Top 10 posts of 2009

OK, sure, its only been a couple of months, but everyone else has a top 10, so why not us? The post coming in with the top number of hits was Were the Scottish really greener?. The complete list as follows (click on the title to read the post):

1 Were the Scottish really greener?

2 A Kapiti environmental history – Nga Manu

3Destruction of our forests over time

4The mysterious case of the disappearing river

5 The lawn mower Part 2 – an “enduring relationship”

6The lawnmower – the great New Zealand love affair

7A lesson not learnt – Lake Manapouri

8 Why is understanding our environmental history so important?

9 The “grasslands revolution”

10 The ultimate paradox?

The “furry money-spinner” – the history of the possum in New Zealand

Possums are now estimated to number 70 million in New Zealand, and are acknowledged as a pest that inflicts colossal damage on New Zealand’s indigenous flora and fauna. However, only 100 years ago, they were highly valued and strictly protected.

Possums were introduced to New Zealand with the intention of establishing a fur trade. They were first released in the 1830s, but initially failed to become established. Imports began to taper off after 1900, and until the late 1930s, they were periodically protected as imported game – it was illegal to trap or kill them. As David Young notes, they were regarded by the government as “furry money-spinners” well into the third decade of the 20th century. Continue reading

envirohistory NZ podcast – episode 1 out now!

Episode 1 of the envirohistory NZ podcast series is out now! The envirohistory NZ podcasts are produced bi-monthly (or thereabouts) and are found on the Podcasts page. These podcasts will discuss themes explored in recent articles on the website and will also include interviews with people researching or “making” environmental history. Click on the link below to have a listen!

24 December 09 – Episode 1 – Introducing envirohistory NZ – (09:27 mins)

The lawn mower Part 2 – an “enduring relationship”

The article on lawn-mowing has drawn a lot of interest, and the following is a contribution from an envirohistory NZ follower, Paul Knight (now 74) who has demonstrated that he has had an enduring association with the lawn mower:

This is a photo of me in 1936, at 14 months, “mowing” the lawns on my grandparents’ one acre property in Pt Chevalier, Auckland. In fact, I did end up with lawn-mowing duties – I mowed gannie and gampie’s lawns from primary school age right through to when I went to university. I used to run there and back from Mt Eden, where I lived. Continue reading

The lawnmower – the great New Zealand love affair

A lawnmower was an indispensable piece of equipment for the New Zealand homeowner for much of the 20th century, and a piece of equipment for which New Zealand men in particular have formed a kind of reluctant affection – perhaps more so than any other country in the world. (Though we as New Zealanders take our lawn for granted, many people in even the developed world have only a court-yard garden at most.) The traditional quarter-acre section, ubiquitous until the 1980s, but now subdivided into near-oblivion, was comprised largely of lawn, and the lawn mower was an essential tool for keeping the lawn (or perhaps more accurately in many cases – grass and weeds) under control. Lawn-mowing was the obligatory weekend task that could not be overlooked – even if Dad (because, lets face it, it was generally his job) was able to avoid the other tasks and sneak off to the rugby/cricket/fishing. Continue reading

Bridge to nowhere – a battle with nature lost

Not all struggles to tame the land in New Zealand have been successful ones. The failed attempt to settle Mangapurua, (now part of the Whanganui National Park) is a battle that nature won – and the Bridge to Nowhere is a poignant symbol of human defeat.

Under the Discharged Soldiers Settlement Act 1915 and further legislation in 1917, over 10,000 veterans of the First World War were assisted onto land. Some 3,000 of these were settled on Crown land, much of it marginal and remote central North Island land. Over 5,000 veterans took up government loans to buy and develop properties, while others took up leases of Crown land under various forms of tenure.

Mangapurua (click here to view map) was one of the settlements opened up for soldiers returning from the war. The land was infertile, steep and prone to erosion because the bush had been cleared. A slow migration of soldier settlers out of the district began after the 1921 crash in agricultural prices, with the last settlers leaving in 1942. A bridge – known as ‘the bridge to nowhere’ – over the Mangapurua Gorge is one of the few traces of the former settlement. [Source: Te Ara Encyclopedia of New Zealand]

Watch a TV6 video about the Bridge to Nowhere (including spectacular forest scenery) here.

Impacts of the Maori on the environment

Much of the material on this site focuses on the impacts of European settlers on the New Zealand environment. But of course the environment was neither untouched nor pristine when organised European settlement began in the 19th century. As can be seen in the forest cover diagrams in the earlier post, Destruction of our forests over time, the Maori also had a significant impact on New Zealand’s forests, albeit over a much longer period of time (centuries as opposed to years). Between the beginning of Polynesian settlement in New Zealand around the fourteenth century and the beginning of organised European colonisation in the nineteenth century, it is estimated that forest cover was reduced by about half, largely through fire. Continue reading