The land of sheep and chocolate

Monday, November 13, 2006

Slipping Away

The wild beaches here are covered with washed up tree-trunks and logs. It gives them a character unlike any tourist beaches I've seen. But you have to wonder where these trees come from.

The quick answer is that they come from the land. And they do. They are washed out on the rivers. But how they get there is something of an environmental disaster.

This is obvious when taking the lovely scenic drive along the Wanganui River from the town over the steep sided hills. There's a look-out point at the top of the hills along the valley, with views of fields and forest and the gorge along which the river flows. It's a stunning view but you can't help but notice the ugly brown scaring along some of the slopes. That's where the trees used to be, before they found their way along the river to be washed up on the beach. It's quite clear that things here aren't what they once were.

There's no way back from this kind of situation. Once the soil has slipped away, its gone for good. Partly, it's caused by the clear cutting of the pine forest. When the trees are gone, there's nothing to hold the soil in place. But it's also the result of decades of environmental mismanagement. Not much more than a hundred years ago the whole region was thick virgin forest but there's almost nothing left of that now. It was burned to the ground for agriculture and by the time anyone realised that much of the land was no real use, the damage was already done.

Things aren't really improving either. The landslips continue to happen, and there is still a mentality here amongst the farmers that land has no value beyond what can be produced from it. Of course, you can't change the past and the native forest is not going to reappear on the slopes of the Wanganui. But it would be nice if a stop could be put to the erosion while there's still a lovely green valley to admire.


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