Image of the January 2021 Wilderness Magazine Cover Read more from the
January 2021 Issue
Home / Articles / Wild Comment

Conservation as trauma

This cut to a mamaku is more trauma than conservation

Is there a better way to maintain tracks than by machete or chainsaw?

I’d like to talk trauma. The kind often seen trackside. Trauma, manifesting as bush maintenance and driven by the impulse to bend, break, and sacrifice something seemingly inanimate to create walking space.

We could coin it ‘conservation trauma’, stemming, ironically, from conservation cutting.

I took the photo illustrating this story on one of Wellington’s best-known town belt trails – Te Ahumairangi Hill, which contains the Northern Walkway portion of the Te Araroa Trail. It’s part of the town belt green space but it is much more than that to the first Māori to settle Wellington, mana whenua Taranaki Whānui ki Te Upoko o Te Ika. It was a pathway used by iwi to get from the harbour to the coast. Te Ahumairangi was a place where these iwi and their hapū drew breath and mauri from the hill’s signature nor’west wind. It’s a site of historical significance.

So to see sap seeping from an open wound is disturbing from a te ao Māori perspective. Sadly, it’s an all-too-typical example of a chop-shop approach to munting and maiming mamaku.

Trimming teams venture out with the seasons, tilling, toiling, blowing their blowers and maintaining all the things – or so they think.

But track maintenance doesn’t need to look or feel traumatic. Visualize for a moment the artistry of the arboriculturist or the master bonsai shaper.

Consider the care, the finesse, the ritual involved.

In the Māori world, this notion of ritual resides in the word ‘tikanga’, and it derives from the awareness of whakapapa.

With this in mind then, I wonder how much a shift in intention towards actual maintenance rather than conservation trauma could be a total game-changer for the likes of mamaku. Imagine some strategic staking and well-placed rope tied with tenderness, allowing the fern to just grow wherever it goes – ever upwards, of course. But more importantly, continuing to contribute to the environment that it was made and meant for. I personally would never compromise a mamaku growing gloriously across the trail, living its best life. To me, dollops of doggie-doo packaged in council plastic and left to sit on the fringes of our lush green spaces are significantly more offensive.

Ultimately it comes down to what is budget-friendly and efficient versus bush-friendly and expensive. Still, it’s hard to argue that hack-happy really doesn’t cut it for what’s essentially trauma touted as tiakitanga (preservation, protection, restoration).

I found it confronting to see the harm dished out to that mamaku. So did the half-dozen pre-schoolers I was guiding. Stopping to survey it first-hand, they insisted I bandage Tāne’s tinana (body) with rangiora leaves lovingly recycled from his mother Papatūānuku and secured with flax fibres extracted from a single piece of spare harakeke.

These little ones did the most organic, empathetic thing and likened Tāne’s tinana to their own.

I think as future tīpu-na (ancestors), our best legacy rests in doing the same.