Totara Reserve: from exploitation to conservation

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. In 1947 the area was increased and, renamed  the Pohangina Valley Domain, passed to the Palmerston North City Council for develop as a reserve for recreational purposes. In 1989, it changed hands yet again – this time to the Manawatu District Council, where it remains today. The Council has made ongoing efforts to enhance the reserve’s capacity and potential as an important habitat for indigenous flora and fauna.

Today, the reserve is valued as a rare remnant of lowland forest in the Manawatu district, by no means pristine, but nevertheless a valuable habitat for many indigenous species of plant and bird species. It is also valued as a place of recreation and rest by the many people that visit the reserve to swim, walk, picnic and camp every year. However,  it is important to remember that we have not always valued our indigenous forest in this way; the massive totara stumps which remain scattered throughout the reserve today serve as a poignant reminder not only of the grandeur of the trees that once towered above the forest, but also of the way in which values towards our indigenous forests have changed from an emphasis on utility to their scenic, ecological and, for many, spiritual, value.

Epilogue 24 January 2011: Read this article about the trust which was set up in 2006, and the work it has done to restore the Reserve back to health after it sustained serious damage in the severe weather of 2004.

See also Totara Reserve: A Window into Manawatu’s Environmental History, The Manawatu Journal of History, 2008 (4), pp.50-8.

Photo above left: Totara Reserve about 1915, C. E. Wildbore (Palmerston North City Library). Above right: Totara Reserve today, C. Knight.

See also: The Scandinavian settlers of the Manawatu, Flaxmilling in the Manawatu, The opening up of the Manawatu – the “waste land of the Colony”, Manawatu River – pollution concerns date back to 1890.

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