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Birds of the Water Wood & Waste


In bringing out another edition apology first and foremost must needs be offered for the continued use of the original title. For years that too grandiose designation has lain heavy on my heart; it must nevertheless remain as in the case of children begotten in the flesh, a name once given can hardly be changed.

The book should, of course, have been called “Birds of a New Zealand Sheep Station,” or some such simple title. Field naturalist notes of an elementary sort are the contents of “Birds of the Water, Wood and Waste”; such as they are, so they must remain.

Sixteen years have now elapsed since publication, during which period other volumes have been written by me on natural history in New Zealand.

page 8

Only in the last of these have I been able to strike a more optimistic note as to the fate of our native birds—a more optimistic note that is as regards their survival in State Forests, State Reserves, and areas planted for commercial purposes. Another, however, and a more dolorous tale has to be told of farms and sheep farms worked privately as business concerns. Though it might not at first seem to be so, in both cases this comminglement of weal and woe can be ascribed to the more efficient management of land—whether owned individually or still held by the Crown.

The fact is that all State Lands suitable for farming have now been alienated; there remain only areas unfit for settlement owing to their elevation above sea level or to their soils.

Such districts can be turned to other use.

Proportionately to her size New Zealand is destined to be as great a producer of timber as of butter, wool and meat. On her ancient forests replanted, in her primeval woods allowed to rejuvenate themselves, her indigenous avifauna is, and will be, more and more a vital factor, an asset that can no longer be neglected. Trapping of vermin, page 9 interdict of shooting, encouragement of nectar producing, and berry bearing shrubs and trees will be further steps towards a desirable end. The study and protection of native birds will necessarily become part of a great general scheme of forestry; for the first time in the history of the Dominion their assistance will be considered indispensable. This more satisfactory state of affairs will not have been reached too soon, for on the farms and sheep farms of New Zealand conditions alter daily for the worse.

Concerning the owners of the former, I have already pointed out that they would scalp their parents for the sake of two extra blades of cocksfoot, but this desperate reckless cheating of the face of the earth, at one period confined to that class, is now imposed on one and all of us, on great and small of us.

In the seventies a species of insanity would seem to have permeated New Zealand; the country was apparently no longer to be New Zealand at all. God's work in the South Pacific was not good enough. The Dominion was to be transformed into a sixth rate Britain; our own native plants and native birds were unworthy of us. It was given out and widely accepted that the former page 10 were of no great beauty, that inevitably the latter must perish. The very Maori race was represented as doomed. Our forests were undervalued, their yearly growth underestimated, their hardihood denied.

The curious self depreciation of the Briton in regard to the world work of his race seems to have cropped up in the New Zealander in a no less curious depreciation of his indigenous possessions. The phase has passed, or if there yet exist persons who desire ling, deer, grouse and insignis pine on our national parks they are not more numerous than Scots in Scotland who would desire to see the field of the battle of Bannock-burn in prairie grass or white with manuka.

The damage, however, has been done, all sorts of vermin—weasels, deer, rabbits, sparrows, hedgehogs, “possum” have been loosed on the devoted land. Plants, too, have been deliberately imported, one of which, hinc illae lacrymae (the blackberry), is to-day the curse of the colony.

Introduced first from a sentimental recollection of its fruit, and later utilised as a hedge plant, it had even by the eighties begun to excite alarm.

Then, however, the factors of seed distri- page 11 bution were absent; at that date blackbirds, thrushes, sparrows, and starlings had barely spread from their original centres of acclimatisation. Then, therefore, the blackberry forged ahead but slowly. Now, the country swarms with undesirable alien birds—alas! that the Blackbird of Keats, the Thrush of Browning, should be condemned as pests.

For every blackberry then matured, a million ripen now; for every yard over which alien birds used to fly they now range a mile; no piece of ground consequently is safe where birds can perch, where there grow trees, shrubs or even tall herbaceous plants.

Farmers, and sheep farmers, therefore, who desire to keep their pastures clear of blackberry have been compelled, as it were, to strip naked their runs, to flay them alive.

Tutira is situated in a blackberry district. By cattle its marsh lands have been invaded, the edges of its creeks trampled and trodden, its sapling growth smashed down and destroyed; by goats its rock outcrops and cliffs almost precipitous have been bitten bare.

So great in fact during the last sixteen years has been the change, so deserving of emphasis the facts, that instead of recasting page 12 each chapter of the original edition I have thought the altered environment would be projected most conspicuously by leaving untouched the original text and merely adding such notes as seemed to illuminate a particular point.