One of many scenes of devastation in the aftermath of Cyclone Bola.

One of many scenes of devastation in the aftermath of Cyclone Bola.

I have often wondered why I am so interested in the link between deforestation, flooding and erosion. I put it down to my love of forested environments, and therefore my interest in the history of these environments. But it has occurred to me that it is perhaps more than this – that it relates also to personal memory, of an event in the environmental history of my lifetime.

That event was Cyclone Bola, which hit the east coast of the North Island in March 1988, when I was a teenager. (more…)

How did the Manawatu transform from a densely forested environment in 1870 to a pastoral landscape by the turn of the century?

The answer, which will be explored in a lunchtime talk on 8th November, as part of the 2012 Manawatu Local History Week, is “fire”. (more…)

Of all the photographs I have seen relating to New Zealand’s environmental history, this is one of the most powerful. It shows the beginnings of a bush burn off at Puketora Station on the East Coast of the North Island in the early 1900s. This fire destroyed the indigenous forest over 30,000 acres, to make way for farming (probably of sheep). (more…)

This post follows on from the previous post Did European settlers loathe the forest? While I am largely satisfied with the idea that European settlers destroyed the forest driven by the need to make productive use of the land, rather than any deep-seated loathing of it or what it represented, this still does not explain the extent to which forest – lowland forest especially – was destroyed. It was, by and large, decimated. (more…)

Living in Christchurch, I was always vaguely aware of a park in the north-east of the city called “The Groynes”. It seemed an odd, and rather un-illustrious name for a park (given its homonymity with that particular part of the body), but I never took the time to find out what its origin was.

Had I had the curiosity to investigate, I would have found out that “The Groynes” derives its name from large blocks, made from concrete filled woolsacks, which were placed in the (more…)

“Unless immediate steps are taken towards the conservation of large tracts of existing forests, and towards the re-planting” of forests “the climate, which is naturally dry, will become, year by year, more dry, until at length pastoral and agricultural pursuits … will become profitless, if not impossible.”

This was not written in 2008. Or 1988. Or even 1948. (more…)

Though my implement of choice for environmental history is the pen (or more accurately, the keyboard), I am known to pick up a spade from time to time. Specifically, to plant native trees on land in the Pohangina Valley, about 40 kilometres north-east of the Manawatu provincial “capital” of Palmerston North [click here to view location].

When I do so, I am deeply conscious of the fact that I am undoing the toil of hardworking men who “broke the land in” only a century ago, transforming the Manawatu – at the time described in a government advertisement as “the waste land of the Colony” – into productive farmland. (more…)

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