Rangikapiti as Seen from Mangonui

New Zealand is an island nation with a climate highly favourable to the growth of endemic plants and introduced species. Certain exotic visitors grow far more rampantly here than in their original environments, often threatening native bush areas. Until now, the most common way of dealing with these introduced ‘pests’ has been through the use of poisons. A 34 hectare area of regenerating (after it was cleared by Europeans and Maori) native forest adjacent to where we live at Coopers Beach, called Rangikapiti Reserve, is one such area. A kind-hearted local group of people have banded together to protect this Department of Conservation reserve from fast growing smothering plants introduced from neighbouring gardens. Asparagus scandens, commonly known as Asparagus Fern and seen other countries in bouquets of cut flowers, is the principal culprit at present. The well meaning group, called Friends of Rangikapiti Reserve, is using Roundup, the Monsanto product of known and documented toxicity to human and animal health, to clear the area of Asparagus scandens and other introduced species. The following words are from a letter I wrote this morning in response to one of the founders of Friends of Rangikapiti Reserve asking for financial support for their efforts.

‘I regret to say I cannot continue my financial support of Friends of Rangikapiti Reserve Soc. Inc. for moral reasons. I personally cannot support the spraying of the reserve with toxic chemicals (no matter how non-toxic they are claimed to be). The results I see and feel during my morning walks grate my moral conscience. Local scientist Andreas Kurmann (I interview him this week) has proven that there is far more erosion, leaching of important minerals and pollution of precious groundwater on sprayed versus organically treated land.

Asparagus Fern with Berry

For me the means don’t justify the end.

I’d be happy to continue my financial support if the funds were used to pay, say, a team of three local people to physically dig out asparagus scandens and other offending exotic plants. Berries and seeds could be removed; then most other plant material could be mulched on site. Obviously, the tubers of asparagus fern would need to be physically removed from the area. This proposal would give a badly needed boost (albeit it temporary) to local employment and would not finance a chemical company (non-local employment).

What I see as the result of present methods of chemical eradication of weeds is the degraded health of regenerating native forest together with the death and destruction of the understorey (including natives) and vital micro organisms in the top soil, disturbance to a delicate ecological balance, poisoning of ground water and, ultimately, contamination of kai moana (sea food) in Doubtless Bay. In my humble and personal opinion, Papatūānuku (Mother earth) is crying.

Is it not time to start thinking outside the box and begin to find creative non-toxic solutions to exotic vegetation problems in our indigenous forests? As a D.O.C. friend recently told me, regretfully, “Conservation in New Zealand is all about killing.” I trust together we can find a solution that works for all parties, including the ones we are responsible for (our Nature relations) who don’t speak our language but who are crying out to be heard. Tane (God of the Forest) will be pleased.’

Let’s move together from a paradigm of poison to one of creative solutions, muscle and common sense. Surely this is possible.

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Radio host, inspirational speaker and health educator John Haines is the author of In Search of Simplicity: A True Story that Changes Lives, a startlingly poignant and inspiring real-life endorsement of the power of thought, belief and synchronicity in one’s life.

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