Once the Port Hills above Christchurch and beyond to Banks Peninsula were covered with thick, lush forest. First Māori, then European settlers arrived – both used fire to clear the forest from the land. Flames licked and chewed at my feet, and left me retreating to small remnants hiding in steep gullies. Some large trees were harvested for timber, but many were laid waste to fire. Tussock grasslands and pasture replaced the giant podocarp trees that once towered over flowering and fruitful shrubs and small-leaved trees. A graveyard of uprooted tōtara logs and stumps began to litter ridgelines, and some were made into fence posts linked with number 8 wire to keep in the growing number of sheep.
The pieces of me that remain are forest islands in a sea of pasture, isolated and alone. I am a refuge for endangered plants and animals, yet my ability to support such biodiversity is restricted by my size and isolation. Many of these islands are undergoing ecosystem decay – not strong enough or big enough to keep natural processes going. The islands are constantly battling with weeds – many escaped from gardens – that creep and invade along their exposed borders. Pests such as possum, deer, goat and pig nibble back young seedlings before they have a chance to grow high enough to reach the canopy.
But hope is not lost. I may be fragmented but I am not yet forgotten. Over 100 years ago the first moves were made to protect me, with the creation of scenic reserves such as Kennedy’s Bush. Fencing around my remnants has stopped grazing animals from entering, allowing natural regeneration to take its course.
Restoration projects by landowners, agencies and volunteers have involved many hands weeding and planting – giving back to bring back what has been lost. Their efforts have seen the return of many native trees and forest birds. The clear notes of the bellbird / korimako can be heard in the bush during the summer months. Shining cuckoo / pīpīwharauwa and South Island tomtit / ngirungiru are returning in greater numbers as pest control protects them and replanting enhances their habitat. Their songs echo across the hills and sing of futures green.
The 600-year-old mātai trees that survive within Kennedys Bush and the rangatira tōtara of Montgomery Scenic Reserve stand tall as testament to my potential future. The trees planted today will be a living legacy for generations to come.
I am the restless forest.
Visit: #TheRestlessForest – the garden is currently in Cathedral Square near the police kiosk.
Visit Remnant Forests and restoration projects.
Colour #TheRestlessForest – download the colouring illustration, take a photo then share via Instagram or Facebook, using the hashtag #TheRestlessForest.