New book urges for more nature in our cities

The author’s daughter at a grove of kohekohe trees on the Kapiti Coast. Catherine Knight

In her new book examining the link between nature and wellbeing, environmental historian Dr Catherine Knight explores the benefits of nature experienced by everyday New Zealanders, and argues for more nature in the places where most New Zealanders live – our towns and cities. 

In New Zealand, we think of ourselves as a country rich with nature, but the fact is that most of our surviving forest and pristine waterways are concentrated in the most mountainous parts of the country. They’re preserved not as a result of careful stewardship, but rather an accident of history: it was just too hard to develop and economically exploit these rugged, inaccessible places. Our lowland landscapes are largely bereft of any forests, wetlands or any nature in its original form.

Read more of this article on The Spinoff.

New book exploring nature and wellbeing in New Zealand

I am very excited to announce the emergence into the world of my latest book Nature and Wellbeing in Aotearoa New Zealand: Exploring the connection (Totara Press).

This comes as the culmination of three years of research, interviews and writing, but in many ways, could not be more timely. The experience of many New Zealanders during this year’s Covid lockdown has only served to underscore how important access to natural spaces are – for both body and mind.

To find out more about the book, visit the Totara Press webpage.

Details on launch coming soon!

Bush kindy: getting kids into nature

Last week, I had the privilege of visiting a forest school session in Waituna West (not far from the Manawatu town of Feilding). This is part of my research for my latest book, exploring nature and wellbeing in New Zealand (see also: The connection between nature & wellbeing).

Children from Waituna West and Hunterville kindergartens participated in the session. For many of them this was a new experience, and it was a joy to watch them slowly ‘acclimatise’ to the new, and rather unfamiliar, bush environment, becoming more exploratory and experimental as the session progressed.

In the photos, they can be seen washing their hands at the bush ablution facility, listening intently to Lucy’s reading of ‘Room on the broom’ by Julia Donaldson (which was followed by a practical exercise of making a witches’ broom from forest materials), doing some bush ‘wood work’, and taking a walk.

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Seeking quiet inspiration in the forest

On another of these sweltering hot days, what better thing to do than seek respite in the coolness of the forest. (Well, apart from finding a shady spot beside a large body of water, that is.) Caitlyn and I chose to go for a forest wander this afternoon, followed – it has to be said – by a river dip.

We enjoyed looking at the natural mosaics on the forest floor, and while we were examining one, Caitlyn spotted this tail-less skink! On our way back from the walk the skink was still there, so we sat down on a rock nearby and ‘watched his stillness’, as Caitlyn put it. He didn’t seem to mind our company, either.

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Can you help? The connection between nature & wellbeing

woman in forest

I see that a focus of this year’s Mental Health Awareness week was ‘Letting nature in’, encouraging New Zealanders to get out and connect with nature, in light of its proven benefits for mental and spiritual wellbeing. (A survey undertaken by the Mental Health Foundation last year found that 95 per cent of New Zealanders reported a lift in mood after spending time in nature.) Continue reading

Treasuring our gully ecosystems

gullyDo other countries have ‘gullies’? – I am not sure. The dictionary tells me they are also known as ‘small valleys’ and ‘ravines’. ‘Valley’, even of the diminutive kind, seems a bit too bucoIic to me, while ‘ravine’ sounds way too treacherous (though in fairness, some gullies are pretty precipitous). Continue reading

The meaning of rivers in Aotearoa New Zealand

Whanganui RiverA paper exploring how the perception of rivers has changed over time has just been published in a special issue of the international journal River Research Applications, entitled The meaning of rivers in Aotearoa New Zealand – Past and present”.

This paper examines how attitudes towards rivers in Aotearoa New Zealand have
evolved since the country’s settlement by Europeans, two centuries ago. For most
of our postcolonial history, rivers have been viewed as something to be controlled
and managedeven improved. But today, rivers are increasingly being recognized
as embodying a broad range of values from the ecological to the spiritualnot simply
as a channel of water that can be exploited for human ends. Although much of this
evolving understanding stems from the advance in scientific knowledge, much too has
its roots in our collective past.

The paper can be viewed here: River Research Applications

Landscape transformation in New Zealand

Pawson NZ landscape transformation.pngI was recently alerted to this interesting graph showing the various drivers in landscape transformation in Aotearoa New Zealand over the past two centuries. The graph appears in Eric Pawson’s chapter ‘Sustainability and management of the environment’ in The physical environment: A New Zealand perspective, edited by A. Sturman and R. Spronken-Smith (Oxford University Press, 2001). It would be an intriguing to see how the graph looks beyond 2000.

‘Beyond Manapouri’ is a must-read for all landscape architects and planners

“Reading this book will likely change your perception of the New Zealand environment.  It is a must-read for all New Zealand landscape architects, planners, resource management lawyers and indeed all New Zealanders that want to achieve a better future for their children and their children’s children.”

This was the conclusion of Peter Kensington, planner and landscape architect in a recent review of Beyond Manapouri: 50 years of environmental politics in New Zealand (Canterbury University Press).

Madi and Beyond Manapouri

Madi Kensington, aged 11 years old, also reviewed the book, and concluded:

“This book perfectly explains how New Zealand has changed its view on the environment many times over the past 50 years. In the early days, our environment was regarded as something our government didn’t need to worry about, but as the years wore on, things started getting more serious. Knight has explained these issues with perfectly-worded descriptions and given real examples, making for convincing reading.”

To read the full review go to the Landscape Architecture Aotearoa website.

Is New Zealand on the verge of a tipping point?

Beyond Manapouri cover webIn a recent article published in George Washington University’s online journal History News Network, I argue that New Zealand may be on the cusp of a tipping point – not in the state of our environment, but rather, in terms of New Zealanders’ awareness of the gravity of environmental issues we face and the need to make meaningful interventions.

I conclude my article with the hope that a future historian will be able to reflect back on this period, and identify it as a watershed era in terms of environmental awareness and action – a ‘tipping point’ in environmental history, much like the Save Manapouri Campaign was half a century ago.

Do you agree? You can read the full article on the History News Network website.