Farm landscape in the Horowhenua

I recently sent this photo from the envirohistory NZ banner to the Stirling University Research Centre for Environmental History and Policy to be used on their related links page. When I did so, I thought it may be a good opportunity to share the “back story” of the photo.

The photo is taken by veteran photographer, Paul Knight, of a farm just north of the Horowhenua town of Levin [click here to view location]. The farm, called Nikaunui, meaning “many (or big) nikau palms” in Maori, is a large sheep and beef farm, owned by the Kilsby family,* a family with a long history in the district. Continue reading

Canterbury Plains: an ecological “ground zero”

An article in the New Zealand Listener by Rebecca Macfie is entitled “Nature ground zero” and describes an initiative in Canterbury to give “a new lease of life” to “the devastated native flora of the Canterbury Plains” [click here to read article]. The initiative is to identify and encourage the reintroduction of indigenous plant species which provide “ecosystem services” such as the provision of pollen and nectar to attract beneficial insects, improved soil health, weed suppression, the control of pest insects, and greater biodiversity. The project is focused on the Waipara Valley of Northern Canterbury, which is renowned for its vineyards, but has potential to be applied across Canterbury. Continue reading

Upper Hutt: the valley of many struggles

Following on from the post on the environmental history of Lower Hutt/Petone – the valley of disappointment, this post focuses on the Upper Hutt area, and in particular, the history of the river. This post is in response to a special request by one of envirohistory NZ‘s readers; one of a group of Upper Hutt Valley residents who are concerned about the effects of an application to lower the minimum flow of the Hutt River. Continue reading

Vanishing forests: pre-European transformation of the South Island

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. Continue reading

Forest clearance in 1880s New Zealand – the views of Mrs Robert Wilson

In 1962, A.G.S. Bradfield published “The Precious Years”, a sequel to his earlier book “Forgotten Days”; both books recounting stories of the “pioneering days of Palmerston North and Districts in the Manawatu”. These are charming little books, in which Bradfield draws on first-hand memories of older Manawatu residents, giving it an authenticity and poignancy that would not be achievable today, nearly half a century on. Continue reading

The history of a little fish – whitebait decline in New Zealand

The front-page article in yesterday’s Kapiti Observer, showing a photo of a local man peering glumly into the his near-empty whitebait net at the mouth of the Waikanae River, prompted me to think about whitebait decline and its historical causes.

But first of all, what are whitebait? Many New Zealanders (including myself, until embarrassingly recently) may vaguely assume that it is a type of small fish – but in fact it is the juvenile form of five species of the fish family Galaxiidae (the most common being inanga). Continue reading

Halting the great sand-drift: the “exoticisation” of our coast

Growing up in the Manawatu, I took for granted the largely homogeneous dune landscape of Himatangi, Foxton and other west-coast beaches – oblivious to the fact that this was a primarily man-made landscape. As Raewyn Peart explains in “Castles in the Sand”, the appearance of sand dunes have been extensively modified, firstly through deforestation, and then through intensive re-stabilisation efforts from the 1930s onwards. Continue reading