Aotearoa: the land of the long dying fern

The truth is New Zealanders should care more about ferns.

I know they appear to want to stick one on their flag, a silver one at that? As if it is somehow truly precious to them, like a metal, or a pint of milk or an All Black! But that does not mean they care about real ferns, the ones that grow in the ground.

If it is evidence you seek for the countries disregard for all things pteridophyte, then I can help. For a start, it was only three years ago that New Zealand abolished laws protecting urban trees unless scheduled and notable. Tree ferns such as the majestic mamaku, the sporting silver fern and the architectural wheki-ponga can now be chopped, rubbed out and forgotten from all towns the length of the country. It is rare that such species are deemed notable, unless sitting atop a sportsman’s chest. New Zealand does care for some trees, judging by social media activity. The kauri, for instance, that helped build Auckland to be the city it now is, recently became the subject of an extraordinary campaign when a landowner decided to chop one down, on his own property. There are few meaningful campaigns, meanwhile, for the poor ferns!

But this environmental campaigning usually only goes so far as an outraged, middle-class, Saturday evening dinner discourse rather than a full on hikoi-inducing, righteous and resounding rebuttal of government attitudes towards the environment (which includes trees, which includes ferns!)

Secondly, there is the case of an open cast mine on the West Coast of South Island (yes, Huffington Post, it does exist). This was an opportunity to protect part of a reserve (or stewardship, whatever that means), containing two species of fern (both umbrella ferns – the silky fan fern and Sticherus urceolatus) classified as critically endangered. About as close to extinction as a species can be. I believe even the Environment Court ruled in favour of destroying the ferns. The subsequent mine will destroy the home of rare snails, kiwi, and, of course, the ferns. A ‘disaster for nature’ as the Royal Forest and Bird Society called it!

Irreversible loss is harder to convey on a flag. But that is probably what should be front and centre.

Thirdly, there are ten species of fern on the verge of extinction from New Zealand. Two of these (the Poor Knights spleenwort and the Banks Peninsula fork fern) are only found there in the wilds of Aotearoa – losing them would mean another global loss to add to the roll call of extinction that is the Anthropocene. These are no Cecil the lion, or British hen harriers. But they are more symbols of our collective disregard for nature and a challenge for anyone that cares for our planet’s biological diversity.

You probably can’t handle the truth, so stick a fern on your flag.


Poor Knights Spleenwort (Asplenium pauperequitum) – a threatened fern on the Chatham Islands.

This entry was published on September 4, 2015 at 5:54 pm. It’s filed under Castles and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

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