Paul Star

The existence of the journal Environment and Nature in New Zealand (ENNZ) has long relied on the enthusiasm and perseverance of its founder, James Beattie.  Now, after editing it for six years, James has passed the job on to me.  The issue here presented – a large one, including all the contributions accepted for 2012 – can be read as a kind of ‘sampler’ on many of the topics that concern those (especially environmental historians) who are interested in the New Zealand environment, the changes to it that have occurred, and the way that humans relate to these changes.

The Department of Conservation (DOC) now manages about a third of New Zealand’s land area.  This reflects the fact that, since the late nineteenth century, much of the history of conservation here has been to do with encouraging the state to take responsibility for the ‘indigenous remnant’.  It’s all about the protection of our native species, of natural ecosystems, and of the lands where they remain dominant.

The public campaign to have land reserved for its environmental worth – and sometimes also for the state to resume control of previously leased or private land – began earlier than is generally realised.  Lynne Lochhead’s unpublished 1994 thesis, ‘Preserving the Brownie’s Portion’, explored this early history.  One of her chapters described the 1898 attempt to save the forested Ronga and Opouri Valleys, in Marlborough, which set a remarkable precedent for later campaigns.  The ‘battle for the Rai’ is again recalled and analysed by Lynne in this issue of ENNZ.

Recently there has been greater awareness that the future of New Zealand’s indigenous environment requires more than extensions to a ‘conservation estate’ managed by a cash-strapped government department.  There is also a need to recognise the rights and interests of Māori in these lands. Last September, the Crown proposed to relinquish ownership of Te Urewera National Park. At the same time an establishment board would be created to oversee the park, comprising an equal number of Crown nominees and representatives from the local iwi, Ngāi Tūhoe.  If this arrangement is accepted it will come to be seen, I think, as ‘historic’.  Liz Teather’s description, also in this issue, of a visit to Chief Roi Mata’s Domain in Vanuatu, a world heritage area elsewhere in the Pacific, relates to another example of this kind of development.

Equally notable is the development of community involvement – both Māori and Pakeha – in the protection of remnant bush and other indigenous ecosystems and of native species on private land.  In a valuable 2010 article Lyndsay Blue and Greg Blunden summarised recent advances in this direction, particularly in the conservation of kiwi in Northland.[1]  Henrik Moller and his colleagues at Te Tiaki Mahinga Kai investigated the degree of balance displayed by Māori in their continuing conservation and exploitation of another prized native bird, the titi (sooty shearwater), at the opposite end of the country.

Robert Peden presents South Island’s nineteenth-century high country runholders, frequently denigrated as destroyers of native tussock, instead as farmers often very careful in their utilisation and conservation of this resource as feed for their sheep.  Peden’s controversial analysis appears in Making Sheep Country (2011), which is here the subject of Jonathan West’s thoughtful review. Through the recent tenure review process, many of the upper reaches of these runs, until now on long-term lease from the government and sparsely stocked with sheep, have been added to the conservation estate, controlled by DOC and specifically protected as indigenous ecosystems.

However we regard the relationship between runholders and tussock, undoubtedly European settlers concentrated, wherever possible, on growing exotic grasses, rather than native tussock. Perennial ryegrass and cocksfoot meant greater productivity, when viewed in terms of the number and quality of exotic stock whether sheep or cattle.  Similarly, in terms of the timber industry, increases in productivity were identified with exotic afforestation, especially with Pinus radiata, rather than with sustainable selective logging or reafforestation with indigenous species within areas of native forest.  John Adams’ article, while it deals with other kinds of tree-planting encouraged by the government, again illustrates how the minds of European settlers in New Zealand were overwhelmingly focussed on the worth of the exotic rather than the indigenous.

We have many to thank for our knowledge of native species which, nowadays, are protected or conserved.  Historical research in this area looks both to the body of ‘traditional ecological knowledge’ (TEK) ascribed to indigenous peoples, and to the interests and insights of exceptional early European settlers.  Māori ‘local knowledge’ about fish has only recently been comprehensively studied, in Bob McDowall’s last and longest book, reviewed here by Ian Duggan.

In the nineteenth century, William Colenso (1811-1899) played an important early role in familiarising Europeans with New Zealand’s native plants.  Both Charles Darwin and J. D. Hooker spent time with him when they were in New Zealand, and for many years he sent plant specimens across to the Hookers at Kew Gardens in London.  Ian St. George’s essay describes an increasing awareness of and respect for Colenso, who is interesting for much else besides his botanical pursuits.  A similarly rounded picture is beginning to emerge of his contemporary, John Buchanan (1819-1898), the artist and botanist who worked with James Hector at the Colonial Museum, who is the subject of a symposium in Dunedin on 29 and 30 November 2012.[2]  In turn, in the twentieth century, Lance Richdale added vastly to our knowledge of New Zealand’s seabirds, and Neville Peat has recently described Richdale’s life and work.  A review of this biography is the final item in the present issue of ENNZ.

[1] Lyndsay Blue and Greg Blunden, ‘(Re)making space for kiwi: Beyond “fortress conservation” in Northland’, New Zealand Geographer, Vol 66 (2010), pp 105–123.

[2] Contact [email protected] for details.