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Wading into improving our environment

Swapping the Mayoral chambers for gumboots and an eTuatara electric 4WD, former Wellington Mayor Celia Wade-Brown now spends most days restoring a block of Wairarapa land back to its natural state.

Wade-Brown bought a 200-hectare sheep and beef farm in the foothills of the Tararua Ranges back in 1987 and got to work, first removing the stock and then letting nature take its course.

“One of the first things to come back is the manuka and some kanuka,” Wade-Brown says.

“Then it’s a bit slower on the more exposed bits of grass, and then I’m hurrying things up a bit.”

A propagating nursery has recently sped up the regeneration of – among other native plants – kowhai, kotukutuku, and puawhananga.

Originally from England, Wade-Brown found it quite a challenge adjusting to southern hemisphere flora and fauna.

“Standing in the New Zealand bush, it smelt different to the English forests and I just stood there and thought ‘I don’t know a single one of these plants’,” she says.

“So I’ve really enjoyed learning about the different plants and the Maori history, Maori names and their Latin and English names.”

With native trees gradually coming back on the property, Wade-Brown has set her sights on eradicating the pests that are decimating indigenous animals. Using 130 traps, more than 2000 predators have been removed so far.

“We’ve been catching lots of weasels, rats, one or two ferrets, and quite a few stoats,” Wade-Brown says.

“They all prey, not just on birds, but also on the lizards. And I’m very keen on the lizards that live in this place. We’ve got about four different kinds.”

Following the old railway track running along her property that once used to carry out felled logs, Wade-Brown has situated a modest cottage, taking off-grid living to the limit.

“For a few summers, we just camped here and then decided we were going to build a little cabin. We decided we’d go into the furthest corner because otherwise, we’d never get there, and we thought it would be safe from people burgling!”

Off the tuatara, it’s a short walk through the bush to Wade-Brown’s rustic cottage. Built entirely from scratch, the one-bedroom home gives a commanding view of the Mangatarere Valley and the foothills of the Tararua Ranges.

Inside it is soon apparent that Wade-Brown’s love of nature and fascination for reptiles is off the scale. Reptile art abounds on walls and surfaces, and she even has a trinket box holding a treasured collection of lizard skins found around the property.

“As geckos grow – or any lizard grows – they shed their skin,” she explains.

“I call it their pyjamas and they shed it just like one cell thick. And every gecko has got a slightly different pattern on it. The whole thing comes off like a onesie.

“Mice will get smaller lizards and geckos, and certainly weasels will. I did the dissection of a weasel and it had the little feet of the skinks in its stomach, which is really tragic.”

Wade-Brown knows she is fortunate to have a block of land on which she can do her bit for nature, but people without land – or the time to create their own biodiverse slice of paradise – still have a role to play.

“Neoliberalism and capitalism somehow pulled us away, made us think that the theories of economic growth were more important than the theories of ecology,” she says.

“We have to actually change habits quite quickly if we’re not going to end up with more disasters.

“We need to do quite a lot – and we need to do it everywhere, and everything all at once, is the conservation message.”

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