Kopua (near Norsewood/Dannevirke) is the site of a Catholic Cistercian Monastery. Founded in 1954, today the monastic community has about 10 monks (and 4 companions who assist in hosting the 700 or so guests, who visit each year. Surrounding the grounds and buildings is around 12 hectares of native bush.
Cistercians follow the Rule of Benedict very closely. The Cistercian charism and the Rule of Benedict value stability which mean that the place where you live is treasured and is where you commit for the rest of your life with the people who occupy that place. Other Cistercian values include physical work, hospitality and creating a balance in your everyday life with work ,recreation, prayer and action.
I belong to a group of Associates of Kopua Monastery who find in the Cistercian charism a treasure that can be integrated into our own lives that helps us to provide that life balance. Our group is made up of mainly Anglican and Catholic members. Many associates also take an interest in conservation in their own local neighbourhoods –and view Kopua as a sacred place.
How does biodiversity link with climate change and Cistercians?
Pope Francis recently said, “God always forgives; humans sometimes forgive; nature never forgives.” and the context of a publication called The Coronavirus-Mirror of Beliefs–was the view– “that the Laws of Nature must be studied, if we are to advance towards a healthier humanity and a more sustainable natural environment.” We know that the scientific community are “using the laws of nature in order to find medicines and vaccines against Covid 19.” The United Nations Environmental Programme stated that the following human actions, are the principal origins of various viruses (like Covid 19) that affects one animal which in turn then transfers to another species deforestation, careless handling of wildlife and climate change.
Recent North American studies have also indicated that an environment rich in biodiversity is more resilient to climate change events. This was true of prairies (with a wide variety of species) in the Americas, but we don’t need to go further than our own country with the recent disaster with exotic pine slash on NZ beaches.
12th Century Cistercian St Bernard of Clairvaux also wrote “One learns more in the forest than in books. The trees and rocks will teach you things you will not hear elsewhere.” (Letter 101 to Abbot Henri Murdach)
So respecting biodiversity help us understand the laws of nature and gives us insights into the nature of our creator.
Early History of Kopua
The term ‘Kōpua’ is associated with “deep water pools” and one account is said to have been given to the area during the time of Tarawhata (sometimes referred to as Whata) who fished for eels there and lived about five centuries ago. Tarawhata who as an earlier traveller through the area with his dog Mahurangi was responsible for several local names such as ‘Te Whiti a Tara’ and ‘Rākautātahi’. There were numerous settlements along the Manawatū river from its source, and some in outlying areas whose resident hapū had strong links to Rangitāne.
In 1895 Mark Twain travelled by train passing through Kopua and entering the- the densest podocarp rainforest eco-system in the world. The abbey sits at the northern edge of this great forest described as a cathedral by those passing through on foot. It was home of the Huia.
On Monday December 2nd 1895 Mark Twain and his party left Napier and travelled to Palmerston North “not far short of 13 miles an hour.” past the end of Kopua Road. His diary records, ” A perfect summer day: cool breeze, brilliant sky, rich vegetation..we saw wonderfully dense and beautiful forests, tumultuously piled skyward…sometimes these towering upheavals were festooned and garlanded with vine-cables..and cocooned in another sort of vine of a delicate cobwebby texture..”.supplejack” i think. Tree ferns everywhere -a stem fifteen feet high, with a graceful chalice of fern-fronds sprouting from its top-a lovely forest ornament..there was a ten foot reed with a flowing suit of what looked like yellow hair hanging from its upper end..”
In 1991 Doc commissioned Dr John Findlay to visit bush remnants of private land in the Tararua area. He rated this bush remnant to have the highest conservation rating of 1 due its representative nature of the habitat and diversity and viability.
Cistercian Traditions and their environmental inspiration
In an article in Cistercian Studies Quarterly Volume 37.2 (2002) by Jame Schaefer. She comments on a 12th century description of the site and surroundings of Clairvaux (Clear view) abbey. The description was attributed to St Bernard by Dom John Mabillon (1623-1707), but if not St Bernard a “Cistercian in spirit, who was intimate with the site and surroundings”.
It is a charming and poetic description of how the monks interact, connect and benefit from features of the natural world such as trees, water, animals, wildlife, and air that assures their mutual wellbeing. The author appreciates: the ..river for providing a setting in which the fish can swim, the trees for preventing the earth from crumbling…the tree branches for serving as perches for the singing birds ,..the cooperation of the river when “lending” the monks the water they need…, the therapeutic services offered to the sick .. by ..the shade trees, birds and fish, and the meadows that cooperate by soothing their weary minds and relieving anxieties, and the author appreciated the monks cooperation with the ground with (oak) trees by digging up the roots of other plants that were thought to impede the tree’s growth. All the sites natural components were perceived as a means through which God’s presence was experienced and God’s goodness affirmed with explicit expressions of deep gratitude. “Appreciation, respect and gratitude were hall marks of a fitting response to the Clairvaux site that flowed from faith in God.” This Benedictine commitment to stability (ie. This people and this place will be my people and my place for my entire life.) and the Cistercian notion of being “lovers of the place” in a spirit of “Grateful Cooperation with nature (including the indigenous wildlife and habitat)”. The deep Cistercian appreciation of God as Creator, Sustainer and Empowerer of all creation is obvious in the article. This view can also resonate with those familiar with Te Ao Maori and Pa Henare Tate’s – “te tapu o te whenua in its twofold relationship with Atua and with tangata.”
From Cistercian Abbeys: history and architecture by J.F. LeRoux-Dhuys. Pg 104
“The demographic explosion of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries ravaged the environment of medieval Europe, destroying thousands of acres of woodland through excessive deforestation, and polluting rivers. The Cistercians deserve credit for playing no part in this devastation. Their use of watercourses and their efforts to keep the abbeys hygienic are well known. Less well known is the continual care they took not to destroy their forests.
Rather than deforesting their land to increase the amount of cultivable land, they systematically set about improving heaths and wasteland, and …the monks were more land improvers than woodcutters.
Most importantly, they set up a system of forestry management…Today the sites of the majority of Cistercian abbeys are still surrounded by forests. They are the heritage of a system that respected the wooded environment.”
I think the way Maori and the early Cistercians work in Grateful Cooperation with nature can inspire our efforts to assist the monastic community to restore the Kopua habitat and the places where we live in the light of the current ecological plight.
What are we doing now?
Last year the Kopua Associate community celebrated its 20th year since forming and we decided to “give something back to the monastery” .
We applied to the Manawatu River Leadership Accord for funding to begin to restore a wetland habitat and develop a pest trapline. Stephen Close and I were successful. So we now have a trapline around much of the habitat. This trapline has been designed by Graeme Dickson an experienced trapline designer and it is bringing an abundance of wildlife back to the habitat. Those living at Kopua have commented on the greater number of native birds and the arrival of birds not seen before. Regular guests have commented on hearing morepork for the first time since visiting the guesthouse for some years.
An indicator species we are using is the puriri moth once seen in abundance. One was seen last spring. It was attracted to the light of the old guesthouse however it was taken by a morepork under the veranda by the dining room.
At Matariki last year we had 43 volunteers assisting with the planting of 1000 native trees. Groups came from Wellington and Hokianga to help even though the monastery guesthouse was still closed. A Rocha is an International Christian Environmental Movement with many groups in New Zealand. A Rocha Wellington planted a southern hillside overlooking the wetland and parishioners from St Josephs in Dannevirke and the Hokianga Catholic Parish group led by Father Maliu and his sister Sessi, planted the western hillside.
A small group, Stephen Close (Kopua Associate), Norm Mangnall, Leonie Salisbury – all parishioners from Palmerston North’s all Saints Anglican community have supported all the working bees. This group have been supported by other associates (Hazel Wyatt, Laura Holcroft and Andre). and now also a strong group from Dannevirke including Steve Munday, Greg Wyatt, Troy Archer and Nick Vella.
Over this summer we have begun clearing a heavily infested paddock of blackberry. We intend to plant this area as a Memorial Forest to Suzanne Aubert next year. She had visited the area several times as her godson Sydney Johnsons lived nearby up the road from Kopua.
One associate Neil Stiles described “Kopua..an oasis of biodiversity in a desert of farmland.” We hope to protect and restore the Kopua habitat by applying the early Cistercian notion of “grateful cooperation with nature” as Suzanne Aubert did with her Maori advisers.
We can learn from each other and apply the principle to our own neighbourhoods. I have four suggestions to grow this effort.
In two hundred years we would like future generations to experience the sorts of native bush that Mark Twain described in 1895.
“rich vegetation…wonderfully dense and beautiful forests, tumultuously piled skyward…sometimes these towering upheavals were festooned and garlanded with vine-cables..and cocooned in another sort of vine of a delicate cobwebby texture..”.supplejack” Tree ferns everywhere -a stem fifteen feet high, with a graceful chalice of fern-fronds sprouting from its top-a lovely forest ornament..there was a ten foot reed with a flowing suit of what looked like yellow hair hanging from its upper end..”
Ko Helen Denny te waka Ko Ruahine te maunga Ko Manawatu te awa
Ko Pounamu Park te whare Ko celts ko scandi nga iwi Ko Stone ko McLean toku hapu
Ko Dannevirke Stones toku whanau Ko John ko Mere oku matua Ko Lee-Anne toku hoa wahine
Ko Emily ko Teresa oku tuahine Ko Mike toku ingoa
Member of National Wildlife Centre Trust 1990-2003
Trustee of Awahuri Forest Kitchener Park Trust 2019-2023
Four ways to help at the Kopua Habitat restoration?
Donation. If you wish to support this effort, the Southern Star Abbey account is: 06 0613 0037092 18 Please include in on-line details habitat restoration donation and whether you wish a tax receipt as The Trust Board of the Cistercian Order in New Zealand is a registered Charitable Trust No. CC34196.
Help out at working bees.
2023 Kopua Habitat Restoration Working Bees.
The next working bee will be on April 1st clearing areas of weed and potting young plants on tracks to resite later in winter, etc etc . later in 2023.
King’s Birthday, June 2 -5 (Arriving Friday night). King’s Birthday is Monday June 5
Matariki, July 13-16 (Arriving Thursday night) Matariki is Friday 14 July.
2024 Kopua Habitat Restoration Working Bee
There will be working bees every two months over spring, summer, autumn (November, January, March, May) preparing for a large group planting over Kings Birthday Weekend and Matariki 2024.
King’s Birthday, 1st -3rd June Sat-Mon (Arriving on Friday night). King’s Birthday is Monday 3rd June
Matariki, 27th-30th June Thurs-Sun (Arriving on Thursday night). Matariki is the 28th of June, Friday.
Join a roster to check traps and rebait once a month, following appropriate training.
We have produced a book on the methods and the rationale for the tools we use to restore native wildlife abundance at Kopua.
Register to receive regular email newsletters and share the information with others who may wish to assist in some ways. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to register.
More information available from:
www.kopuacistercianassociates.nz check– Kopua -the place.
Global Biodiversity Information Facility at gbif.org
An international network and data infrastructure funded by the worlds governments and aimed at providing anyone, anywhere open access to data about all types of life on earth.
Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment pce.parliament.nz
Mike Stone at email@example.com