Editorial: Safety comes ahead of our love for trees

00:58, Apr 30 2014
Kaitlyn Blomfield
THE MIGHTY HAS FALLEN: The heritage oak tree that blew over at Mark Sherlaw’s property in Domett St, Nelson during the recent storm.

If Aotearoa is the land of the long white cloud, it is also a country heavily clothed in green.

We are a country with a passion for trees, from exotics lining our streets and urban parks to renewable forests of pine through to the rich diversity of the DOC estate - a national treasure trove.

This is particularly so of the Nelson region. Arboreal heritage is rooted deep here, with three national parks, a thriving timber industry and many notable individual trees painstakingly shipped out by pioneers and planted to remind them of home contributing to a rich green legacy, province-wide.

The reverence some people hold for trees is understandable. They feed our spirits, in some cases our bellies and - for those who are allowed them - our wood-burners. And while growing, they literally help us breathe. They endure across generations, growing in majesty, beauty and importance. They are the old masters of our landscape gallery. They all have their stories, even if the details were long ago buried in the compost of time. They are the silent referees of a region's character.

Not everyone holds them in such high regard however. The recent storm reminds us of trees' vulnerability in some conditions, and of the importance of understanding and managing risk. This can involve spending money, and as such can be problematic. If listed "local", "landscape" or "heritage" trees are to be regarded as community assets, should the care and responsibility of those which happen to be growing on private land be shared more widely?

If ageing trees can be established as threats to neighbouring houses and perhaps even lives, should they still be protected?


What about unlisted trees? What level of proof of potential danger would be reasonable in order to compel a neighbour - whether private landowner, business, council or government department - to pay for the removal? The opinion of a qualified arborist? Two or more? When satisfactory proof is established, should such costs be the responsibility of the tree owner, the complainant, or shared?

Is it reasonable that private owners wishing to dispute the listing of such a tree on their land must spend $20,000 or more on challenging the relevant Resource Manage Plan?

Is the focus skewed too far towards preservation of heritage or otherwise notable trees and not cognisant enough of the potential dangers to human life? Enough tall timber came crashing down in built-up areas just 12 days ago to sound a strong warning. No injuries were reported but it could so easily have been different.

Shedding leaves and a few twigs on a neighbouring roof is hardly worth going into battle over - no matter how annoying - but public safety is another matter. The city council has promised a special inspection of all listed trees in those areas hardest hit in this month's storm.

That's a timely move. It says it also inspects all listed trees every two years and removes those believed to pose a danger. Fair enough. Not for the first time, we have received notice of the potential high price of our love of trees. The safety of people must always come first.