A dawn chorus, for Forest & Bird

In which I introduce myself to Forest & Bird ... but since it all started here on Pundit, here's the scoop ...

My mother emailed me about the Forest & Bird ‘Bird of the Year’ competition. “I voted for the Fairy Tern,” it said.

“Was that the little lady so cleverly disguised as shells?”

“Yes,” came back her reply, “and she didn’t have many votes”.

A short correspondence, in which my mother explains, in a handful of words, why she is a conservationist.

Accounting is her job; she has a leafy shady garden, through which a weka wanders, from the kiwi reserve at the back. In winter, she feeds the birds. We have never discussed this, she and I. But in her bones, and in her heart, I think she is a conservationist.

I felt, instantly, that I was not a conservationist; I was a fraud. I myself had treated the Forest & Bird ‘Bird of the Year’ competition like a cheap vox pop.

Often a fantail, erm … fan? … last year I voted for the morepork, because one had woken me up. I remember that I smiled, before I went back to sleep. Moonlit, my garden looked pretty enough, my sycamore trees impressive enough, for a small owl to stop and say hello, and I gave it my vote of thanks.

I am a gardener. I like to grow food. Better, I like to eat quite a lot of food, having grown it first. There is no more delicious kind. I do not like to mow the lawn. Big trees fill me with every good feeling: awe, and peace, and joy. I think I would live in a forest, if I could. I live in a town garden, that is shaggy round the edges.

Impractically -- I am often this -- I would like to be buried under a wild apple tree, beside a running stream. The tree would blossom in spring time, fruit in autumn, feed birds in the winter.

Until then, I want to make a garden that is pretty, and fruitful, and alive.

Kereru come to my plum trees in spring, fantails in the winter. Today, writing this at home, I am being kept company by a collective noun -- a flirt? -- of silvereyes. I am a friend of hedgehogs. Ever since I moved into this house, there has been one or other of them living beneath it; the last one I pricked my fingers on was, literally, snoring, inside a bale of barley straw. They snuffle round on summer nights, minding their business, and my own: hedgehogs eat snails, in my garden, what else they may do in the bush I do not care. The bush is far from here. There are herbs for the bees -- bog sage and thyme -- and butterfly food: buddleia and, prosaically, stinging nettles.

I want soil full of worms, and carbon. And trees, breathing.

This is conservation, too.

Forest & Bird has a new conservation idea. It wants to bring conservation beyond “conservation lands”. All lands should make space for this. We could live conservation, not just do it.

Not infrequently I am asked, by people making gardening conversation, whether I grow natives here. For the most part, I do not. Well, I told you, I am a fraud. But here is my defence.

Conservation, in the end, in many ways, is about treading more lightly, leaving more space. I know my food’s footprint, when I grew it. It is the same as mine. My garden will be a food forest, and somewhere else, another piece of forest survives.

This is probably the first and last time I will twitter on about my garden, here at Forest & Bird. But I wanted to start by telling you why I do, why I find it imperative that every one should have a garden, that feeds them, body and soul.

Because that’s where it started for me, with one small, liberating idea. I had bought a house. I thought, “I can make a compost heap”. I could have made a compost heap anywhere. I wanted to do it here.

And so it goes, from micro to macro level, from local to global. A garden, for the ages, needs a climate in which it can grow. A new climate needs new economics: it is growth that must stop, for conservation, of which emissions are only one part. It makes no sense to be kind to nature, at home in your back yard, and not to people too, out in the real world. In the end, what makes a productive healthy garden makes a productive healthy world. An environmentalist is just a gardener, on a global scale.