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Bleeding for the Natural World

    Another report: Aotearoa New Zealand Biodiversity Strategy, the Implementation Plan.  As someone who pays attention, I have about lost track of all the government reports on the environment that have come out of late. There are reports on reports, reports on court cases, but all are basically saying much the same thing - the environment is in ongoing decline, if not collapse.    It is not easy to determine how all the reports hang together or what they are expected to achieve. There are more reports on the horizon: Resource Management Act, Conservation and Wildlife Acts, National Parks Act, Trade in Endangered Species Act, to name a few. Nor can we do any of these reforms in isolation from the rest of the world. We must take into account t he UN Convention on Biological Diversity, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the UN Convention on the Rights of Indigenous People.     Even for the layperson passionate about the natural world, it is pretty near impossible to keep up
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Ara Moa

Greytown,  Te Hupenui,   is my turangawaewae, the place where I stand, the place where I was born.  Wellington and the Wairarapa are where my family settled in the nineteenth century. My ancestors walked the streets of Wellington, Pahiatua, Masterton and the shores of Lake Wairarapa, as I do now.   Scientists report, from the evidence of pollen grains, that before humans arrived here,  85-90% of New Zealand, including the Wairarapa, was covered with forest. Grassland or shrubland occurred, as it does now, on river terraces subject to regular flooding, frost-prone valley floors, steep cliffs, and active sand dunes. Outside these limited areas the forest cover was unbroken.   In this forested country, the moa roamed, its only predator the great  Haast eagle. Evidence  suggests that  m oa nested in the dunes around the Wairarapa coast and under high rock ledges.  On my sister’s farm, near the  Mangatainoka  river, when digging out drains, they would regularly recover moa bones, some of w


High summer and everything is intent upon breeding and increasing their numbers. Bugs everywhere! The "summer" flies are intent upon taking the food before it reaches my mouth.  The Mason wasps, mud daubers, are loudly building their nests, not only under chairs but also in the folds of the drapes, while spiders threaten to totally envelop the cottage with their webs. In the evening, if I dare to leave the windows open, I am bombarded by moths and click beetles and bugged by Huhu beetles.  Raucous cicadas rudely awaken me in the morning while white butterfly caterpillars chomp their way through the cabbages. But then there are the gorgeous and the exotic creatures which stop me in my tracks and dissipate any hostility towards the pestiferous.  They send me off to the books to try and make an identification. Gorgeous steely blue lady birds which I can always find in the lime tree. A tiny native bee in the hay paddocks which I have yet to identify and a strange creature I alway

The Turnstone

There is this bird, beautifully patterned, black and white, and brown, a small bird, smaller than a thrush or blackbird that breeds on the Arctic tundra and then  flies here to New Zealand every spring.    and here am I, just turning over stones.

The Precipitous Decline of the Birds of the New Zealand Countryside

With all the hullabaloo about the impact of intensive farming on waterways, the impact on birds has been overlooked.  Millions of birds have been lost from New Zealand countryside over the past thirty odd years. Most of them were introduced birds so have not been missed but surely someone should have recognised that their loss indicated something had gone very wrong with farmland ecosystems.   We have a survey on New Zealand’s backyard birds, initiated by Landcare Research, but no up to date information on the birds of the countryside. The only comprehensive data we have is from the Ornithological Society of New Zealand’s  Atlas of Bird Distribution in New Zealand 1999-2004 which was published 2007. It was noted at its launch that  the Waikato region had become  a "bird desert" probably because of the dominance of dairy farming in the region.  Birds have not, it seems, fared quite so badly on the less intensive meat and wool farms,  but very little, if any,

Tunnel-web spiders and golden hunting wasps

My wildlife experiences these days are pretty much confined to my backyard and a daily ramble around the village of Greytown, New Zealand.  During my daily walks, it is the birds which attract my attention:  skylarks, (“Hail to thee, blithe spirit”), goldfinches, (“gaillard he was as a goldfynch in the shawe”),  black birds, (“shouting all day at nothing in leafy dells alone”), the song thrush, greenfinch, chaffinch, dunnock, california quail, house sparrow, eastern rosella, Australian magpie, starling, yellowhammer –foreigners all. Most of them were introduced in the nineteenth century as bio-agents to control plagues of insects brought about by the wholesale destruction of the bush and the consequential severe disruption of the eco-system. I welcome them all, knowing that in the not too distant future we may be lucky to see any bird at all.  I do see the odd native bird; kotare, the kingfisher, pipiwharauroa, the shining cuckoo and its dupe riro, the greywarbl

Of Aphis and Ants, the end of the anthropocene

Marta had been awoken as usual by their antennae softly stroking her on the inner wrist. They seemed to wait until they were sure she was awake before crawling up her arm. They stroked her arm again just inside the elbow. She suspected they were administering a local anaesthetic.  She waited with the usual sense of dread for the tiny pin pricks as they probed. There were always just three of them.  Were they the same three ants every day? She couldn't tell. They were on the large size for ants, but ants they were, although their proboscides was more mosquito like than  that of any ant.  It was over in a few minutes. They waddled off with the bags inside their legs full of her blood. They disappeared under the door.  There was no keeping them out. They could fire off acid to dissolve any lock, any door, and leave humans a pulpy heap if they resisted or tried to fight back. They always made Marta think of the ants on the rose bushes she observed as a child, herding and milking