March 2010


Last year, Lindsay Gow retired from his position as Deputy Secretary of the Ministry for the Environment after more than two decades leading environmental policy work in New Zealand. envirohistory NZ asked Lindsay to share his thoughts on how New Zealanders’ attitudes towards the environment and environmental issues have changed over this period:

The first change has been in public and political opinion.

20 years and more ago environmental policy was very much the junior partner in the both government and public eyes.  Although the establishment of the Ministry for the Environment and the Department of Conservation came out of a reaction to the rapacious “think big” developments, it was not easy to get policy issues and ideas launched.  We found that the onus of proof was against, not in favour of environmental protection. (more…)

We are approaching the end of March, so it must be time for the top five posts of the first quarter. Coming in at number one – by a healthy margin – is Our favourite Californian – the history of Radiata pine forestry in NZ … who would have thought? At number 2, there continues to be huge interest around our most polluted river – the Manawatu – with only the rare day passing without at least a few hits on this post. Few surprises about the next most popular posts … lawnmowers, Nga Manu Nature Reserve and Jeanette Fitzsimons – perhaps an unlikely combination anywhere else, but not here! Click on the links below to read the posts.

1. Our favourite Californian – the history of Radiata pine forestry in NZ

2. Manawatu River – pollution concerns date back to 1890

3. The lawnmower – the great New Zealand love affair

4. A Kapiti environmental history – Nga Manu

5. Jeanette Fitzsimons: how our attitudes towards the environment have changed 1974 -2010

This is the dilemma highlighted in the Economist’s March 23 article “It’s not easy seeming green“, which exposes the ever-widening divide between New Zealand’s projected image of “clean and green” or “100% pure”, and the reality – of a nation, which like any other, is perpetually struggling to find the balance between economic development and preservation of our precious natural heritage. This fissure between projected image and reality has for many become a gaping chasm since the government’s announcement that it is considering opening up high-value conservation land for mining exploration. (more…)

Whether we like it or loathe it, the Resource Management Act (RMA) is so much part of our social fabric and the way we make decisions about the environment today, it is hard to believe that only 20 years ago it was considered revolutionary, and groundbreaking by international standards. When it was enacted in 1991, the RMA repealed 78 statutes and regulations, and amended numerous others, to provide a single piece of legislation for the management of land, water, soil and air throughout New Zealand.

It came at a time of great change in local and central governance in New Zealand, particularly in relation to environmental management. Up until 1986, most policy and legislation relating to the environment was developed or administered by the monolithic Ministry of Works or the Forest Service, the key pieces of environmental management legislation being the Town and Country Planning Act 1977 and the Soil Conservation and Rivers Control Act 1941 (not to be confused with the Water and Soil Conservation Act, enacted in 1967) . But by the 1980s, there was a growing recognition that these pieces of legislation had become outdated and were in need of review. (more…)

This view, facing east along the Waikanae River just east of the Otaihanga Domain, is of a restored wetland – part of a wider regeneration project along this part of the Waikanae River. Viewed from this angle, with the bush-covered Waikanae hills in the background, it is possible to get some sense of how this part of Kapiti would have looked before it was cleared for farms and settlements in the late 19th century. (more…)

So, what exactly do we mean by environmental history, and why is it so important?

As part of a newly established MSc in Landscape, Environment and History at the University of Edinburgh, Prof. Chris Smout, emeritus professor of history at the University of St Andrews, Scotland, is interviewed about what environmental history is and why it is important.* He argues that the subject area is like a stage on which various subjects come together. The difference with conventional history is that environmental history is not only concerned with people but also with nature, the landscape and the environment as a whole. However, it is not just the history of nature but more the history of human interaction with the environment.

Click here to watch this interview with Prof. T.C. Smout introducing environmental history (7 mins approx). (more…)

Herds of deer in virtually treeless fields is a common sight in New Zealand, but to many Europeans, who are used to seeing deer in their natural habitat – the forest – it appears incongruous, and even cruel, to keep these forest animals in open fields, particularly on a hot summer’s day. (more…)

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