By: Christopher Cookson
It was a bright and sunny day, with a bit of a breeze, but remarkably pleasant for less than a week away from the shortest day, as I rather guiltily filled my car with petrol at the service station. Global warming, climate change, planetary vandalism, call it what you will, might seem like a rather attractive proposition in the middle of winter when traditionally, trying to keep warm is one of the primary objectives of life for most people. Unfortunately, pleasantly mild winters also mean unpleasantly hot, and in Marlborough, increasingly dry, summers, which can be fun if you're on holiday at the beach, but can get positively annoying when you have to work, and modesty requires a more substantial dress code than that of an Amazonian tribe.
The truth be told, I rather like driving, however the event I was off too did leave me feeling at least a little guilty about my fossil fuelled beast, however given the distance, time of day, and a crook knee, I ddin't really have an option. Having filled my car with refined dinosaur juice or something similar, I headed off for a nice Sunday drive to Picton, to Marlborough's inaugural Biodiversity Forum, promoted by Marlborough District Council and DOC. The event had actually started in the morning, but I had a prior commitment playing in the band at church, and although 'All Things Bright and Beautiful' wasn't on the song list that morning, all those bits in the Bible about all the plants and animals that God created always struck a chord with me. That, and growing up on David Attenborough documentaries (apparently he's an atheist, so fascination with nature is apparently non-denominational) meant I was keen to find out what others were doing, and how I might be able to participate in looking after the local part of our beautiful, but sometimes fragile planet.
Driving past the Para wetland, I saw evidence of the results of humans giving nature a helping hand with the skeletal remains of dead willow trees, and the vast area of open wetland where native vegetation was returning. Arriving in Picton, the lush regenerated native bush around the town was another reminder of how nature can often heal itself in amazing ways given just a bit of help.
I arrived at the Endeavour Park Pavillion in Picton as the participants were taking their lunch break. There were a few faces I recognised, and plenty I didn't.
There were quite a few that had 'the look', if you had a picture in your mind's eye to stereotype hard core greenie tree-huggers, but there were also a good few farmers, those folk who tend to get stereotyped as exactly the opposite to greenie tree huggers.
As the afternoon session got underway, facilitated by a DOC staff member, various groups made short presentations, and I was impressed with two things. Firstly, it was amazing the incredible biodiversity that Marlborough has, but secondly, the sheer diversity of people prepared to get their hands dirty and put there money where their mouths are, to look after what we've got.
There were plenty of grey hairs in the room, but there were also a couple of high school girls with their own project, and people from all walks of life, and probably political persuasions.
This was a room full of people who weren't just clickers of 'like' buttons, but actual, get out there and do it, boots on the ground people. I've never been much of a fan of standing around waving placards demanding change, but have a great deal of respect for those people who actually go out and get their hands dirty bringing about positive change.
The final presentation was from someone representing the local Te Atiawa iwi, and what struck me as he went through his explanation of Māori values, it didn't actually seem that different to some of the aspects of the sermon I'd listened to in the morning.
I came away impressed at the diverse range of people in Marlborough wanting to protect the equally diverse range of other organisms that we share our region with. It's definitely a good thing, as there can never be too many people wanting to help with the number of threats facing our native species from introduced predators to weeds, and climate change.
I've looked at the statistics before, and although it's tempting for many to write off Marlborough as 'all grapevines', that impression is only because the grapevines tend to be planted close to where all the main roads are, but in reality, they only make up a bit over three percent of Marlborough's vegetation, whereas native plant cover of one form or another makes up something over fifty percent, with quite a few unique species found only in Marlborough in that mix. That's only the land usage, and then there's all the marine environment, which thanks to the Marlborough Sounds, makes up a lot of Marlborough.
It's actually pretty astonishing really, that we live in an area with so much natural heritage in spite of a great deal of change in land use and clearing of native vegetation from the dawn of human settlement. Marlborough's never quite going to match the primeval rain forests the West Coast, however it's heartening to see how many locals care about what we do have.