Trees to Tussocks
Standing here among the grassy tussocks looking out at mountains and lakes and a beautiful sunrise it definitely felt like we were in the middle of an epic wilderness. But actually, this is a man-made landscape and is a long way from what I would call a true wilderness. In the 1800s sheep farming really took off in the South Island of New Zealand with large numbers of English and Scottish people arriving. This quickly turned the native forests into grassy fields, which is exactly what happened here, in the mountains surrounding Wanaka.
New Zealand probably had about 90% forest cover before humans arrived about 800 years ago. Today it only has 30%. That sounds pretty bad but actually on a global scale its an incredible amount of native woodland coverage. Europe and the Americas have taken a much bigger hit. Ireland, where I’m from, once had >95% forest cover but now we’re done to 11% with only 1% being actually native woodland (the other 10% is commercial confer plantation). The agricultural lands, bogs and commercial forestry that has replaced the native forests of the world have much lower biodiversity and are far worse at storing carbon dioxide.
So these tussock landscapes in New Zealand’s mountain ranges and the vast bogs in the middle of Ireland may seem like very wild places, but in truth, they are highly modified and man-made ecosystems.