Did European settlers loathe the forest?

In 1969, geographer Paul Shepard published a monograph entitled “English reaction to the New Zealand landscape before 1850”, in which he explored the various attitudes of English immigrants towards the indigenous landscape, particularly the forest, in this early settlement period. He review of the written accounts by early settlers and observers found that the most prevalent view of the forest was negative: it was described as “dreary”, “dismal”, “gloomy”, and seen as the antithesis of civilization and morality.

Since then, a number of historians and historical geographers have explored this question further, including Jock Phillips in his 1981 paper “Fear and loathing of the New Zealand landscape”, and Paul Star in his 2003 article “New Zealand environmental history: a question of attitudes”. Continue reading

Destruction of our forests over time

Prior to human colonisation, it is thought that the New Zealand landmass was almost entirely covered in forest, apart from alpine areas. 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. When the European settlement of New Zealand began in earnest in the 1840s, it is estimated that forest, or ‘bush’ in the vernacular, covered about two thirds of the North Island and about 25 to 30 per cent of the South Island. In the decades that followed, bush was destroyed through milling and fire to make way for settlements and farms. By 1900, forest cover had been reduced by half again, to about 25 per cent.

Figure (below): Forest cover AD 1000, 1840, 2001 (Source: Kiwi Conservation Club)