Dunedin Happenings

Dunedin Happenings

By Maureen Howard

It’s not renowned for its balmy winters, but Dunedin is a hot place to live if you’re keen on sustainability and environmental initiatives.

I’ve often wondered why that is. Certainly, we’re lucky here to have creative energy from the University of Otago and a growing number of academics willing to vacate their ivory towers and take to the streets to motivate the wider community and lobby government.  Examples that pop into my head include Professor Liz Slooton who tireless lobbies to protect endemic Hectors Dolphins that frolic in dwindling numbers at Warrington Beach, Sir Alan Mark protecting our tussock lands that feed clean water to the city and protect alpine habitat, Senior Lecturer Alex Macmillan who promotes healthy low carbon forms of transport across the city, Dr Bob Lloyd who frightens us with the grim science of climate change to spur us to collective action, and Dr Janet Stephenson, head of the productive Centre for Sustainability that spawns many research projects.  These are just a few. It is so good to see more scientists speaking out to protect our environment.

But what I love most is the variety of grassroots action across the city. We’ve got groups like Oil Free Otago protecting our oceans against the ongoing threat of deep-sea oil and gas exploration and drilling that regularly rears its head here. Blueskin Resilient Communities Trust warming our houses for cold winters, and introducing a pioneering community networked power-sharing scheme called BEN. Valley Community Workspace where we can go fix our bikes, convert our gas-guzzling cars to electric, buy or convert electric bikes, build with 3D printers and more. XR Dunedin is one of the latest groups to join the list. Full of energy, they meet weekly with a mission of non-violent action to fight biodiversity loss and climate change.

Focusing on food, Our Food Network is a community-based organisation that promotes local food production, especially encouraging backyard growing. They’re currently planning to restart a Seed Savers Network for the city with Bart Acres. Community gardens continue to slowly spread roots across the city – NEV Community Gardens, Dalmore Community Gardens, Transition Valley 473 Open Orchard, Shetland Street Community Gardens  - and many of the schools who have their own community gardens. 

Dunedin also has some humans fired up about permaculture and organics. Peta Hudson is a stalwart permaculturist who has run PDCs in the past and now grows food on the challenging sandy soils of Harwood on the Otago Peninsula. Jason Ross, our fruit tree specialist and owner of Habitate Nursery, sells a wonderful variety of heritage pip fruits local to the region. Rory Harding of George Street Orchard, is forever pushing the boundaries of what is thought possible to grow in Dunedin’s climatic conditions – such as persimmins, grape, fig, kiwi. And other less common plants e.g. Japanese myoga ginger, Haskap berries and Marionberry. With climate change on our doorstep, I believe Rory’s explorations into diverse food species will become invaluable. And of course we have resident Philippa Jamieson, Editor of Organic NZ, with her finger on the pulse for what is happening with organic food production across New Zealand. 


These are just some of the people and groups applying small and local solutions to big global problems, employing the creativity that’s inherent to a permaculture approach to living. 

My apologies if I haven’t mentioned you or your group!

Closer to home in my own life (Zone 0), I have the good fortune to be involved with activities where I meet ordinary people doing extraordinary things to make our planet a more sustainable and socially just one. 

I host Eco Living in Action, a weekly radio show on the community station Otago Access Radio (www.oar.org.nz).  Here’s a trip through some recent previous shows. 


My other passion for the moment is writing for Resilient, an occasional insert in the Otago Daily Times that addresses the environmental and sustainability issues we face in a way that is positive and promotes resilient action (we hope!).  The exciting thing about this publication is its reach – as well as online, it goes out to everyone who subscribes to the Saturday publication of the ODT. Editor, Tom McKinlay, is the driver behind it, with input from a small community-based advisory group. 


Finally, I’ve started a small sustainability and environmental education and communications service called Treedom NZ where I write and run workshops. My next project is an article on natural native forest regeneration. Something for Zone 5! It’s all about working with nature.  www.treedom.nz