5 December 2014

Restoring the bush: the big reasons to do it

We live in a city, but close to a beautiful patch of native bush with a boardwalk running through it. It's next to the mighty Waikato River. This morning I walked along the river's edge, rounded a corner and there was a harrier hawk taking flight - I had frightened it away before I'd even spotted it. Its senses were so much better than mine. It was big, graceful and totally silent - a contrast to the noisy flight of ducks and tuis. Just gorgeous.

It had been in the shallows of the river. Perhaps it had caught a fish? There was nothing to see among the ripples it left behind. I walked on, and a minute later I came across a small broken blue egg speckled with brown, either hatched or eaten. Another minute or so later there was a blackbird on the ground, far closer to me than usual - was it sick, perhaps? It jumped away from me, but didn't fly. I walked away, not wanting to harass it.

I find peace and joy in encounters with nature, and I'm not alone. It's good for everyone, it turns out, and there are now many studies showing that people have better physical and mental health when they spend time in nature. Children learn better, too. Nature is not just a 'nice to have', it's essential to humans' well being.

(Although once I knew a woman who was moving to New York. She would be delighted, she said, if she never saw a paddock again. Mind you, I don't like paddocks, either. I didn't ask her about native bush, rivers and beaches, but I'd be surprised if she'd be happy to see them receding as she looked out of the plane window. Or maybe her nose was deep in the latest fashion mag.)

Four or so years ago this was mostly weeds.
I'm involved with a group that's helping to restore our local patch of bush to its former glory. We dress in unfashionable old clothes to do this rough work. Stunning and biodiverse as our bush is, there are terrible weeds and pest animals amidst the beauty. For the first time this week we wandered down on a Wednesday evening to start a series of weekly working bees to get on top of the weeds. Usually we do monthly afternoon working bees, but this is a cooler summer alternative.

"This is better than blobbing out in front of the telly after work," said one man as he sawed down a weedy privet tree. "Usually I feel like doing nothing when I come home, but once I get into it.... this is GREAT."

So we worked, not out of a sense of obligation. (I think we do have an obligation, though. Who brought all the weeds and pests that ravage this stunning country? Our forebears.) Rather, we're excited about the beauty we're creating, stoked by our sense of achievement, and happy to be getting in among it. We're in awe, too, of what we are in the midst of - this week we found a little patch of exquisite native ferns growing next to a heap of weeds. Nature creates such lovely things.

In many ways, though, it's not just about the bush. We're connecting with others in our community. We're being useful. These are things that are well known to make people happier and healthier.

I got a bit excited about the importance of nature after hearing Richard Louv speak a couple of weeks go. He's the author of the best-seller Last Child in the Woods. He pointed out that because most of us live in towns and cities these days, creating nature-rich urban areas that we can get to easily is vital if we are to have the well being we all want. Urban ecological restoration, it's called (well, it's restoration if you're restoring what used to be there before people came on the scene).

It made me feel proud of our slice of goodness, and the way we nurture it - it's not just for ourselves, or for the bush and creatures that live in it, but for anyone who wants to come here.

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