Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Weed Control in Wild(ish) Places

All around us we see the bridges of life collapsing, those capillaries which create all organic life. This dreadful disintegration has been caused by the mindless and mechanical work of man, who has wretched the living soul from the Earth’s blood.”
--Vickor Schauberger

It bothers me that New Zealand’s Department of Conservation (DOC) and the Greater Wellington Regional Council (GWRC) seem so hell-bent on eradicating—by whatever means--some 300 or so plants that they have identified as “noxious weeds” from wild and semi-wild areas. Cutting, rooting out, spraying with herbicides and ring-barking are all recommended methods. The majority of these plants they define as “weeds” have simply expanded beyond people’s gardens into wilder areas. (See the weedbusting booklet put out by the GWRC,  DOC's list of invasive weeds, and common weeds in New Zealand.)

Cathedral Bells growing over pine tree debris.
For some of us, the border between “tended garden” and “wilder areas” is fuzzy. I recently moved to a quarter-acre hillside section that backs onto a gorgeous tract of native bush. My neighbours’ properties do the same. At one point not long ago, but before we moved in, a sizeable area out back—on our property and adjacent properties—was covered in pines, and these had been cut down and harvested for firewood maybe a year or two ago. Now that area is a steep and sunny—and potentially unstable—slope.  I’ve been watching with some delight over the summer as new plants of many varieties have sprung up to colonize the area, creating a new and interesting ecosystem.  I know as well that the roots of each plant help to stabilize a steep landscape. It has been fun seeing what naturally appears, how Mother Nature heals the scar and regenerates life. I’ve planted a couple of trees as well, on our side of the property line.
Blue morning glory
(photo from Common Weeds of New Zealand)

Many of the plants that have come up clearly fall under DOC’s and WRC’s list of “noxious weeds”: blue and white morning glory, cathedral bells, blackberries, banana passionfruit, arum lilies, broom, foxglove, clematis, agapanthas, a variety of grasses, thistles. The latest “infestation” is a 5-foot-high “sea” of weedy/flowery “things”—I have no idea what they are—that the bees  love.

A couple of weeks ago, two fluorescent-clad fellows appeared on my doorstep asking if they could use our property to access this regenerating area as part of their annual weed-control program.  I don’t remember now if they were from DOC or WRC. I confessed to not being all that happy about seeing the new plants destroyed as they help stabilize the slope and create an emerging ecosystem. Plus, I garden without chemicals, and I didn’t want to see the back of my lot sprayed with herbicide. So I declined to give them access.

A few days ago, I spotted the two fluorescent-coated men again, this time coming down the slope from a neighbour’s property up the hill. They’d hacked through the brambles and vines with cutters and saws, and sprayed great swathes of greenery, although they did not come down onto our property. The wind was blowing from that direction, and I overheard one chap remark to the other about the number of bees the area was supporting, and I thought—but can’t be sure—he was questioning the sense of spraying flowering plants that were being tended by the bees. I didn’t hear the response; they carried on with their task. Now, a few days later, I look out the bedroom window at a hillside that used to be verdant green and covered in flowers, and I see big brown patches of dead vegetation in the sunny, open area of the slope, and the trees along the verges are covered in hanging clumps of dying, browning vines.

It makes me both angry and sad to see Mother Nature’s attempt to heal a slash in the landscape thwarted by the poison and cutters of so-called "conservationists".  I recognize that in New Zealand, the word “conservation” seems to refer to wanting to create some imaginary, unchanging, unchallenged pre-European utopian landscape. Those who work in “conservation” here are really more operating as “gardeners”—picking and choosing, pruning and poisoning to create what they deem is “best” for our naturally wild and wildish spaces.  Any plant that is an "import" to these isolated islands is suspect, and creepy, crawly, sprawly, viney plants seem to be particularly demonized. I am sure their intentions are good, but I think these "conservationists" are playing God in a most foul way. I trust Mother Nature knows what she's doing, and knows how to heal the land when it has been altered. She could glory in the diversity we have brought into her playground. Why do we insist on making it so hard for her?

See my previous post on this topic Conservation: What’s in a Word?

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