[see part 1: kiwi and proud which ended i hadn't expected to be confronted with england...]
in lent, the community i am part of grace is encouraging practices of soil, soul and society. for soil i am taking note of trees in my road and on ealing common which is my local park. it will be ongoing but i realised a while back that i had walked past trees for years and had no idea what they were so i thought i'd find out as a way of getting to know the place i am in. i won't share the whole list now but of course it includes classics such as lime, plane, oak, horse chestnut, hazel, poplar, beech, hornbeam, birch.
i don't know what i expected in new zealand but after a few days in christchurch i realised i was confused because these were the trees i could see there. in fact i was running through the lovely hagley park and realised the reason i hadn't taken any photos was because it looked like i was in any park in ealing or cambridge or wherever in england. so in the end i did take photographs because the thing that became of interest was the similarity not the difference! what was even stranger was that in the botanical gardens there was a section entitled new zealand. that was a small area with native trees and plants. i began thinking why isn't there a small section labelled england in the botanical gardens with the rest of the park and country being made up of indigenous or native trees? this was further compounded when visiting orokonui which is a lovely ecosanctuary near dunedin. steve taylor took me there and it is fenced off like a rewilding or wilding project and it's beautiful in its trees and plants and birds. in fact the sounds of the birds are amazing - tui, bellbird and the like. i was in canterbury which is an area that it seems the settlers determined to make like england. and i did not visit the west coast which i understand is more like rainforest or the north which is hotter and no doubt more exotic. so this is a very limited view. but it piqued my interest and got me wondering about the process of colonisation and in particular what was the mindset of those who settled.
i found out that there are whole books on the subject of plants and animals being taken to other countries - they have a range of ways of describing the process - naturalisation, accilmatisation, intrusion, invasion (which of course are interesting words for the whole process of colonisation). the book exotic intruders is online here. and this article on acclimatisation is a pretty good summary. there were acclimatisation societies that were set up as there was a sort of fervour around the idea of introducing plants and animals that could be of use. for settlers the first motivation was survival and sustainability - in other words food! there were apparently not a lot of vegetables and fruit that was easy to access. polynesian islanders had introduced some plants like sweet potato and europeans quickly introduced potatoes, vegetables and all sorts of other plants and fruit trees along with pigs so they could eat. a lot of it acclimatised well. rabbits were introduced and then stoats, ferrets and weasels to keep the population down. of course you do something like that and it has consequences - the native bird population which was not used to these predators struggled through that and the decimation of the native bush cleared for farming. the kiwi is now endangered for example. darwin when he visited said that he thought many of the native plants would not survive the onslaught of the new competitors. it sounds very much like his 'survival of the fittest'. he said
If all the animals and plants of Great Britain were set free in New Zealand ... in the course of time a multitude of British forms would become thoroughly acclimatised there, and would exterminate many of the natives.
boats came out with blackbirds, thrushes, sparrows, partridges and so on most of which died on the way! i can't get my head round why you would take a sparrow!!! two thirds of new zealand was covered with native bush when settlers arrived and now maybe one fifth is. huge amounts of forest were cleared, swamps drained and so on and the landscape gradually changed. whose to say what is good or bad about this process? i certainly don't have any idea of the wisdom or not of introducing plants, trees and animals. and hindsight is something you only have after the event. in london we have a mix of native and introduced trees such as the plane tree. we know a lot more now than we did then. new zealand is a very fertile country exporting all kinds of things so at some level it worked well. but the cost in terms of creatures and plants has been high too such that some species are now extinct such as the huia (more on that later). new zealand today is a very different prospect and tight on bio security aware of the risks of introducing unwanted plants and creatures that might attack a particular tree for example.
the thing i hadn't quite appreciated is that colonialism at least in canterbury in new zealand did not just export people and culture. they sought to recreate home, to recreate england almost as a total environment and landscape down to the sort of birdsong they could hear. it is quite a scary imaginary. i have found it quite hard to think myself into it. it doesn't take much of a leap to see how if native species were valued so little then native indigenous peoples and their way of life and culture could be seen in similar fashion. rework darwin's quote above changing 'animals and plants' to 'people' and right there is the colonial mindset i fear.
i like to think i would have done it differently. listened, taken time, worked with the local culture, been careful about the introduction of plants, trees and anaimals and their impact on the environment and so on. but i am pretty sure that if i had been alive then i would have done the same thing and thought it was great. so i am not standing on a high horse in judgement. but it's surprising where noticing a few trees takes you in your thinking.
christchurch has a reputation for being very english and that englishness is really a particular kind too - oxford or cambridge - perhaps this is epitomised by this photo of punting on the river.
i was in christchurch longer than expected due to coronavirus - the rest of my trip was cancelled and i had to rearrange flights. this meant i had a bit more time to wander the streets and see what else i could see...