Christchurch – a city built on buried forests?

I have been reading Kenneth B. Cumberland’s 1981 book Landmarks recently. The book, which was published in parallel with a television series of the same name,* is a colourful presentation (both in the literal and metaphorical sense)  of Cumberland’s views on New Zealand’s environmental history, supplemented by many photographs and illustrations. Some of the archaeological and palaoecological information is now somewhat outdated (for instance, the dates that humans first settled New Zealand and other radio-carbon dates), but it is nevertheless a highly worthwhile read – Continue reading

The abandonment of Palliser Bay – a prehistoric case of environmental degradation?

Archaeological evidence shows that Maori occupied the south-east coast of the North Island, including Palliser Bay, by the 14th century. Research in the 1970s by Foss and Helen Leach of Otago University showed that people lived in small settlements at stream and river mouths. The people were both gardeners and hunters and gatherers, reliant on what they could take from the forest, rivers, streams, coastal lagoons and the sea – the main sources of food were likely to have been small birds, fish, seals and kūmara (sweet potato). There is evidence of about 300 people in six separate communities on the eastern side of the Palliser Bay. Yet by the 1600s these settlements had gone. Continue reading

What is natural? – the tussocklands of Otago

The dramatic tussock-lands of Lindis Pass are one the iconic landscapes of the South Island, and much admired by the traveler on their way from Canterbury to Queenstown or beyond. So iconic has this landscape become, it is hard to believe that while the tussock vegetation is “indigenous”, it is not “natural”. Rather, it is a human-induced landscape.

Lindis Pass is part of an extensive “dryland zone” which extends along much of the eastern part of the South Island [see map below right]. 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)