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…)

My son and I took a walk through the Paekakariki Domain this afternoon, which provides a good vantage point from which to view the Paekakariki hills [click here to view map].

These hills rise steeply from the eastern side of the State Highway, creating a dominant backdrop to the town of Paekakariki. Rugged and raw, rather than picturesque, with their wind-gnarled scrub and angular contours, I have always found them alluring. (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…)

I have been reading Kenneth B. Cumberland’s 1981 book Landmarks recently. The book, which was published in parallel with a television series of the same name,* is a colourful presentation (both in the literal and metaphorical sense)  of Cumberland’s views on New Zealand’s environmental history, supplemented by many photographs and illustrations. Some of the archaeological and palaoecological information is now somewhat outdated (for instance, the dates that humans first settled New Zealand and other radio-carbon dates), but it is nevertheless a highly worthwhile read – (more…)

Next week’s New Zealand Historical Association Conference features a special four-person panel dedicated to environmental history. The panel is entitled: “History shaping the future: how environmental history research can inform environmental policy and management”, and will feature papers by Professors Katie Pickles and Eric Pawson (both from Canterbury University), Professor Tom Brooking (Otago University) and Dr Catherine Knight (envirohistory NZ). (more…)

Driving the route east of Lake Brunner, then back to the coast via State Highway 73 through Taramakau Valley [click here to view map], I was struck by the palpable human imprint even on the most (at first glance) wild and rugged looking landscapes. Through the Taramakau Valley, the hills and mountains on either side of the Taramakau River are so steep that landslips are frequent events, sometimes missing farmhouses perched precariously at the bottom of these slopes by a breathtakingly small margin. (more…)

It seems both ironic, yet at the same time intensely appropriate to me that New Zealand’s first major environmental publication was written by a farmer – one of the many who helped to so dramatically transform the land into the landscape we take for granted today.

Tutira: the story of a New Zealand sheep station (1921) was written by William Herbert Guthrie-Smith about his sheep station in the Hawkes Bay [click here to view location]. In particular, he chronicled – with meticulous detail – the way he developed the land, and the implications that these “improvements” had for the ecological, hydrological and geological systems that had functioned within the landscape for thousands of years.

Tutira became an internationally acclaimed classic of ecological writing, and is generally seen as New Zealand’s first major environmentalist publication.  (more…)

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