lets face it, it was generally his job) was able to avoid the other tasks and sneak off to the rugby/cricket/fishing. (more…)

Not all struggles to tame the land in New Zealand have been successful ones. The failed attempt to settle Mangapurua, (now part of the Whanganui National Park) is a battle that nature won – and the Bridge to Nowhere is a poignant symbol of human defeat.

Under the Discharged Soldiers Settlement Act 1915 and further legislation in 1917, over 10,000 veterans of the First World War were assisted onto land. Some 3,000 of these were settled on Crown land, much of it marginal and remote central North Island land. Over 5,000 veterans took up government loans to buy and develop properties, while others took up leases of Crown land under various forms of tenure.

Mangapurua (click here to view map) was one of the settlements opened up for soldiers returning from the war. The land was infertile, steep and prone to erosion because the bush had been cleared. A slow migration of soldier settlers out of the district began after the 1921 crash in agricultural prices, with the last settlers leaving in 1942. A bridge – known as ‘the bridge to nowhere’ – over the Mangapurua Gorge is one of the few traces of the former settlement. [Source: Te Ara Encyclopedia of New Zealand]

Watch a TV6 video about the Bridge to Nowhere (including spectacular forest scenery) here.

Much of the material on this site focuses on the impacts of European settlers on the New Zealand environment. But of course the environment was neither untouched nor pristine when organised European settlement began in the 19th century. As can be seen in the forest cover diagrams in the earlier post, Destruction of our forests over time, the Maori also had a significant impact on New Zealand’s forests, albeit over a much longer period of time (centuries as opposed to years). Between the beginning of Polynesian settlement in New Zealand around the fourteenth century and the beginning of organised European colonisation in the nineteenth century, it is estimated that forest cover was reduced by about half, largely through fire. (more…)

Children at Toko Primary School, Taranaki, planting trees on Arbor Day 1900. In the fields around them, the devastating effects of the milling and burning of forest that was occurring throughout the country can clearly be seen. [Photo not to be reproduced without the permission of Alexander Turnbull Library, ref 1/2-003378-F. Acknowledgments to David Young for sharing this poignant photo in Our Islands Our Selves.]

The history of Peacock Springs Wildlife Park is a story of how, through twists of fate and the convictions and actions of inspired individuals, an environment can be transformed beyond anyone’s expectations – both as a visual landscape and in terms of its functions and purpose. It also challenges us on our assumptions about the polarity of the relationship between the “exploitation” and “conservation” of nature.

In the 1950s, Lady Diana Isaac and her late husband Sir Neil Isaac, founders of Christchurch company Isaac Construction Ltd, bought a house in Harewood, on the outskirts of Christchurch. Having grown up in the English countryside, Lady Isaac wanted to have a house with some land out in the country. However, after digging a lake to irrigate their garden they discovered the property had what Lady Isaac later described as “the worst land in Canterbury”, comprising mostly of shingle – perhaps not altogether surprising given its proximity to the Waimakariri River. But the shingle was found to be a very high quality and the Isaacs began commercial quarrying on the site in 1965, which continues today. (more…)

When the author lived in Christchurch, she found that many Cantabrians would become highly impassioned with even the suggestion of a development threatening the tussocked landscape of the Port Hills. The author even struck cases where people opposed native tree-planting projects because they would detract from the “natural tussocked landscape”. Certainly, it is hard to find a Cantabrian who is not fond of the soft, light golden-tinged tussocked hills that surround Christchurch, nor one who would question the “naturalness” of this landscape.

Yet, the tussocked hillsides of which Cantabrians are so fond are not natural, but a result of human intervention over time – through fire, logging and grazing. Some of this human-caused change occurred prior to European settlement, which is perhaps why the current landscape has become so fully ingrained in the collective psyche as being both natural and beautiful. (more…)

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