By: Christopher Cookson
On a hot summer's day from just about any point on the Wairau plain, if you look towards Blenheim, you'll see a golden brown line of hills to the south of the town, looking as though their name is derived from the withered state of the grass that covers them, rather than a certain Mr. C. B. Wither who ran sheep on them in the mid nineteenth century. The parched clay of walking tracks forms many dry, dusty, yellow brick roads. Just like in the Wizard of Oz it can be tempting to seek out your own Emerald City, in the form of lush green forest somewhere else to commune with nature, however, although the Wither Hills look rather barren from a distance, there's a lot more to them than meets the eye, and actually a lot of biodiversity right on Blenheim's doorstep.
In 2016, I published a book of poetry and photography, 'Wind on the Withers', compiled over more than a decade, commemorating some of the diversity that can be found among the hills, and at the time, I thought, 'mission accomplished', as I'd explored the hills from end to end, top to bottom, in sun and snow, day and night, summer and winter, and didn't think there was too much more story to be told.
I have to admit now that I was completely wrong.
I've always been a huge David Attenborough fan since I first got to see his nature documentaries on TV when I was younger, and since I was given my first proper camera at fifteen years old, I've always tried to photograph nature, admittedly sometimes with mixed results. My very first ever roll of film included a couple of (rather bad) photos near the entrance to the Wither Hills Farm Park.
It turns out that the Wither Hills are teeming with all kinds of life if you look carefully. There are numerous varieties of birds, from cheeky fantails, to tuneful tui, and wary harrier hawks, to name just a few.
For a brief season, an area of the hills comes alive with native sun orchids, and I've even spotted a tree fern in a gully. There are butterflies, giant grasshoppers, and some equally large spiders. In mild, humid weather, I've spotted many varieties of fungi, and when I've got close to the ground, I've observed many varieties of mosses and lichens.
I've gathered together here a gallery of some of the plants and animals that I've found on the Wither Hills. This is certainly not an exhaustive list. Some creatures can be quite camera shy, while some plants only flower for a brief period each year, and even just a few days can make all the difference between whether you get to see some species or not. Most of these images are from the Sutherland Stream catchment, south of Redwood Street. Although badly damaged by the year 2000 Boxing Day fire, this area still contains a surprising number of native species. Within this small valley, it's exciting to find so much natural diversity. Some of these species also have their own pages with more information under the natural history section of this site.
I hope this collection of images inspires you to treasure the hills on Blenheim's southern boundary, and that it might also encourage you to engage your own curiosity and see what you can discover on the hills.
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