Saturday, December 18, 2010

...he tangata

I tend to react neutrally and ambiguously to experiences as they happen, and later I absorb them and form ideas and reactions to them over time. Sometimes very slowly. When people have questioned me this past first week home, asking me how my ten weeks of research went I have often drawn a blank.

My first instinct has been to say "fine" of course...and it was. I didnt die, I wasn't shot by an aggrieved landowner, no council ute ran me over and no marauding sea lion ate me. All in all, it went smoothly and as planned. Sure, there were moments best left unmentioned, and others that were awesome but it seems to be taking a long time to sink in.

As I slowly absorb all that went on though, I am starting to realise the one thing that it taught me. That people and the type of person in charge of any one thing are the die the world turns on.

I have seen 11 regions of New Zealand, read all of their environmental policies and regulations. I have met with countless officials, landowners, conservationists, lawyers, consultant planners, engineers, farmers, digger drivers and so on and seen the way they have impacted outcomes in that region. So i consider myself amply experienced to make this minor point.

The environment relies on champions and advocates and the rules seem to mean little on the ground, except to initiate a process or spark interest. If the rules are adminstered by those uninterested in their meaning or purpose, outcomes will be poor. If on the other hand, passionate, driven and fair people implement the law and legal tools that descend from it then the outcomes are generally greatly more positive.

What is incrementally driving our ecological integrity to the brink is not lax laws (they dont help of course!), it's not an absence of scientific knowledge, it's not even a lack of methodologies and techniques to minimise's just the people.

It's the people that:
Write the law: more interested in getting something down on paper than considering it's workability
Argue over the law: more interested in garnering votes and stroking the egos of the mining and agricultural industries like we'll die if their compliance costs go up even a percent
Fight the law: the rampant lawyers fossicking for filthy lucre by arguing for proposals no sane man would fight for, and placing cracks in the clear lines needed for true accountability
Distort the law: the consultants (people who dare to call themselves ecologists as if that means their environmental ethos is anything worth selling) that argue minutae while missing the whole damn point that the law is there to protect that which is precious for it's sake and ours...not to line their pockets with shaky litigative appearances
Implement the law: the planners who seem vastly more attached to due process than the outcomes envisioned by the purpose and principles behind the Acts. They agree to unworkable and sometimes unenforceable conditions just to tick a box and pass it on, satisfied that everything (including the intellectual rigour applied to the proposal and it's effects) is 'de bloody minimis'.
Implement the permissions: the landowners whose ethos is stuck firmly in the centuries prior to the tragedy of the commons becoming apparent who think that owning the fee simple title to the land gives them every right to strip it of any natural character it has or ever will have
Enforce the law: Those that note the breaches to the permits and the rules and shrug their shoulders, unwilling to admit that if you dont do anything then you only positively reinforce that noncompliance is OK because nobody cares anyway.

Fortunately for all those that sell out in the ways mentioned above, there are those that do not. They understand precisely what their role in shaping our world is and I have met many on my trip. But it did show me that personality and attitude are insidious and silent destroyers of the environment..and one cant help but think that some strategic redundancies here and there and some further strategic hireages in other places (dont even get me started on elections too) might just make the world of difference...

Monday, December 13, 2010

things about stuff

A short series of observations of my ten weeks of gallivanting. There is more to come in the new year but the blog is likely to go a little quiet over Christmas on account of me doing my best to switch off for those precious days of rest and relaxation.

Thing and Observation....should have been a table but you cant make one on blogger

The rumours are true: Aucklanders are in the fact the worst drivers in the country. I had more near misses in Takapuna than in the whole of the South Island. Notwithstanding that, the foreign drivers of Maui campervans are the worst drivers in the UNIVERSE. Ignorant of the most fundamental driving rules, their ability to career gaily across the centreline on the windiest of cliffside roads is unparalleled. Thanks guys, go home soon.

The condition you develop when you sleep in one musty hostel room after another for an extended period of time. It does not leave when you return,, leaving you to do such mad things as write blog posts at 5am just to empty your head.

Despite our reputation for a cafe culture throughout Kiwiland, the best coffee is elusive. Just when one needs a boost only deliverable by a cup of the magic stuff (or things much less lawful) you find yourself in some burg that has the Four Square supermarkets convenience counter listed in the tourist guides under ‘cuisine’. Suspicious? Rather!

Kiwis love maps. Just having one with you, poring over it quietly (trying to figure where the **** you are and where civilisation is) in a cafe makes you the centre of attention. All manner of friendly characters are happy to offer the most detailed directions to you, drawing squiggles all over the map in a helpful fashion. There is a window of perhaps eight and a half seconds between somebody beginning to tell me directions and when my eyes glaze over and my brain squelches out my ear and runs away. Nevertheless, their spirited efforts were appreciated.

New Zealand is famous for the degree of sheep populating our fair land, but we dont view them with the same amorous intentions of our pals across the ditch of course hehe. Our woolly flatmates are however, slowly being eclipsed in number by cows. Rampant dairy conversions everywhere there’s a spare space means that, chewing gently on their grass, often with a wily sparrow perched on their head, their presence is constant. However, when they are munching in a wetland, or standing ankle (do cows have ankles? Don’t know – will check) deep in a meandering stream I am prone to involuntary fits of rage.

Thanks to Didymo I have cleaned my boots about forty times in the past ten weeks. I have cleaned my boots twice before that in four years of ownership. If they could talk they would say wtf. I am quite certain most travellers are not so careful so, while i applaud the efforts of MAF to put signs up everywhere I don’t know how effective it will be.

When the hostel TV room is inhabited by often drunk nitwits, the towns social spots consist of a single motorbike surrounded drinking trough, and the world outside is a little to creepy to dawdle around internet helped me to kill many a lonely, boring evening. In theory I should have been inputting data, but I didn’t because I lack discipline in the extreme.

Something Marie lacks in the extreme

I had not seen seals until this trip and I was super chuffed to do so. I was furious however at the gut-wrenching attack on them in Kaikoura. Further making me see red, was the impudent fisherman who later claimed that the seal population was ‘out of control’. By this I assume he means that they have a healthy and thriving population and are not utterly destroyed like everything else. The dear poppet went on to say that they ‘steal all the fish’.
When I read that I let out an involuntary yelp. The SEALS are STEALING our fish are they? Um no dear, we are the incursion into the food chain and the ocean is not a FRICKING PANTRY YOU IGNORANT WANKER. Anyhoo, I have recovered now *smiles calmly*

Driving through Aotearoa is much like driving through a giant farm – because it is one. I venture to suggest that if every kiwi spent ten weeks staring at grass and troughs and not a lot else they may also question the free ride we are giving to farmers in this country. We fiddle about with rules governing the smallest things you can imagine, where farming is the elephant in the room, subject to comparatively bugger-all rules. You could say they produce food and should be given some flexibilities – but enough is enough. Our natural capital is being eroded faster than if it was planted on Wall Street and something urgently has to give.

Lots of my friends have checked up on me very regularly through this trip. It’s heartening and I think they are better than awesome. That length of time dawdling around by yourself, although interesting, is tough when you’re away from those you love. The text messages and emails asking me how and where I was were awesome. Thanks to those – you know who you are. It is possible that my penchant for wandering off and getting lost promoted their concern for my welfare, but I’ll take them as read.

Kea are awesome...their distinctive screech and tendency to make life hell for any rubber fixtures nearby is a source of great delight to me. When I returned from the Franz Joseph Glacier, I was faintly disappointed that one wasn’t industriously tugging at the wiper blade of my rental car. I always think when animals do things like that; it’s the mischievous forces of nature getting her own back for our centuries of ignorance of her laws. It would have amused me no end, but the only kea in sight was sitting quietly up on the cliff, perched in a tree (hopefully plotting a devious manoeuvre on a Maui campervan).

I took a fair ton of warm clothes on my trip. Weighted down on its axles, my faithful wingroad carried it all – all the time. I was cold exactly twice on the trip. Once on a freezing random morning in Taranaki, and another time for about an hour on Lake Ellesmere. Other than that I had temperatures in the twenties and two periods of rain in the entire time. I am drought it seems, it spread along with me. Sorry folks *awkward silence*

During my childhood which some may call nomadic I have visited and lived in towns with residential populations less than the average primary school. Of course those people were Australian and much less cool than us, but nevertheless the phenomenon of the small town is familiar. It is nice to sit in a cafe though where everyone knows everyone and the gossip flares with the doorbell over and over. I hope the people in those towns do visit bigger towns and other countries from time to time as it’s not hard to see how one many begin to think they are the centre of the universe as far as they can see it. Nevertheless, the warm familiarity must make a hometown like that a soft place to land (even if the coffee tastes like engine oil).

The leftwing contingent in society that is urban always bashes farmers, people that eat meat, people that eat gluten, people that go fishing, people that marry their cousins (no wait, that’s a fair criticism) and appear to have a picture of rural folks as being raving tories screaming around on diggers. While this is no doubt true for some, especially when one’s livelihood intersects with any one of the activities mentioned above, there is a groundswell of community activism in rural areas of New Zealand. It’s not enough to just SAY you care and take another sip of your double-shot vanilla latte. When one puts themselves in the shoes of those on the land every day, the pompous spoutings of the Ponsonby crowd does grate.

There are more cheeky and pointless things to say but I have to get ready to return to my office now. Overall my trip showed me that New Zealand is an amazing country, blessed in all ways imaginable. We have destroyed a fair chunk of it, but theres much more to save and many ways to do what we do better. Cue Bob the Builder theme...

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

...on the subject of emissions...

Dear Environment

Over the past ten weeks (with more to come in this and the new year)I have consumed an inordinate amount of fossil fuel gallivanting around the country doing my field work. When at home (besides trips to see friends and family in Auckland and Te Puke) I normally try to keep my vehicle use to a minimum. So you're probably wondering why I am the recidivist offender behind such emissions all of a sudden.

The truth is that it's not simply a cleverly orchestrated jaunt at the expense of the university and other funders; but bona-fide planning research. I go into council offices all around the country (almost 20 to date) and haul out files pertaining to development sites that have had mitigation requirements as part of their approved proposal.

Once I wade through the dusty piles of documents and photocopy what's needed (unless a hawklike admin person is appointed to reluctantly do it) providing it exists, I hop into my wagon. After digesting (reading, not eating) the files, I contact the landowner, outlining my research and (all going well) obtain permission to view the subject property.

Every now and then there are no contact details available. In this situation (particularly when its a subdivision) I would ordinarily drive to the site to see if there were identifying features that could lead me to a contact person (for sale sign etc). I employed this normally flawless technique not that long back. A coastal subdivision in the early stages of sales following the issue of title.

I knew roughly where it was and knew an extension of a road had been involved, the plan implying it would be vested with the council prior to 224C. So I tootled down it and arrived at a for sale sign as expected. I rang the number on it, and advised the lady on the other end who I was and asked for the real estate agent. She went seppo (not sure if you're familiar with that colloquialism, but it means she went berserk at me) screaming down the phone that I was trespassing and did I not notice the private road sign a kilometre back.

She ranted for a significant period of time. Heart thumping, I listened, the screeching clearly audible with the phone even on the passengers seat. When the noise ebbed I picked it up and shakily said I would leave the property immediately and ring her husband on his cellphone. A curt goodbye from her, and I threw the phone back, relieved that I could escape.

I turned the key and....nothing. Incredulous at my spate of bad luck crammed into the past twenty minutes, I tried the car a few more times. Turning the radio, fans, lights and anything else draining off and came up dead. Her sustained rant had sucked the juice from the battery from afar. Considering my options, I went to phone the AA for a jumpstart. Not only was I in the middle of nowhere, but I remembered I was over a kilometre into private property and doubted the jumper leads could lawfully reach...that was that plan down.

With no alternative I left a plaintive and apologetic message on the chaps voicemail explaining my predicament and that I hoped to here from him soon but until then I would be forced to trespass. Glaring at the engine and kicking the clumps of mud around it where it was parked (RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE OF THE DRIVEWAY OF COURSE) passed the next few minuutes until I heard the roar of an engine (not my one, obviously). Startled, I looked up to see a late model Jeep Cherokee zoom over the hillside and head in my direction.

Fearing the owner had a temperament not dissimilar from his lady love I cautiously sat back in the car and watched him approach. Furtively rehearsing my explanation I clacked my nails on the dashboard hoping for an outcome that didnt see me drowned in the adjacent swamp. As the jeep neared his wide grin was suddenly a welcome sight and his guffaws of laughter pealed cheerily down the hillside.

He had listened to my (now gratingly embarrassing) message and driven straight here, quickly brushing off any concerns I had about my evil deeds of the day. A jumpstart following a farm tour set the day right and I sped off, too scared to kill the engine for the remainder of the trip.

So there you go, Mr Environment. I wanted you to know that its not all a ruse and for every lovely picture I have taken, every litre of petrol I have indirectly consumed, every cheerful council officer that has chatted to me over coffee, and every forest I have been lucky enough to saunter through; there has been elaborate screw ups like this deal with.

Council staff that look right through me, utterly uninterested in helping and not clearly capable of doing so anyway. Long days in the field trying to find poorly identified property owners in remote areas. Long evenings spent cajoling landowners into property tours, reading district and regional plan provisions, and tracking down documents, people, businesses and consultants. The hostel cohabitators and often bizarre owners have been an effort, with their complicated payment systems, appliances, diurnal and nocturnal patterns and squillions of warning signs (no noise after ten, no noise before eight, wash your hands, leave bags here, dont leave bags here, dry and put away, lock your car, dont kick the cat etc etc).

So there you go, I hope knowing that it hasnt all been plain sailing makes you smile and works off maybe a few jots of my carbon footprint. Thanks for indulging me in seeing my amazing country. I promise to make up the difference by planting trees, saving wildlife, making irksome submissions on RMA instruments for the rest of my days.

Anyways, I thought I would write this now, instead of before I started. As many consent holding landowners have taught me over the years, it is far better to beg forgiveness than permission.

Yours sincerely


Sunday, December 5, 2010

a dark night on a remote river bed

The epic major leg of the research road trip is just a few days off finishing and this weekend has been a bit of a high note. There hasnt been much going on in the way of research as that winds down to make way for simply getting to the other end of the island. Long days of travel and writing up notes are what's left.

I left friends in Hawea Flat to drive through the valley to visit more friends in Haast. While I had no specific case studies in the area, there was one particular notorious compliance case I did want to have a peep at. That was mortifying as expected so I got it over and done with quickly. On the way to Haast one drives through Mt Aspiring National Park. Mt Aspiring is a most gorgeous area with a thriving population of Mohua. I was lucky enough to spy a couple of them flitting contendedly through the trees.

In Haast there was trout fishing to be done by my hosts so I dawdled around Hapuka Estuary following the activities of a lone banded dotterel. A successful catch made for dinner and a quiet evening of talking and elderflower cordial at their bach. A recent 1080 drop in a nearby patch of forest meant an evening out hunting two bambis that just may have escaped the efforts of DOC.

The forest area was on the Haast River. A trip by 4WD over the gravel bed and a great kayak ride across the fast-moving river in pitch black was a great way to start an evening. less intriguing was being literally feasted upon by millions of mosquitoes. A head net (super cool looking contraptions they are too!), a beanie hat, gloves and every milimetre of skin otherwise covered meant nothing. They munched through the cloth regardless...I must have lost a pint of blood. I am o negative, a universal donor, and assumed that that meant all mosquitoes could attack me...sigh

Being a walking buffet was all forgotten however as a rustle was heard in the bushes on the riverbank. It scurried about frantically for a few minutes as I debated whether the noise indicated a small deer, and tilted my head to listen as hard as I could from my toetoe hiding spot. But it turned out to be a tubby possum lolling about in the undergrowth. It dragged itself garfield-style onto the riverbed and scuffled about in front of us before retreating up a tree and watching us.

Just then we heard from up the valley (and over the drone of hungry mozzies) a footfall. The spotlight flashed and two startled deer reared up and took off down the riverbed. My friend with his rifle (an ss .270 for anyone who cares) attempted a couple of shots which missed. The deer made a hasty retreat around the headland and a trek after them proved futile. But hey, its not about the killshot, it's about the game...right?

Luckily it's been the only adventure on my research expedition involving a rifle thus far!

Northbound now....upward through the mighty west coast!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

the conversion aversion

A few days spent driving around Southland is a sobering experience. It is one of the regions of New Zealand with the most of its natural character left intact. So perhaps in that case the cavalier attitude to the land probably makes more sense. Even so, it’s a dismal shame the rate that the wetlands in particular of the south seem to falling prey to land use change.
A major proponent of this change is the dairy industry. Dairy conversions are taking place all over the region, and those nearby. The media has been rife with reports on this phenomenon. Most reports and concerns however have centred on their need for high amounts of water, promoting such ventures as the crop circle irrigation debacle in the Mackenzie Basin.
But the effects of a dairy conversion are far reaching and most of their impacts are insidious, yet poorly understood. Dairy is a far more intensive land use than most other livestock-based farming. The cows and the milking operation generally require more inputs than comparable land uses (sheep and beef farming) in the way of infrastructure (under-road culverts, irrigators and dams, milking sheds or storage and transport facilities, stand out areas).
Whatever the reason, the pressure or greed that drives the intensification process leads to every square inch of pasture created that can possibly be created. Streams, wetlands, sinks, and other natural land forms all get bowled by the diggers until the postage stamps of green are laid side by side for kilometre upon kilometre. The justifications include, as I have read, the need to pipe streams to ‘stop the cows going in them’ (the word is ‘fence’!). I am sure there are good examples of dairy farming conversions somewhere, but they would not appear to be the norm.
And then once the dairy conversion is complete, often the owner is on the edge of financial ruin (many people appear to have borrowed near on 100% of the capital required to purchase and convert the land). Best-practice land management barely seems to get a look in as the focus goes on recouping and repaying for likely decades to come.
What streams remain are rarely fenced, much less planted out. The wetland margins are strewn with gorse and suspicious drainage activity invades most margins. The drains typically have cows lolling in them or near them and the effluent no doubt makes the water quality results (if they’re taken) make your eyes water. The need to forever increase the stocking rates seems to truncate innovation for the bulk of the newly converted and the environment wears the consequences.
It’s rather like being in a time machine...we just don’t learn....

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

exciting excrement

It was the strangest thing...I had wandered off from the group (well, no, that isnt at all strange actually) and sauntered down to the viewing platform. I was at Tairua Heads Royal Albatross Centre, an amazing facility just out of Dunedin. The foresight of Richdale in decades long passed had seen an incredible conservation programme based on the albatross, the penguins and other coastal avian gems sustained. The viewing platform gave you an excellent perspective on the wild coastal cliffs of the Peninsula.

Royal Spoonbill (they're all royal here dahling) stalked the kelp strewn foreshore. Spotted Shags lolled on ledges above and red billed gulls flapped noisily around your head. Their colony nearby was all rackets and guano streaks, but it was nice to see them so numerous.

Anyways....the strange thing was seeing the coastal cliffs alive with activity. The powerful wind blew the most unholy smell up your nostrils. You had a sense of nature being in utter control. And it I put my beloved binoculars to my eyes and was suddenly splattered with a not insignificant amount of gull poop.

My new conference t-shirt, thermal undershirt, treasured cap from an Indian NGO and my binocular case all become gooey victims of the gulls unceremonious deposit. Fearing reeking of digested fish for the remainder of the lengthy field trip I quietly purchased half a new garb from the tourist shop and carefully stowed the soiled clothing in a sealed plastic bag.

Some of my more observant fellow conference participants noticed my freshly bared head (hat hair = HATE) and shiny new jacket in no time and reassured me that getting crapped on by a threatened species is actually amazingly good luck. Good...I was worried it was an indicator that my love of ornithology is profoundly misplaced. If you add to that the knowledge that seabird guano deposits are a historically rare ecosystem, then you see why I am feeling positively special....

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

....the long arm of the irrigator

I drove from Christchurch to Dunedin today; 630 kilometres via the Mackenzie Basin. It was a phenomenally long drive for me, and makes me think that I will be planting trees for the rest of my natural life to offset it. Nevertheless, it was a gorgeous drive, but not without it's shocks.

The irrigation of the Mackenzie has been in the news a lot of late, so it was important to me to see it first hand. The media furore had centred around the widespread installation of irrigation systems, largely to provide for the conversion of existing pastoral land into dairy farming.

Dairying is a resource-intensive farming operation, particularly relative to other types of farming such as sheep and beef. The Mackenzie by its very nature is a naturally dry basin and extensive canal and dam construction of past decades is being progressively added to with much much more waiting in the wings.

Seeing the lurid swathes of green cloaking otherwise dry hillslopes was a strange sight (would fit comfortably in any urban readylawn suburb) and I am certain it would fail any gateway test on sustainability of agricultural practice. And yet it proceeds as the bottom falls out of the merino market and milk suddenly looks a lot more tasty. The freezing cold in winter makes the climate terribly inhospitable for the poor milking cows, so the logical next step is to propose that they be kept indoors....another animal rights minefield.

So...lets review....we started farming an dryland environment; it came as a surprise that water was at a premium; so we chopped and screwed the hydrology to devise a complex array of lakes, canals and dams; then we now shift to one of the most resource-intensive land uses which requires even more water that transforms the landscape into a bizarre patchwork of stark green circles on a basis of cracked and spiky earth...and each move is justified by the bad call at the last intersection...

Incrementally, more water rights will be handed over and more and more arms of irrigators will sweep across the sky. Irrigation in itself is not bad, sometimes land needs a bit of help in the dry, but some such irrigators must run almost year round to make this area vaguely suitable for Daisy and her pals. And it makes you realise that managing the environment well has no silver bullet associated with it, that it does not come about as one big decision or a series of large policy calls.

Managing the environment well is the combination of thousands of small decisions made by individuals, companies, communities and regulatory agencies...each one providing a ramp for the next by setting the parameters and precedents....we need to think critically at each and every stage and make decisions that reflect where we want to be not where we are....

Monday, November 15, 2010

shaken, not stirred

Has been a less-than-thrilling few days in Christchurch. Having managed to coincide with a weekend, a public holiday and a migraine I haven't made too much progress other than to see a little bit of the countryside, visit a couple of sites and experience the aftershocks of the Canterbury quake.

Shallow and in the late fours on the Richter scale they have both provided a bit of a wake-up call and a reminder of the fragility of human settlements. You drive around the streets of Christchurch and lots of things have a tarp on or bricks around it. A church sits beside it's steeple down the road...the spire obviously having been carefully craned off the rambling old building as it began to buckle.

You walk past some neighbourhoods and its hard to think that such a large quake rumbled through just a few weeks ago. And then you come across an expanse of bare land where one of the older buildings stood and were demolished, beyond repair.

Lots of streets are blocked off as areas of road are rejigged, stablised and resurfaced. Whole street corners lie bare, their fate unknown. Waiting lists for building inspections are in the months, not days or weeks.But despite all this, life goes on.Strong building laws have built a city of fairly solid abodes and low population density meant almost no injuries and not a single casualty. A smooth-running relief effort diminished the stress and grief at the time and sped the city faster to recovery and normalisation.

It's amazing to put the quake in perspective, not withstanding that the Richter is hardly a totally reliable indicator. The magnitude of the quake was not dissimilar from that that devastated Haiti (the after effects of which are just as horrific), It was substantially larger than the massively damaging Newcastle Quake of 1989 I was in, in which 13 people died. 160 people were injured and some sites still lay vacant over two decades on.

So its nice to see Christchurch the way it is...battered but not out. This is resilience...and we're lucky

Thursday, November 11, 2010

...the missing link

I have now passed the half way mark of my field work, with about a month to go. I am in much less familiar territory now and have had some negative experiences in one or two councils in recent days that have been frustrating. An experience of having a very unhelpful council, with a very fractious relationship with their community and almost total non compliance in the cross section of consents has left me with rather strong tendencies towards the thankfully wider array of wine than is available in most regions....

I have read some detailed environnment court cases and consents lately. Some have seen over $100 000 spent on figuring out appropriate environmental controls and requirements. The outcomes are often random, and one can't help that think those involved lost sight of the long term view a long time ago. That being whether we genuinely do intend to sustainably manage our natural and physical resources, or whether we'd rather just fanny about the edges and tick a box.

What lies between law and the environment are people. And people are not rational beings...and no matter how linear the law and how precious the environment, the decisions are political and twisted, chopped and screwed to meet ends that sit outside the purpose and principles of the act. And the middlemen are everywhere.

They are the guys that sit in inflated bureaucracies in south-east Asia collecting bribes for sandalwood and tiger paws; the politcians who take the kick-backs from the illegal mining operations by overseas monkeys in vulnerable communities of Indonesia and PNG; and they are the planners here that fail to understand their purpose.

They arent meant to be there to bully applicants and throw the book at them. Neither are they there to be mates with everyone, even the prize lunatic tearing around his farm filling in streams and spraying god knows what everywhere. They are there to fairly administer a set of rules, keeping in mind their spirit and intent.

If theres anything I have learned over the past few weeks, it is that people make all the difference. The individual small choices made by applicants, offenders, planners, commissioners, submitters, politicians and everyone else who has a stake in the environment (which IS everyone else) matter more that technical solutions, law reviews and policy frameworks that we spend so much money and time on.

You start with a give them a lawbook....they are still a muppet, they're just holding a lawbook...

Not sure how to fix that....

Sunday, November 7, 2010

the absurdity of sameness

In the past month or more that I have been tripping around New Zealand I have visited around 20 towns, and driven through dozens more. New Zealand towns are all go through a 70kmh zone before slowing to 50kmh past the Lions and Rotary signs and whatever garish entity is the soul of the town (a kiwifruit picking pukeko or some such lovable mascot).

A four square or dairy is the hub of the town and the petrol station is getting just a bit glitzy if it's open past 7pm. A smatter of odd shops toddle down the main street and the odd side street leads to the mechanics thats been run by the same family for generations. There's comfort in the predictability but enough variation to give each town a quietly distinctive character. Of all the towns I have been to thus far, the unique and special mainstreet of Takaka has now become the benchmark. What a funky town...may well have been the inspiration for that song...

The town doesn't have a sprawling big box retail development on the outskirts....that acts as a magnet to commerce, annihilating the heart of the township. The Pagani/Starbucks/Flight Centre/Muffin Break/Countdown/$2 Shop/Whitcoulls splatter is all a bit painful when you can stand in the centre of it and quite literally be anywhere in the country.

What it means is that if this trend continues of such cookie-cutter commerce worming its way into enclaves of development under the banner of 'progress', and small communities dont resist the tentacles of the Westfield empire then we may as well all stay home. No need to travel anywhere because they all look the same anyway. It's like the most perverse form of relocalisation and strikes you as the planning equivalent of Groundhog Day. Twenty times over I have driven in to the same place....its surreal...resist the scourge...

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

...the good life in the top of the bottom

My only time in the South Island to date has been a few days in Christchurch some years back for a brief conference. One of the great perks of my research road trip is that I get to see the bottom half of our stunning country and I have not been disappointed so far. It's been an intense couple of days since arriving in Nelson but I am in love with the landscape.

The towering snow capped mountains are in full view as you wander along the warm beaches and some of the most amazing of our National Parks are within easy driving distance. The weather has been immaculate since arrival and promises to remain so for at least a few more days. I'm thrilled about that considering my weekend in Motueka will hopefully include a not-insignificant amount of twitching at Farewell Spit, a premier birding locations for feather fans like myself :)

I have now settled in to the roadtrip/rockstar lifestyle. I think the boredom and fatigue of the first couple of weeks was due to familiarity of surroundings. Now that I am spending all my days glued to a map like any other of the scores of tourists I am happy. I enjoy being lost and unfamiliar. My biggest concern is the readjustment to the gentle lifestyle of the Hamilton student when all this is over...two years of analysis and writeup awaits which will be a rather less riveting way to spend one's time.

In saying that, it's likely that I will think differently as the weeks pass by and Christmas draws near. I dare say that by the time I clock ten weeks away from home I will be looking forward to my own bed like any normal person. I miss my kitchen too as cooking is a favourite hobby, and the freedom to cook without swarms of 2-minute-noodle-loving gypsies like me tripping over me and each other is much missed. In saying that, I spent this evening enjoying wood-fired veggie pizza and locally brewed lager at the funky pub over the you know, there's ways around any problem ;-)

Saturday, October 30, 2010

on the creation of wetlands...

The last two days have seen me escape the desk and file room and trot off into the wide world again. I spent Thursday checking out subdivisions in the coastal dune environments north of Wellington and then today on the majical Kapiti Island. They illustrated nicely the difference between purportedly creating nature and then just leaving it to do its thing for 112 years. The outcomes are somewhat disparate.

The coastal estates I went to were in large part, epic environmental failures. One was amazing and I hope the developer responsible gets an easy ride to heaven (ka pai my brother, ka pai). But the other three were dismal. All were retired pastoral estates that were to be fashioned into posh subdivisions with the standard suite of features being sea views or proximity at least, cheesily named Lanes and Dales (quite often named after the miscreant that the proposed the whole disaster I have noticed) and plastic infrastructure with an asset life about as long as the laptop I am writing this on.

Nevertheless, the purported saving grace of these little oases from the stress of everyday life was that they would create or recreate WETLANDS! The boggy, swampy, marshy geek kids of the ecosystem world. All the developments proposed to create wetland wonderlands where stormwater could go and settle out before entering the nearest waterway and wildlife could frolic metres from the future new residents in a perfect semblance of high class country estate and 'sustainability'.

And a wonderful concept it is...where it works it's great. The wetland areas absorb the stormwater from the development, performing a utility function, and extensive ecosourced revegetation calls all the usual suspects to bear...scaup, coots, mallards, pukeko (when it isnt appearing in Genesis ads) and if you're lucky, the tiny dabchick. I know it works because I have seen it...which makes it all the more frustrating when I must spend an afternoon plodding around what might be politely described as abject failures.

These created wetlands.....sigh. Steep sided ponds with no vegetation on the outside (oh no wait, some had weeds in abundance) give way to copper brown water and algal wonderlands. They drain out through choked channels with sludge layers thicker than my bootsole. The tributary they flow into carries a plume tens of metres down the line as a reminder of what happens when muppets get to play in the environment for their own fiscal gain.

And these wetlands (according to the application and the advertising that persists) that were to be created were intended to be centrepieces of the fine stately development itself. But instead they sit idle with perhaps one lone mallard trawling around in them forlornly. A spur-winged plover shrieks protectively from the grassless common area adjacent which has the odd miserable liquidamber shoved into the ground. In the worst case, thick mounds of litter are strewn around the shoreline where it's not too steep and theres no water motion to disperse it.

In 50 years I intend to hop into by then vintage Toyota Corolla hatchback, walking stick in tow. I will stalk the coastline of New Zealand to see what became of these coastal developments orchestrated by muppets. And I hope not to see sterile ponds void of life; but functioning, richly planted and well maintained wetland environments.

Because creating those were the trade-off for introducing the pressures of 80 more families less than 200 metres from the beach. they were the tradeoff for 29000 square metres of earthworks where the topsoil mysteriously disappeared. They were also the tradeoff for clearing whatever was left of natural vegetation and restricting a dune system with three foot high retaining walls (yeh, good luck with that). It was part of a deal and one side just keeps defaulting.

If they continue to be what they are today then the walking stick will become a weapon. But perhaps sea level rise will beat me to it. One can only hope...

Thursday, October 28, 2010

...keeping it simple, at the risk of seeming stupid....

As my research time in the capital draws to a close, I can reflect on what has been a pretty interesting week. PhD research is like the world's longest rollercoaster. Some days you you're on the straight and narrow, the wind's in your hair and there's not a green-faced, puff-cheeked kid in sight. Others....well, it's like it stalled upside down, you didn't tuck your shirt in and theres a storm brewing on the horizon.

This week's been more positive than some, and included a conference in which several presenters indicated that research like mine was needed and fast. That's always a boost because you're never far from feeling pointless as a research student (the dabbling duck with its beak caught under a rock is my favourite analogy). The conference was a trans-tasman one and covered a range of environmental management issues that are just not all that different to the usual.

The same themes filter through everything....the same type of people turn out, spouting the same things...only their faces really change. They talk about systems, and 'paradigms', and predictive models, and what three case studies indicated to them about another fifty thousand....

I'm sure the generation of ecology types before me endured lectures not dissimilar (probably identical!). And despite all these decades of posturing, politicking and chest-beating about exactly how to theoretically save the world....biodiversity continues to diminish, systems continue to fail miserably and the only thing that stops us looking like total idiots is that we dont monitor well enough to show the problems clearly enough. Phew...?

I am glad my research is what it might not be the most technical or have the fanciest name but it suits me because I am simple too (yes, funny, I know). The research process is more about conducting mini archaeological digs in council file rooms than conquering wild forests in some far flung corner of the globe. I spend more time speaking with landowners about the excess turnips they just cant find a use for than quizzing them on the meaning of life under controlled conditions. And I certainly couldnt stand alongside the bright bods presenting today, with more jargon and acronyms than the free world really needs.

Nope...I'm just going outside and seeing what really happened and figuring out what we can learn from it. Not heavy stuff....KISS model...suits me...

Sunday, October 24, 2010

...tomtits, paunch cutters and motorcycles...

When the context of your research is the real world (wait, isn't all research fully applicable to everyday life? No...oh right!) it is easy to become distracted. The trick is to fret and flap about your research as much as possible until it almost, but not quite, limits your ability to have any fun at all. I'd mastered such a skill up until the day before yesterday when I hit what I think was the first wall.

I did, in true tree geek style react in the only way possible...trudge off into a National park for several hours of largely uphill trekking. I had a good time though, so enjoying myself watching the tomtits and tuis that I didnt notice what must have been a million sharp things I wandered through. When I got back to my accomodation it looked like I'd gotten into a fight with a combine harvester with scratches on all bare skin. Despite being cut to ribbons I had a blast :)

I slept like the dead after an intense week. I had sloshed around a piggery watching fat piglets squirm delightedly in the mud. I then went to a rendering plant, savouring the delicious odour of rotting flesh and blood drying merrily in the sun, all the while enduring the most matter-of-fact description of exactly why paunch cutters are crucial parts of the process. Finally I discovered the joys of the killing floor of a meatworks and....well, long held visions of vegetarianism moved sharply back into focus and the mass produced meat industry will no longer recieve my custom.

I woke this morning and prepared to ship out of sleepy Stratford. The day started well with free range eggs and SOLDIERS (some people never grow up!) and the drive through to Levin was uneventful despite onerous traffic reports. I took a minor twitchers detour to Kuku Beach which I knew to have shorebirds present. Sure enough before long I had my binos trained on a bunch of them, scurrying happily around the dunes and flats. A horrendous sound and flying mud all over where a pair of oystercatchers were quietly sitting brought into view a motorcycle rider.

Said rider was shouting for an ambulance and me and a pair of tourists also attempting to bird watch as they scooted noisily and dangerously all over the dunes quickly obliged in ringing triple 1. Turned out that while jumping over a dune (shorebird habitat *cough* waahi tapu *cough*) one of their mates had managed to break his femur. What then ensued could have been a silent movie, black and white of course. Frantic piano music could have easily accompanied the confused fluffing of the scores of locals that quickly showed up.

There were many cooks in this here kitchen, and the first plan to emerge from this gaggle was to bring the guy back off the beach (3km away) on the bike. I gently pointed out that if they were to nick the femoral artery with an edge of broken bone they would have all of two minutes left alive with their friend. That ended that concept thankfully and they then set to work figuring out which of them would go onto the beach in the 4wd with the trailer to apparently 'carefully' transport him out on the flatdeck and which of them would stay back and guard their bikes.

Thankfully as the self appointed medics were setting off, the ambos arrived and it was decided that since the beach was now apparently impassable to the 4wd, it could only be crossed in a tractor. One of the riders helpfully piped up that he had a tractor and would go and get it. St John's finest agreed to go in on motorbike and have the chap follow them in his tractor which seemed a good solution. I dusted my hands of the whole pending disaster and headed off back to the main road.

Halfway up the road, Tractor Guy waved me down. He'd managed to run out of gas and faced a 1.5km walk if he was to get his tractor down to the beach. I told him to leave his bike roadside and hop in and drove him to his farm. He reeked of alcohol, but in that acrid way that makes you think he sees drinking as a marathon not a sprint. I dropped him off and headed for the nations capital where I now sit reflecting on a rather odd week in the wild Naki. Let's see what the windy city has in store....

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

...on the assumptions associated with clouds...

A few days into my Stratford adventure, there isn't too much else to report. Field work is as always a juggling act. Trying to get ten different sets of site information and attempt to visit them is something of a challenge. I am glad on reflection that I kept the number of different councils in each region to a minimum as working between any more than two or three would probably send me packing. The weather with the exception of one day has been poor and it's freezing. But I am hesitant to worry too much as it will only get colder as I go down the country. Next week I am in the capital and have a conference to work in around my field work.

On the mountain visibility front we have made some progress. The morning after I complained about the cloud cover I looked up from my toast at breakfast and saw Mt Taranaki in all it's glory through the window. Its an incredible feature on the landscape and it seems that no matter how many times I see it still has that same effect. I am thankful that the clouds stepped aside for one fine morning so i could hurriedly drive up to the plateau and take some snaps.

Nevertheless, I am still a fan of clouds, especially scudding ones. They always seem the most modern and progressive of all the clouds as they determinedly whiz across the sky. I find myself drawn to paintings of clouds which I suspect would scud if given half the chance.

The owner of the B&B I am staying at is an amateur artist and the whole place is covered with samples of their work. The landscape around the mountain is so crisp and beautiful on a clear day that you can well see why it would inspire such a hobby. Of all the things in the world I'd like to be better at, painting would be one but me and paint brushes (despite some genetic indications that I should be good at it) just dont mix....gotta work on that....

Sunday, October 17, 2010

...taranaki rocks....

Yesterday I spent the day immersed in Hamilton-related festivities before setting off westward to the Taranaki Region. Most people dissolved in giggles when I told them I was spending more than a week (or is that a day?) here. Buoyed by other more positive accounts I kept an open mind.

Well...Taranaki rocks....protrude from everywhere.

Every hillside on the road in (SH 3) had giant boulders; some smooth, some scraggy, some flat sticking out all over the place. It became the seared-in first impression of the region in my brain. The kind of image that makes you check everywhere for sticking-out rocks and other associated trip hazards such as loose pebbles.

Someone extends their hand to you and you half expect a rock (perhaps one suitable for skimming?) to be proudly protruding from their forearm. Its all rather strange and it wasn't until I saw the beautiful mountain that I had any greater visions of Taranaki.

The cloud ate the mountain that day and each day since. You can only see the foothills, and even if you drive 50km trying to get a better view (*looks guilty*)the cloud still wraps it in it's fluffy arms, guarding it jealously like I might a bag of candy for example. If there's not one clear day between now and Sunday, me and that cloud are going to have words...which is unlikely to change anything...because nature has every right to guard such treasures.

Have had a productive day though, have learned a range of exciting new things in relation to some of the industrial sites I will be going to. "Stick-water" is not something you want to swim in, Im suspicious of any place with an entire room devoted to offal, and remain oddly impressed by people who seem to invent the most digestable euphemisms for the most disgusting really it is.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

terra incognita...second leg

The 'research roadie' so far has been through places I am well familiar with. Many a more minor road trip and camping extravaganza has taken place in the Far North and twelve great years were spent in the 'super' city of Auckland. The next leg of the journey is 54 days of going through areas I am almost completely unfamiliar with, and starts tomorrow.

The traverse of the west coast of the north island will precede a week in the windy city....and a ferry ride will then take me to the mainland in time for next month. Two weeks in the top of the south island will introduce me to one of the wine-making capitals of the world and all that that entails. A short deviation to Farewell Spit (predictable for a twitcher) is planned before heading south.

The bottom of the south promises the wildest of the weather and terrain and it's my hope to take a teensy break to beautiful Stewart Island. Such a protracted programme of field work is bound to see me earn a day or two away from the computer surely...! Its a huge programme and I only avoid fretting by thinking about it one region at a time. goes....

(image from

Wednesday, October 13, 2010 save an ailing farm....

I was playing the part of the tumbleweed on the west coast today. Wandering high above the volatile shoreline along the beautful Te Henga walkway, I was reviewing matters related to development on coastal pasture. Scores of related discussions and case law revolve around the retention of 'rural coastal character'.

It occured to me today that the efforts we go to to preserve such character might just beg a deeper inquiry. Why are we pouring resources into maintaining the 'natural' look of degraded pasture atop extremely exposed shore-lines when it's anything but natural?

When New Zealand was discovered it wasn't marvelled for it's erosion-prone grassed's haggard vistas of windswept gorse....nor it's many ailing fencelines. It was marvelled for its outstanding coastal vegetation, clinging resolutely to wild cliffs. It was marvelled for the fact that 40% of the worlds seabirds made their home there and left every year, always returning to their southern paradise. And marvelled still further for many beaches backed by towering dune systems.

And this wasn't thousands of years ago. The pastoral landscape has been a relatively new concept. We spent the past barely 200 years scuttling about with brushcutters and giant saws, pausing only to look at the great works of Constable for inspiration and technical reference. It is a mere blip in our natural history and the costly and unmoving troops marching to retain said degraded pasture, forsaking all other land uses (in this case including indigenous revegetation!)seem to be remiss in the way they direct their energies.

There is a time and place for retention of rural landscapes, but it would seem from my travels that said landscape (degraded, gorse cloaked pasture) seems to occupy a heck of a lot of our land area and its protection a little too much of our time...and perhaps it's value might be somewhat overstated...just putting it out there....

Tuesday, October 12, 2010 never suspect the little one....

I was sitting in the sun near an estuary area today, reviewing some notes before going on to a large industrial site. Despite the sudden cool of Auckland in the past few days, a few of the more reslient mosquitoes around these parts were out in force.

As the odd one zeroed in on my ankles and arms, I was reminded of a poem by Robert Frost. I think it was called 'A Considerable Mite'. It gave rare attention to the activities of a speck of a buzzing insect of some description. I remember thinking the teensy subject of the poem was really rather valiant despite it's demonstrable diminutive stature. Busy in it's toils (which in my case seemed to revolve fairly exclusively around biting me)you had to hand it to it. Providing 'it' was equally microscopic so as not to be an unreasonable burden.

Bitten into departure, I trudged off to the site to be met with typically affable environmental manager. Driving around the site, the extent of operations was quite a contrast to my own personal experience of (mostly) small-site environmental compliance. The detailed site management characteristics provided for some measure of comfort that the onsite natural features had some security of existence, some with management regimes (and resources most likely) superior to our own manager of our Crown conservation estate.

Experts at the helm, the levels of compliance with requirements and extent of ancillary contributions to conservation outcomes are often substantial. But the smaller sites might just be where our problem is nationally. The small scale matters that regularly chip away at our biodiversity...piece by piece....often well under thresholds for needing permission to do so too....whittling away our natural heritage entirely under the radar. I think that may just present the greatest conservation challenge for us yet....

Saturday, October 9, 2010

places to flap arms the wake of the (generally successful and positive) election outcomes is a nice place to be. Amongst the familiar, the challenge is to remember I'm here on field work and no to skylark as is typical when I invade these parts. Have a full programme of site visits to do over the next few days and hope I can cram them all in to the time! Add to that a lecture to deliver that needs to make some sense realistically, and the familiar anxiety is back.

PhDs are like babies....when they're born they're cute...and then stuff starts happening that sometimes makes you wonder why evolution never had a mechanism akin to a pause button or a robust returns policy/escape clause. But no matter what they are inevitably a reflection of you. The fluctations of energy and confidence are all part of the package, but they seem a lot more important when you, a car and three tons of field gear are sitting on a beach contemplating the data collection itself.

The volume of information I'm collecting on all the case studies is pretty decent and it's hard to imagine that I'll not leave at least some stones unturned. The comfort of the past few days has been that I can come back to all these places fairly easily if I do so. As the time wears on however, the location becomes more and more remote from my base and the 'no turning back' concept becomes a little more important.

It's all part of the journey I think. But at least I get to fret on the beaches of the far north....on kauri trails through Puketi forest....on coastal headlands in Pakiri....and amongst colourful travelling folk in friendly hostels... Worse places to panic and flap your arms....

Friday, October 8, 2010

muppets....the bad kind

My time in sunny Northland draws to a close tomorrow, and I trip my way down the coast via some case study sites to the rather more familiar territory of Auckland. The driving, map-checking, filling in forms has all become routine now and I for once can claim to be up to date with much-loathed paperwork (shock horror). Tomorrow is a momentous day however, for more than just the fact that I go from birthplace to what is my true hometown of North Shore City.

Tomorrow marks the end of local body elections...votes are due at midday at your local library (vote...some people would die for that right) and the new mayor/councillors of all the districts and the new 'super' city of Auckland will become known. Some will be no surprise, while others will no doubt engender community chants and hollers alike.

The past few days have, among many other things, illustrated to me the great importance of having a 'no-muppet' rule in local body politics. They really do have enormous control over our daily lives...illustrated in one particular instance where an un-named incumbant politician committed lock, stock and two smoking bean-counters to a large infrastructure project. The finances, the practical resource capacity and the consent/appreciation of iwi were noticeably absent...but on he went, missing only a kilt and a sword.

The outcome was, without going in to al that much detail, that precious little environmental mitigation could be demanded from the orchestrator of the actual project. The costs and benefits barely fell even, and any mention of offsetting of the potentially serious adverse environmental and cultural effects fell on deaf ears. The gateway tests of the relevant legislation somewhat overthrown by a dictatorial attitude and a pocket full of clipped responses.

No muppets rule...jolly good idea methinks...

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

a perpetual notion

I've often thought that the commitment to taking a stand for nature must be about the most noble thing you can do. This is because not only are you providing a voice for something which cannot speak for itself but, unlike human assistance, there is no prospect of it ever having a the commitment is perpetual. Whether or not that viewpoint sticks with the mainstream is besides the point I guess, but it makes sense in my head.

It did strike me as being of particular consequence these past two days. Clocking 12 hours in the council file room damn near drove me bananas, so I was very glad to be out on the road, enjoying the supreme Far North weather and chatting to actual people instead of mumbling discontentedly at chaotic files. I visited four large sites, subdivisions of coastal land which would appear to be the development style of choice in these parts.

The one thing they all had in common were assets of public significance wholly contained on the site. All had sites of Maori significance, 3 removed part of public access to coastline, 3 had significant tracts of endangered species habitat (kiwi mainly) and one in particular had some seriously critical sites of early European occupation on them.

In the case of some of the sites, it would seem a shame that they had ever been let to fall in the hands of private owners anyway. Some had been demonstrably degraded as a result (at least historically) and I guess we'll never know what had been lost in the intervening decades. Overall though, I was pleased to see that, without exception, the identified sites were beautifully maintained and clearly appreciated by their current owners. Probably, it's fair to say, to a higher stand than many in Crown ownership.

So I am hesitant to openly lament their private ownership status, but one does worry over intergenerational timescales what will become of them. Land ownership will inevitably change, if not over years, then certainly over decades. Covenants and titles are perpetual in effect, but is the will and the enthusiasm of the owners named on them? I suppose my grandchildren will find out....

Musings aside, I've loved my few hectic days in the Far North....whizzing around in the windom....and tomorrow I trudge a little further south to the town of my birth, Whangarei (which may well struggle to match the beauty of the Bay of Islands) and continue this marathon research effort which is only just warming up....

Sunday, October 3, 2010

how eco is my development?

Any delusions that this trip might be a loosely disguised junket were categorically dismissed today, as I spent near-on five hours reading through a single application for development. Field research is always a steep learning curve in the early days in particular and today is no different...

In the interests of professionalism I dressed as a typical bureaucrat today, and spent the day fussing in a meeting room just off the foyer to council offices. In a collared shirt and dress trousers I fitted in comfortably with the swarm of local government bods buzzing around the premises. This turned to be somewhat negative as the odd aggrieved member of the public zeroed in on me. It came to pass that them not having recieved their CCC (building completion certificate) even after the plumber made a 'special trip' to fix the 'pipe' was entirely my fault. Today I learned that if you're a research student, dress like one and plead ignorance at any and all opportunity....

I've realised that animals and humans aren't all that different...we all function and behave better when there's a reward at the end. The way my fieldwork is structured means I plow through metric tons of documents, photocopy the slivers of paper that I actually need from the mountain and then skip off into the Far North spring to find/see the actual site where it happened (in like, real life!). Am glad it's structured that way...I fear if it were the reverse it just wouldn't work. The exit from the meeting room full of teetering piles of consent documentation would be one-way and the PhD would be further away in the end than in the beginning...

The range of developments is vast....the extent to which their designers are congnizant of environmental values is equally varied...but they all have one thing in common....they are all 'ecologically sensitive'. Well, at least so the application says. A miniscule few probably really qualify for the title, but the term is so calmly thrown around. It makes me think that a statutory definition of the term is probably necessary, so that those who strip every slope of the hundred acre lot of everything down to clay, dont claim the same as those who carefully set aside significant habitat and modify the rest with appropriate kid gloves...

But helter skelter, they seem to troop all over this region...leaving swathes of coastal forest chipped up in their wake, all claiming to be the next green Trump. The only thing green in most cases is the logo of the cheesily-named and likely quite ephemeral company in charge of the whole shooting match. However, all is not lost...a few green stalwarts do exist Im pleased to note, and once I wriggle out of the file room tomorrow I get to put foot to pasture and see them for myself....

Saturday, September 25, 2010

fail to plan....plan to fail

It's said that an hour of preparation for field work slices off several hours in the field. On that basis, I'm riding time savings in the weeks already. The logistics of this field research are complex and really rather challenging.

Trying to get me, case files, the appropriate council officers, landowners, weather and several other variables to positively converge on small windows of time (16 at least over 2.5 months) demands almost militaritic precision in planning.

However, the round eternal of labelling files and printing emailed information for those scary times when internet access and power connections for the laptop will not be accessible continues to gobble up most waking hours at this point. One week out from leaving, the perfectionist in me is not near-ready...and the laissez-faire hippy is nowhere to be found.

The first stop is beautiful Kerikeri, home of the delectable export quality orange and an area where coastal development has forever changed the division of land and sea. I look forward to having a good excuse to amble along South Pacific beaches and to enjoy what is likely to be the warmest leg (relatively speaking) of the journey.

The lovely climate of the Far North is likely to be elusive however so the car is being progressively stocked with enough raincoats, tarps, gaitors, boots, plastic sheets, bags and umbrellas to carefully safeguard a small Pacific nation from the scourge that is rainwater.

Now, best I get back to the labelling, the packing, the mapping, the planning and a not insignificant amount of fretting as the date of departure looms ever closer...

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

...a doctoral kind of magic....

...shortly I will venture off around New Zealand for a programme of thrilling field work. My lack of time and all that much internet access has lead me to set up this blog, to keep those that care informed of my exciting adventures...

Clipboard in hand, I get to trundle round Aotearoa looking at the outcomes of environmental planning. I obviously can't disclose the sites, but I'm betting there will be plenty of hilarity along the way to share with everyone...

Formal research doesnt start for a month or so, so there wont be much happening until then. But once I get out into the field, I'll keep the punters posted every few days as I roam our amazing archipelago....