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A reminder of Queen Elizabeth II on Blenheim's back doorstep

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Last Modified: 16-9-2022 22:58

QE II Covenant area, Wither Hills Farm Park
QE II Covenant area, Wither Hills Farm Park
© Christopher Cookson  License this image

With the passing of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, it is perhaps a fitting time to reflect on a small area of land well known to many Marlburians, that will bear an association with her name forever.

While there is plenty of discussion around the merits and relevance of the monarchy, there are likely few who would dispute the merits of conservation.

Colonisation by humans, regardless of where they came from, had a devastating impact on New Zealand’s indigenous flora and fauna. By the time Europeans arrived Māori had learnt from past mistakes and had instituted various traditions that provided some protections for the environment. Europeans repeated, and exceeded past mistakes, this time on an industrial scale, that in hindsight seems like the very definition of insanity.

The establishment of a trust under the name of Her Majesty to protect some of what remained, is a sign that New Zealanders from all backgrounds are learning to respect and care for our natural environment.

There’s a certain continuity and convergence too, as the new King Charles III is an ardent environmentalist, so Māori concepts of kaitiakitanga, Pākehā conservation, and even His Majesty’s concern for the environment are finally moving towards some sort of alignment. Perhaps it's fitting that the Queen died during Conservation Week.

In 1977, the Queen Elizabeth II National Trust was formed to commemorate Her Majesty’s silver jubilee. It has its own act of parliament, and exists to promote conservation on private land via permanent protection of land in open space covenants.

In Marlborough, as of September 2022, 4,504.1 hectares of land is protected in covenants. This may seem small compared to Marlborough’s total land area of 1,045,765 hectares, however large areas of Marlborough are already public conservation land that are managed by DOC rather than the QE II Trust.

Perhaps the best known, and most accessible area of land protected by the QE II Trust in Marlborough is an area of the Wither Hills Farm Park in the Sutherland Stream catchment just south of Blenheim.

This covers an area of just over 41 hectares within the 301.7 hectare Sutherland Stream block of the Wither Hills Farm Park purchased by Marlborough District Council in 1993, with the covenanted area established in 1994.

The area contains a remnant of regenerating dryland forest, although it was badly damaged by the 2000 Boxing Day fire.

In spite of the fire damage, the area contains a wide diversity of native flora and fauna, and is the closest wild place to Blenheim.

Below is just a small selection of images, all taken within the Queen Elizabeth II Covenant area celebrating the diversity of this precious pocket of land on our back doorstep.

Sutherland Stream
Sutherland Stream
© Christopher Cookson  License this image

Tī Kōuka/Cabbage Trees
Tī Kōuka/Cabbage Trees
© Christopher Cookson  License this image

Small Worlds

It's easy to walk past some amazing natural history simply because it's small. Take a magnifying glass or a camera with good macro capabilities, and there's an incredibly diverse range of small plants like mosses and liverworts, particularly in damper areas of the Wither Hills.

Moss fruiting bodies
Moss fruiting bodies
© Christopher Cookson  License this image

Moss
Moss
Growing beside Covenant Track
© Christopher Cookson  License this image

Liverwort
Liverwort
© Christopher Cookson  License this image

In addition to simple plants, a wide diversity of fungi, the great decomposers of organic matter, can be found throughout the covenant area.

An earthstar
An earthstar
Native earthstars form a relationship with the roots of mānuka and kānuka
© Christopher Cookson  License this image

Fungi beside Sutherland Stream
Fungi beside Sutherland Stream
© Christopher Cookson  License this image

Tiny fungi on a steep bank
Tiny fungi on a steep bank
© Christopher Cookson  License this image

Lichens are a symbiotic relationship between a fungus and an algae, each relationship forming a unique lichen species, with the algae providing food via photosynthesis, and the fungus providing protection, and the ability to extract nutrients from the ground or rocks.

Green lichen
Green lichen
© Christopher Cookson  License this image

Lichen on rock beside Covenant Track
Lichen on rock beside Covenant Track
© Christopher Cookson  License this image

Lichen on charred stump
Lichen on charred stump
A kānuka stump, burnt in 2000 Boxing Day fire, colonised by lichen
© Christopher Cookson  License this image

Coral Lichen
Coral Lichen
© Christopher Cookson  License this image

Creepy Critters

Although the largest native land animals in New Zealand are birds, there are plenty of smaller invertebrates, including insects, arachnids, and other critters. The QE II covenant area of the Wither Hills supports a rich diversity of these small creatures.

A tiny spider on a pohuehue leaf after rain.
A tiny spider on a pohuehue leaf after rain.
© Christopher Cookson  License this image

Copper butterfly on mānuka
Copper butterfly on mānuka
© Christopher Cookson  License this image

Cricket
Cricket
© Christopher Cookson  License this image

Native moth
Native moth
© Christopher Cookson  License this image

Flower Power

The QE II Covenant area is home to a wide variety of native plants with attractive flowers, but you've got to know when and where to look. Some like the native sun orchids only flower for about two weeks of the year in spring, and until the flower appears, have just a single leaf, so can easily be missed unless you know what to look for.

Common sun orchid
Common sun orchid
© Christopher Cookson  License this image

Sun orchids
Sun orchids
© Christopher Cookson  License this image

Rare Clematis
Rare Clematis
© Christopher Cookson  License this image

Native broom flower
Native broom flower

Matagouri
Matagouri
© Christopher Cookson  License this image

Fabulous Ferns

The Wither Hills probably aren't where you'd expect to find ferns, but there are a surprisingly large variety of them, including even a lone tree fern, if you know where to look

Mamaku tree fern on the Wither Hills
Mamaku tree fern on the Wither Hills
© Christopher Cookson  License this image

A Shield fern
A Shield fern
There are several species of shield fern on the Wither Hills
© Christopher Cookson  License this image

A tiny fern growing alongside a track
A tiny fern growing alongside a track
© Christopher Cookson  License this image

Bird Life

With all the insects and fruiting plants, there is plenty of food to support a range of bird species within the QE II covenant area of the Wither Hills, however photographing birds can be quite difficult. Piwakawaka/fantails are common, however they never sit still long, but will come quite close, making them the easiest birds to photograph without very expensive gear, a lot of patience, or both.

Tui and korimako/bellbirds can be heard more often than seen, as are riroriro/grey warblers.

Piwakawaka/fantail on scrambling pohuehue
Piwakawaka/fantail on scrambling pohuehue
© Christopher Cookson  License this image

Web Links

Cite this page

Cookson, C. (2022). A reminder of Queen Elizabeth II on Blenheim's back doorstep. Retrieved May, 29, 2024, from https://www.marlboroughonline.co.nz/marlborough/information/commentary/a-reminder-of-queen-elizabeth-ii-on-blenheims-back-doorstep/

Comments

  • chriscwa2 years ago

    Beautifully written and photographed Chris. I didn't know anything about this and after reading this I'll have to explore more around the Wither Hills. Thanks for giving us all this information.

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