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 Some of the archaeological and palaoecological information is now somewhat outdated (for instance, the dates that humans first settled New Zealand and other radio-carbon dates), but it is nevertheless a highly worthwhile read – (more…)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…)

The fact that the Horowhenua district has such a rich written and photographic history, as well as ethnographic, archaeological, cartographic and geological record, is almost wholly down to one man – a Horowhenua farmer and irrepressible self-taught scholar of geology, archaeology and ethnology (as well many other subjects). Indeed many of the photographs used on this site are the work of this highly methodical and observant man who took his camera everywhere – including up the Tararuas on numerous exploratory expeditions to map, make geological observations, rescue lost trampers or simply for adventure.

George Leslie Adkin was born in Wellington on 26 July 1888, the first of seven children of William George Adkin, a draper, and his wife, Annie Denton. (more…)

Archaeological evidence shows that Maori occupied the south-east coast of the North Island, including Palliser Bay, by the 14th century. Research in the 1970s by Foss and Helen Leach of Otago University showed that people lived in small settlements at stream and river mouths. The people were both gardeners and hunters and gatherers, reliant on what they could take from the forest, rivers, streams, coastal lagoons and the sea – the main sources of food were likely to have been small birds, fish, seals and kūmara (sweet potato). There is evidence of about 300 people in six separate communities on the eastern side of the Palliser Bay. Yet by the 1600s these settlements had gone. (more…)

“Evil” is a strong word – but when he wrote “The Evils of Deforestation” in 1909, J.P. Grossmann obviously felt strongly about the issue. He wrote: “Foremost among the inevitable effects of deforestation we must, therefore, rank floods and landslips.” He was not the first – nor the last – to express his concerns about deforestation in New Zealand. In 1877, Campbell Walker, the Conservator of State Forests had warned:

“I should view with very greatest anxiety any clearing of the hills which form the dividing range or back-bone of the island, and am convinced that it would be followed sooner or later, by the most disastrous results, both in the shape of deterioration of the climate, dangerous floods and drying up of sprints and sources of rivers.”

And in his book “New Zealand in Evolution” (1909), Scholefield states:

“In this period the denudation of the forest already had some detrimental effect on the climate here and there, and the severity of floods in the rivers was marked. With the hillsides and the upper reaches bare to the elements, the snow or rain-water passed off rapidly. The streams rose without the slightest warning, tearing down through gorges, eroding the banks, overflowing farms, and devastating the lower alluvial flats with silt and boulders. It was a very disastrous retribution for the recklessness of white man.

In this age of heightened environmental awareness, we tend to assume that our understanding of our impact on the environment has increased. These statements by our forebears a century or more ago show this is not the case – we would do well to take heed of their long-forgotten warnings…

[Photo: A late 19 century forest burn-off in Manawatu; Source: Palmerston North City Library]

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