Farewell to the trees

To the left has been “beautified”. To the right are the 60 year old trees to be clear-felled for more such “beautification”

To the left has been “beautified”. To the right are the 60 year old trees to be clear-felled for more such “beautification”

Imagine if trees gave off wi-fi signals, we’d be planting so many trees and we would probably save the planet too. Too bad they only produce the oxygen we breathe.” So runs the meme that swept social media recently. Truly we despair here at how hard it is to keep established trees and how ready are so many people to take the chainsaw to them.

Perhaps it is due to our recent pioneer history that we have failed to develop a reverence for big trees. That, and the fact that our houses are notoriously cold in winter and we want every bit of sun and warmth we can get.

There is no argument that large trees in suburban settings can be a problem for residents, especially as sections get ever smaller. That is why we have always advocated for trees in public areas where they have the space to reach maturity and to give grace to our environment. All power to council arborists and parks staff who are tasked with looking after such vegetative assets. For assets they are, although not in a financial sense. A tree can be chainsawed down in a morning but it may have taken a very long time for it to ever attain stature.

What would Cambridge be like without its street trees like these on Taylor Street (Photo: Michael Jeans)

What would Cambridge be like without its street trees like these on Taylor Street (Photo: Michael Jeans)

Leave it to the populace – the ignorati – and we would have nothing taller than 3 metres and older than 20 years in urban settings. Can you imagine the main streets of Cambridge without the trees? I do not know the history of those trees but it is a fair bet that there have been efforts by some people over time to take the chainsaw to them. Thank goodness those tasked with the civic environment have stood firm for, without those trees, Cambridge would just be like any other unmemorable small town in New Zealand.

There is no doubt that trees can make a mess. It is called the cycle of nature. Do they make a bigger mess than humans? Would we rather live in paved, concrete wastelands to avoid the leaf drop, the seed dispersal, the spent flowers, birds’ nests and occasional fallen branches?

Imagine the lake scene at Te Ko Utu in Cambridge Domain without big trees (Photo: Michael Jeans)

Imagine the lake scene at Te Ko Utu in Cambridge Domain without big trees (Photo: Michael Jeans)

I write from the heart. We are truly distressed because it appears that we have lost a local battle to save the row of handsome pohutukawa that line the Waitara riverbank. They are sixty years old, just achieving the beauty and stature of established trees, but they are to be clear felled.

“Those trees are past their use-by date.” Ah, no. Pohutukawa have no use-by date. They are a very long-lived tree. “We don’t want them getting too big.” “They are messy.” The fact that they are in a position where they do not shade any buildings and their natural fall of litter does not affect any private property is irrelevant to these folk. “They are not native to this area.” That argument is specious. Not only is the natural occurrence of pohutukawa a mere 10km north of here, but these same folk will think nothing of replacing them with a golden robinia or flowering cherry.

In a battle of jurisdiction between local authorities, where power has been vested in an engineer, the good burghers of our local community board have reportedly been out asking people: “Do you want to keep the trees or do you want the area beautified?” That is a Tui billboard moment.

There is no way to reason with people who see no merit in trees. There’s none so blind as those who will not see and minds have been made up. To such people, trees are completely expendable and of no beauty. They will be long dead before any replacement plants can reach maturity and in the interim there will be decades of a windswept, bare riverbank. It will have an expensive boardwalk and some seats painted sky blue, however, for beauty and history lie only in man-made objects. We could weep.

This is not a story unique to our area. It is repeated often up and down the country in some form or other. Trees need human protection if they are to hold the chainsaw massacre brigade at bay.

First published in the Waikato Times and reprinted here with their permission.

I see back at the start of 2007, I wrote about these trees in the Taranaki Daily News, saying: “Waitara would be a bleak little town without these splendid trees.

These trees were planted to hide the ugly sight of the old freezing works. Unfortunately the trees are to be removed but the arse-end of the freezing works will remain. This is, apparently, “beautifying the area”.

10 thoughts on “Farewell to the trees

  1. zneto


    Bravo – I hope you can save the pohutukawa trees. I have pasted below a message I have sent to a local Community Board member.

    Our local council CEO is just such an “engineer” who has risen through the ranks from a mere roading guru to $160,000pa + benefits CEO


  2. Keith

    At the risk of being labelled a tree vandal myself (and yes, I know officialdom would still find a way), I say unto thee with tongue in cheek: drive numerous nails randomly into the trunks.

  3. Michael Garrett

    Hello Abbie. I’m going to use this specific topic to say in general how much I enjoy your perspective and way of thinking as expressed in your many topics. And of course your information and observations on all things gardening. Just wish I’d found your ‘blog’ earlier, although of course I can go back and read. Specifically on trees I’m still at a loss to understand how so many prefer to remove trees, due to leaf fall, sunlight interference etc. As you say one has to be mindful in planting appropriate-sized trees in residential areas; having moved recently from Auckland CBD to lower Northland I recall having one of my core wishes was and is being able to plant trees without the need to concern myself about drains and root expansion. Most of my neighbours prefer sea views. I’m happy for an expanse of green together with all the associate pleasures, be it bird life or the sound of a breeze rustling the greenery. Council philistines have their roots I’m sure in some building heritage or some such and I wonder if they go to bed dreaming of glittering expanses of concrete and metal, so that there is some manifest evidence of their efforts in an otherwise mediocre employment. Living in Kaipara, i’m certainly aware now of how local Councillors forget they are not in private business but are accountable to those who pay their salaries…Michael

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      Thank you, Michael, for your kind comments. But also your comments about trees and bureaucratic decision makers. We could not agree more.

  4. sandra

    I live in Tauranga, a city full of tree haters. The richest complaint came from an elderly couple who moved into a small home (not very old) and two years later wanted the council to remove the 80-year-old Norfolk Island pine alongside because it was blighting their lives with its “mess” and shade. Bit rich, but the felling went ahead. Our council often over-rides the advice of its own arborists to take trees down! Oh, how magnificent it must be to own the views in front of one’s home (so many complaints about trees involve views being blocked). I’m sure our place never had that listed under chattels! The trees in Waitara look rather nice and, as you say, pohutukawa are very long lived. Shame on these cold-hearted people.

  5. Alexander Watson

    I remember those pohutukawa trees when they were first planted on the banks of the Waitara River.. They consisted mainly of the rare yellow pohutukawa from White Island I think, in the Bay of Plenty. How many floods have we had in Waitara since they were planted? There were several and yet can anyone point out evidence of erosion as a result of such floods? Waitara looks beautiful with those trees standing grandly on the banks of the river. The people of Waitara should stand together and strongly oppose the idea of destroying those lovely trees.

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      I think it is only the first six in the row that are yellow – Metrosideros excelsa ‘Aurea’. From Motiti Island. These are the first specimens to be planted on the mainland. They are to to be felled if the engineer gets his way, along with the other 39 or so red ones in that section. No decision has been made on the ones further downstream – a further 33 established trees, I believe. It will take public pressure to halt this environmental vandalism. If you are on Facebook, please show your support at https://www.facebook.com/SAVE.the.Waitara.Riverside.Pohutukawa

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      Ha ha ha! You noticed. So did I and I tracked down his email but still he did not reply. I thought it odd they all still use a motley line up of personal email addresses rather than a council one, using a consistent format as NPDC does. But I guess if you are not going to bother to reply, it makes no odds, does it?

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