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Our Environment: Issue 22 Autumn 2000

Our Environment: Christchurch City Council's Environmental Newsletter

Balance of natives and exotics wanted in City

Many Christchurch residents want to see a balance between native and exotic vegetation in the City, according to a Landcare Research study.

However they had no clear view what this "balance" might look like, Margaret Kilvington and Roger Wilkinson said in their report  Community Attitudes to Vegetation in the Environment: A Christchurch Case Study.

Discussions with eight City focus groups revealed wide ranging and often conflicting views. One reason for this was that people considered plantings in social and cultural terms at least  as much as in ecological terms, said the researchers. Barriers to restoration initiatives were largely ones of awareness, understanding and cultural identity.

Cabbage treeThe study explored potential social issues likely to be confronted by those wanting to increase native planting in urban areas to enhance biodiversity. Kilvington and Wilkinson noted that local authorities, including Christchurch, were changing landscapes on the basis of their legal responsibilities and their understanding of functional and ecological benefits.

"Difficulties can arise, as has been evident in Christchurch, where this action moves ahead of the general understanding and consequently the support of local residents."

This resistance was evident in focus groups where a number of people opposed the idea that new vegetation planted in Christchurch should be predominantly native. Negative comments were largely based on aesthetics – "natives lack colour" and they are "ugly brown and fluffy". Others accused the Council of "political correctness" and "we shouldn’t allow natives as the in thing". Other participants made positive comments on the recent replanting of natives on river margins throughout the City – "the river banks that have been planted with natives still look tidy but more natural than mown grass". One member said "we need native plants – we are the only ones that have them". Another with similar sentiments added "people plant for prettiness instead of history or meaningfulness".

The researchers concluded that more knowledge of the ecological significance of restoration might win some converts but it was unlikely to affect entrenched issues of cultural identity. This highlighted the importance of drawing restoration projects into general City design, which avoided emphasising the debate regarding natives and exotics."

Local authorities clearly needed to be proactive in seeking public involvement, said Kilvington and Wilkinson. This could be achieved through harnessing:

  • people’s heritage values;
  • personal identification with key vegetation types and localities;
  • desire for ownership and control of local environments; and
  • concern for the future.

The Council needed to build successful partnerships with the community in the planning and undertaking of restoration initiatives, and to lead by example. Many comments about liking both native and exotic plants, and not wanting all natives or all exotics came from the  Nottingham Stream Group, which has been involved in a Council-sponsored restoration project.

Most focus groups saw restoration projects as being of less value than the existing  vegetation of Riccarton Bush. Many people did not like a native garden photograph, seeing it as being constructed, but not with "garden types" of vegetation. According to the researchers, this suggested that people may see native vegetation as more suitable for wild areas around the City, rather than formal plantings.

Jennie Hamilton

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