Rob Butcher: The answers lie in the soil

By Rob Butcher

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This Whiteywood (Melicitus ramiflorus) tree stump is the remains of a tree that was cut down a few years ago because it was close to overhead lines. The steep slope below the stump has started to slip away. Mr Butcher has recently planted the Flaxes (visible in picture) to try and stop a major slip occurring.
This Whiteywood (Melicitus ramiflorus) tree stump is the remains of a tree that was cut down a few years ago because it was close to overhead lines. The steep slope below the stump has started to slip away. Mr Butcher has recently planted the Flaxes (visible in picture) to try and stop a major slip occurring.

Edward O. Wilson is the legendary biologist, famous for making us aware of the "square foot of soil" beneath our feet.

He says for instance: "In a pinch of soil, about a gram in weight, live millions of bacteria most of them unknown to science."

So what has this to do with Whanganui and conservation?

Every time we get heavy rain in our catchment and our river turns muddy yellow, I believe it is carrying many of these square feet of once vital life into our Whanganui River.

I am concerned because I once noticed that flounder were throwing themselves on to the bank of the Whanganui River Estuary to die.

The Chronicle next day said this happened whenever the river started to turn muddy after heavy rain, which puzzled me because this large, intelligent fish normally lives in mud.

Surely we need to know exactly what this toxic yellow liquid is.

The current dispute with Horizons, concerning the feedlots bordering the Rangitikei River where thousands of square feet of soil have been squished to oblivion, is also typical of how we have treated the soil since humans first set foot in this unique little continent.

We have slashed and burned and wiped out what nature had evolved over millions of years.

We have introduced goats, sheep, cattle, pigs and deer from an alien habitat to a fragile unique environment that had no heavy mammals at all.

We have used heavy machinery to build roads like the Parapara that bleed into our rivers every time it rains heavily.

In January 2012 and June 2015 on my lifestyle block, I had two major slips that inundated my land with thousands of tons of mud from the hill above.

Much of this became yellow, muddy liquid, washing down the gutters and into the river.

Horizons has its One Plan that is supposed to control this situation but it is fighting 150 years of human greed and ignorance and government backed economic fantasies.

Mother Nature is the real master we must answer too; this means scientific research to decide what we must and must not do.

School curriculums should include on-site studies of erosion control. We need a science-led total re-education of all landowners and contractors working in our catchment area.

Horizons seems to be making good moves towards this goal but can only succeed with our help and willingness to listen, learn and perhaps question.

The welfare of each square foot of soil in our catchment area and the health of our river are of vital importance to our future in Whanganui.

- Rob Butcher is a retired engineer, beekeeper and conservationist of Aramoho.

- Wanganui Chronicle

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