February 2010


Jeanette Fitzsimons, former co-leader of the Green Party, resigned from Parliament in February this year, after a long and influential political and academic career.  envirohistory NZ thought it would be a good opportunity to ask Jeanette about the major shifts she has observed over the last four decades in the way we as New Zealanders view our environment.

In her response to this question, Jeanette highlights three themes: attitudes towards nuclear power, indigenous forestry and farming.

(more…)

In 1870, Kapiti was identified by naturalists as a possible site for a bird sanctuary. But it was over a quarter of a century before the Kapiti Island Public Reserve Act (1897) was passed, and the island became a reserve.

Remnant forest, scrubland and previously farmed land was left to regenerate (except for one remaining farm at Waiorua, which continued to be farmed until the 1950s). However, nothing was done to eradicate the introduced species – cattle, goats, sheep, and possums (which had been introduced in 1893 – only four years before Kapiti became a reserve), and these animals kept regeneration of the forest in check through their constant browsing. (more…)

Kapiti Island is the summit of a submerged mountain range created by seismic activity 200 million years ago. It is 10 km long and about 2 km wide, covering an area of 1,965 hectares. The highest point, Tuteremoana, is 521 metres above sea-level.

The history of Kapiti Island neatly encapsulates – both geographically and temporally – the key phases of New Zealand’s environmental history. In a relatively short space of time it has been the object of intensive exploitation that saw its natural resources stretched to their limits, before entering a new phase as a predator-free haven for our rarest native birds. As such, it is now on the forefront of New Zealand’s battle to preserve its natural heritage. But, a lesser known part of its environmental history is the hundreds of years that it sustainably supported a small Maori population. (more…)

The earlier post on Hunting in New Zealand prompted one of our regular contributors, Paul Knight (now 74), to reminisce about his own hunting days:

When I was a child, my father used to take me fishing in Whangaroa Harbour and hunting for rabbits and hares, ducks and swans.  By my early teens I had graduated to hunting deer.  The purpose of both the fishing and the hunting was to keep an old freezer stocked for the family of 6. By the time I was a university student in the 1950s, I went hunting for deer by myself, traveling by motorbike with sidecar (Triumph 500 Speed Twin), mostly to Minginui Forest, west of Te Urewera National Park.

Hunting at Minginui was always successful.  There was no need to get up at dawn.  Even in the middle of the day you could creep up on clearings in the kanuka scrub or forest with a good chance of finding a herd of anything up to about 20 deer resting in the sun.  They would make off in panic and not infrequently ran straight at me in the confusion. (more…)

Our environmental history is littered with the stories of wetlands that were drained to make way for farmland or settlements. But in the Wellington region, there is a rare example of a substantial wetland that survived this onslaught. It is an example of how – paradoxically – an environment’s utility as a source of a commercial resource can sometimes provide for its preservation.

Over the last 150 years there were a number of attempts to drain the swamp for farming, but these attempts succeeded in only partially draining the swamp. (more…)

This is a view of Swamp Road, with forms an L-shape through farmland just south of Otaki township [click here to view location]. This shot is taken looking east towards the Tararua Ranges. As hinted by the name, this area, which is the floodplain of the Otaki River, was once a mosaic of wetlands, open water, raupo swamp, flax and swamp forest. However, this has been drained and cleared to make way for farmland. The river, just north of here, is now largely confined to a single channel and the ecosystem is dominated by introduced species. On Swamp Road, the name is the only remaining vestige of its original state – the road runs through a patchwork of market gardens and dairy farms. At the very end of the road, on old sand dune terrain, is the Katihiku Marae.

Source/further reading: Greater Wellington Regional Council

Photo: Catherine Knight

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