Debate surrounding the protection of native ecosystems in the modern world often brings a vast array of stakeholders together with differing views and motivations regarding native areas and their perceived value in contemporary society. Should native areas be preserved for future generations at the risk of impeding economic activity or is there a more important reason?
The natural world provides the human race with the sustenance it needs to exist, from its complex intertwined network of systems we receive; food, fuel, water, oxygen, and also medicine. Many major medicines have been derived from trees and plants, including birth control and painkillers.
An example of someone accessing natural medicine in a modern setting is that of Golden Bay farmer, Peter Butler. After several seasons of unprofitable kiwifruit crops Peter began researching about medicinal herbs, many commercially available were from Europe and North America, he was interested in native plants and their potential benefits.
He found his answer when researching and sighting a 1982 University of Canterbury paper which discussed the benefits of native Horopito (Pseudowintera colorata) having strong antifungal properties and even out performing some pharmaceutical products against the yeast Candida albicans – a common cause of everyday human fungal infections.
Maori would chew the leaves to combat toothache and it was a vital ingredient in pre European skin complaint treatments. Early Europeans would also brew the leaves into a tea to relieve stomach discomfort.
Fast forward 40 years and Peter has a commercial plantation of 30,000 Horopito plants, several Horopito based products and exports to 10 countries.
Peter’s success story wouldn’t have been possible if native plants and forests no longer existed, with developing technologies and further understanding many more secrets could be hiding in the forests of New Zealand, I for one think that is reason enough to consider preservation.
By Craig Pervan