Earthquake reveals the forgotten streams of Christchurch

As explored in the earlier post Christchurch – a city haunted by its environmental past, Christchurch’s environmental history had serious – arguably fatal – implications in the February earthquake. As the post discussed, this related especially to the fact that much of what is now a city was once a vast swamp, comprised not only of the two rivers that still run through the city (the Avon and Heathcote), but also numerous other streams that fed an extensive wetland system. Continue reading

Scandinavians, earthquakes & whales: top 5 posts of first quarter of 2011

At envirohistory NZ, we like to review the most popular posts of each quarter (though sometimes – such as on this occasion – a little late). The top five posts of the first quarter of 2011 covered a wide breadth of topics, from the the environmental histories which contributed to the devastating consequences of the seismic disasters of Christchurch and Japan; an urban wetland; a history of whaling in New Zealand; and the Scandanavian settlers of the Manawatu. Here are the topics in order of hits:

1. The Scandinavian settlers of the Manawatu

2. Waitangi Park – an urban wetland recreated

3. Christchurch: a city haunted by its environmental past? Continue reading

Environmental history of the future: could Christchurch become our “Greenest City”?

Last week, I was privileged enough to attend the Rotorua Lakes Symposium in Rotorua City. This symposium, themed “Fix a lake and grow a city”, brought together scientists, politicians, natural resource managers, landscape architects, academics, tangata whenua, business people and many others to explore ways in which the lakes of Rotorua can be restored to create wealth and wellbeing in the Rotorua district. Continue reading

Christchurch: a city haunted by its environmental past?

It is with both horror and immeasurable sadness that I contemplate the tragic consequences of last Tuesday’s massive earthquake on the city that I lived in for 8 years, and which I still regard with immense affection. I cannot even begin to imagine how life must be like for its residents today, especially those who have friends or family who have perished. Continue reading

envirohistory NZ podcast – episode 4 out now!

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]. Continue reading

The place of an echo: Pūtaringamotu (Deans Bush)

When Europeans began arriving in the Canterbury region in the early 1800s, most of the swamp forest – dominated by matai, totara and kahikatea (white pine) – that covered much of the Canterbury Plains in previous centuries was gone. It is thought that it had been destroyed by a great fire that swept across the plains during the moa hunter period, leaving only a scattered bush remnants. Continue reading

Peacock Springs – creating birds from stones

The history of Peacock Springs Wildlife Park is a story of how, through twists of fate and the convictions and actions of inspired individuals, an environment can be transformed beyond anyone’s expectations – both as a visual landscape and in terms of its functions and purpose. It also challenges us on our assumptions about the polarity of the relationship between the “exploitation” and “conservation” of nature.

In the 1950s, Lady Diana Isaac and her late husband Sir Neil Isaac, founders of Christchurch company Isaac Construction Ltd, bought a house in Harewood, on the outskirts of Christchurch. Having grown up in the English countryside, Lady Isaac wanted to have a house with some land out in the country. However, after digging a lake to irrigate their garden they discovered the property had what Lady Isaac later described as “the worst land in Canterbury”, comprising mostly of shingle – perhaps not altogether surprising given its proximity to the Waimakariri River. But the shingle was found to be a very high quality and the Isaacs began commercial quarrying on the site in 1965, which continues today. Continue reading

What is natural? The case of the Christchurch Port Hills

When the author lived in Christchurch, she found that many Cantabrians would become highly impassioned with even the suggestion of a development threatening the tussocked landscape of the Port Hills. The author even struck cases where people opposed native tree-planting projects because they would detract from the “natural tussocked landscape”. Certainly, it is hard to find a Cantabrian who is not fond of the soft, light golden-tinged tussocked hills that surround Christchurch, nor one who would question the “naturalness” of this landscape.

Yet, the tussocked hillsides of which Cantabrians are so fond are not natural, but a result of human intervention over time – through fire, logging and grazing. Some of this human-caused change occurred prior to European settlement, which is perhaps why the current landscape has become so fully ingrained in the collective psyche as being both natural and beautiful. Continue reading