Taita’s soil research legacy
‘‘Don’t treat soils like dirt!’’ was the catch-cry often heard at the Soil Bureau in Taita.
Former staff recently held a reunion and Helen Kettles, who helped organise it, said it was a great success, and a reminder of the world leading research that once went on in Taita.
At its peak, there were more than 100 scientists and support staff.
It carried out leading-edge research, studying everything from how soils behave in earthquakes to dealing with the effluent created by cows.
In 1992, it was restructured and became part of Landcare, a Crown Research Institute.
For many of the attendees, it was the first time they had caught up with each other since the restructure.
Kettles was involved in a number of research projects, including finding a way to deal with the effluent produced in milking sheds.
The team she was part of researched spraying the effluent onto pasture with different soil types. This is now a standard practice for farmers to utilise the nutrients and protect waterways.
The Taita site was chosen because of the number of diverse catchments, which allowed them to study native bush, exotic for- estry and pasture.
Their data formed the basis of current models relating to landuse effects and climate change in New Zealand.
Soil was used to monitor the impact of French nuclear testing in the Pacific.
Their Orongorongo Field Station carried out research on the control of introduced pests, including possums, and is the basis for Predator Free NZ movement.
Kettles remembered her time at the bureau fondly and said it had a family feel to it.
Her strongest memory was of the far-reaching impact of the research carried out.
Its reputation spread internationally and a number of scientists, such as Bob Brockie and John Flux, remained influential.
Flux was one of the attendees and now lives in Lower Hutt. He continues to research the impact of domestic wildlife.
‘‘He is just incredible. He has amazing knowledge. ‘‘
The history of the bureau dates back to the early 1930s, when bush sickness in cows was a major problem.
Scientists Leslie Issott Grigg and Norman Taylor discovered cows were becoming sick in the central North Island due to cobalt deficiency.
Providing a cobalt enriched cats on native salt lick opened up large tracks of land for farming.
At the 50th reunion, in 1980, the Director-General of DSIR said they were ‘‘rugged individualists and innovators; dedicated, hardworking scientists; field rather than laboratory’’ people.
Their former facility, next to Taita College, is now used by the Learning Connexion which teaches art.
Reunion attendees were pleased to see the buildings being so well cared for.
Many original fixtures remain and some of the old laboratory benches have been remodelled into artist’s working desks.
There is already talk of having another reunion and a Facebook page had been set up to keep in touch.