Dr Catherine Knight will be presenting a talk on November 2nd about the history of Totara Reserve as part of this year’s Manawatu Local History Week [click here to download programme]. Entitled “Totara Reserve: a window into Manawatu’s environmental history“, the talk will explore how Totara Reserve was preserved initially for its timber, but within a few decades, when lowland forest elsewhere in the Manawatu had all but vanished, became a prized scenic and recreational reserve. By tracing the history of the reserve, we can better understand the changing attitudes and values of New Zealanders towards our natural heritage. (more…)

When we encounter the extensive tussocklands of the eastern South Island [see below right], it is hard to imagine any other landscape in that place – so much a part of the “natural” New Zealand landscape have they become. Yet, as explored in a previous post What is natural? The tussocklands of Lindis Pass, this is in fact a human-induced landscape; the tussocklands have replaced podocarp and beech forest [see left] that once covered the South Island. However, this occurred long before any written history was established, and this environmental history has had to be pieced together through painstaking paleoenvironmental research.

New ground-breaking research, undertaken by an team of both New Zealand and international scientists, has determined how, to what extent, and over what time-frame large tracts of South Island forest were destroyed. (more…)

As mentioned in the previous post, today, Carter and I set out on one of our adventures with (inevitably) an environmental history theme – this time, to a little grove of regenerating kohekohe forest, which forms part of the Hemi Matenga Memorial Reserve, in the hills behind Waikanae [click here to view map].

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Today, the Petone and Lower Hutt area is an intense conglomeration of industrial, commercial and residential buildings and infrastructure – interconnected by motorways, roads and railways – concentrated within the confines of the sea to the south and the steeply rising hills of the valley to the west and east. Within this landscape of steel, glass, concrete and asphalt, it is hard to believe that only 170 years ago, this was thickly forested floodplain and estuary, rich with teeming birdlife – including the now extinct huia, and the endangered kokako. (more…)

Episode 4 of the envirohistory NZ podcast series is now out. This episode explores three environmental histories – which, while diverse in both their time-spans and their human protagonists, are all connected by a common theme. The first of these stories begins in the early 1800s, and features a Maori hapu and its relationship with its coastal Horowhenua environment [click here to read original post]. The next one, is of pioneering Scottish settlers in the 1840s, and their longsighted protection of a remnant of swamp forest in what was to become Christchurch [click here to read original post]. The third and final, more recent, story is of a dairy farmer and the indigenous forest remnant encompassed by his south Waikato farm [click here to read original post]. (more…)

Totara Reserve is situated in the Pohangina Valley on the eastern side of the Pohangina River, in the Manawatu [click here to view location]. It encompasses an area of 348 hectares, much of it podocarp forest, made up of totara, matai, rimu and kahikatea, as well as some black beech.

Its history as a reserve began in 1886, when it was gazetted under the provisions of the State Forests Act (1885) as a ‘reserve for growth & preservation of timber and for river conservation purposes’. This at a time when the area was been ‘opened up’ for settlement – settlement in the Pohangina Valley area began with Ashhurst in March 1879.

In 1932, a portion of the Reserve was designated as a Scenic Reserve under the provisions of the Scenery Preservation Act 1908, and vested in the Pohangina County Council. (more…)

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