Wellington councils kill native trees

22:34, Aug 16 2012
Ray Ahipene-Mercer
Angry residents: Resident Allan Jenkins and councillor Ray Ahipene-Mercer were angry to discover native trees in Ataturk Reserve had been killed.

South coast residents are furious after discovering the native trees they planted in Ataturk Reserve have been killed by the city and regional councils.

Dozens of karo, pohutukawa and karaka trees have been ring- barked, and some have also been poisoned.

Residents planted some of the trees to honour people who had died.

Ring-barked tree
Ring-barked: Karo, karaka and pohutukawa in the Ataturk Reserve trees have been ring-barked.

Breaker Bay and Moa Point Progressive Association member and eastern ward councillor Ray Ahipene-Mercer said he was livid the council had termed the trees "woody weeds" and destroyed years of work.

"We've done all this work, decades of work and suddenly they have destroyed it," he said.

"There are commemorative trees up here. I know of three people who, when their partners died they have come to us and said, 'This is where my wife used to walk, this is where Mum used to walk, can you give us a tree that's Okay to plant in this area', and the council has just killed one of them.


Poisoned trees
Poisoned: Many Karo, karaka and pohutukawa trees were also poisoned.

"A pohutukawa tree, three- metres high, just gone. That family rings us up every year to ask how the tree is, how their mum is."

Mr Ahipene-Mercer said the trees also hold cultural significance.

"It's well documented that Maori take karaka berries from site to site for attracting birds and for eating," he said.

"We now have 17-year-old karaka trees that are dying because they have been deliberately ring-barked by city council and Greater Wellington.

"Are they now going to go to Seatoun and ring bark the trees that are growing there? What about Aotea Quay, the town belt?"

Chairman of the association Allan Jenkins said residents were enraged at the damage to the trees.

"This was done with no local consultation and many of the trees were planted by the locals and were in fact supplied by Wellington City Council," he said.

"How are we now going to get people to help with projects when they just get shat on by some eco- nazi who decides the trees need to go.

"We've got pine trees on council land around the back of Breaker Bay houses, which are on the same ridge, and they are causing mayhem.

"And the council is wasting money taking out native trees because some person has a political agenda, because they read some where that these trees aren't native to this area.

"We want assurance that any further work will cease and that any on-going management work will have the agreement of all parties."

Wellington City Council chief operating officer Derek Fry said the removal of trees and damage in the area was completely unacceptable.

He has asked for an urgent review of the city council's memorandum of understanding with the regional council in regards to the removal of trees from reserves around the city.

"I fully understand the anger of local people and I am painfully aware that it will take some time for the council to restore relationships with the local community," he said.

"We will continue to talk with the local community with a view to trying to make good the damage done. Whether this will involve replanting or other remedial work will be the subject of discussions."

Mr Fry also said there was no intention for any wholesale removal of the pohutukawa and other native trees which have been planted around the city.

Mayor Celia Wade-Brown said the regional and city councils needed to consult with those who live locally about such decisions.

"There's been excellent work done in Breaker Bay by the local community," she said.

"However, scientific knowledge about plants and trees is continually evolving and we need to be mindful of these changes."

Regional council's biodiversity manager Tim Porteous said the council regretted the damage to the trees.

"This was a cock-up on Greater Wellington's part and unacceptable," he said. "Clearly we should have discussed this with the community prior to any work being undertaken. We deeply regret this error and apologise to the community group that planted the trees and all who use and enjoy this reserve. We will work with the community to put this right and we're going to go over our procedures with a fine-toothed comb to ensure this doesn't happen again."

The trees were targeted by the councils because they are not native to the Wellington area. Mr Porteous said the trees will invade coastal forest over time, but this did not mean they would be targeted in the future, unless the area was being restored.

Another member of the Breaker Bay and Moa Point Progressive Association, Lester Goodfellow, said he does not accept that the trees will invade the coast over time.

"That the karaka and other natives will cause a mono-culture in the area is just absurd'," he said. "We have had only a few trees which have self-seeded, so at this rate it will take them about three- to-four thousand years to take over the whole area."

The Wellingtonian