Restoring 1000 rivers

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Passionate advocate for environmental restoration, new TfS Patron Dame Anne Salmond spoke to the New Zealand Plant Conservation Network in May. She recalled Cook’s voyage of 1769 and the scientific observations made by the Royal Society party including Banks and Solander, supported by the ship’s surgeon William Monkhouse.

She noted that at the time, “It was taken for granted that people, plants, animals, and geological, hydrological and climatic phenomena were all part of a single, dynamic system, which manifested itself differently in different places; and that none of these could be properly understood in isolation from the others.”

She observed that “in many respects, this way of looking at the world resonates with Maori understandings of the world, with its dynamic patterns. Here, people are just one element in the whakapapa networks, inter-related and inter-dependent with all other life-forms including the earth, mountains and rivers, as well as plants and animals.”

By the mid-19th century in Western thinking, however, “the natural sciences were divided from the social sciences, and the natural sciences from each other”.

“These increasingly fragmented, gridded forms of knowledge made it difficult to grasp the dynamics of what was happening in the complex networks ‘on the ground’ – for example in losses of biodiversity, climate change, or the degradation of waterways. Here, people, plants, animals and landscapes are locked in intricate exchanges with each other.”

Anne moved on to talk about the Longbush restoration in Gisborne, where there had been an effort to think through at a practical level many of the issues facing environmental restoration activity.

“This exercise in ‘gumboot anthropology’, as I call it, involves the restoration of a rare strip of alluvial riverside bush as well as 100 hectares of steep hill country. We’ve established wildlife corridors, designed and built a new and much less expensive kind of predator-free fence, and worked to restore an inland titi colony, bring back native robins and replant the banks of the Waimata River, which are being destroyed as a result of a lethal combination of pastoral farming and forestry operations.”

She believes inter-relatedness and inter-dependence are crucial in the way forward as we address the pressing environmental issues facing this country. It is this vision of creating, supporting and growing the hundreds of riparian restoration projects that are already happening – a powerful, but highly-fragmented effort – that is behind the nation-wide Te Awaroa project, which aims to restore 1,000 rivers across New Zealand by 2050.

“It’s a big, hairy challenge if ever there was one, but also fantastic and exciting… With connective threads, these can be transformed, empowered and grown by attracting new resources, and increasing numbers of supporters and advocates.”

Next issue we’ll explore in more detail the scope for Te Awaroa, the opportunities it opens for the TfS programme and Anne’s positive views of what TfS has to offer the Te Awaroa vision.   

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