Taonga claim in row on trees

Some of Waitara's doomed pohutukawa trees are considered taonga by a Bay of Plenty hapu, it has emerged.

Ngai Te Hapu Incorporated's Buddy Mikaere, of Papamoa, said at least four of the trees were grown from seedlings gifted from Motiti Island, off the Bay of Plenty coast. "These pohutukawa - which unlike other pohutukawa have yellow rather than crimson flowers - are taonga of our island because they are found nowhere else naturally in Aotearoa," Mikaere said in a letter, which was delivered last week to the Taranaki Regional Council by Andrea Moore, the Manukorihi Hapu Incorporated Society chairwoman.

The council has put 23 pohutukawa trees on the chopping block as part of a $3 million flood protection plan for the town.

Initially 100 trees were up for removal but this has been revised down to 23. No date for the removal work has yet been given.

Moore said the yellow flowering specimen, known as Metrosideros excelsa Aurea, was originally given to the Duncan and Davies nursery in the 1940s by the hapu and four of the first plants grown there were planted alongside the Waitara River.

In the March 18 document, Mikaere lodged his protest at the removal of the trees and asked for the decision to be reconsidered.

However, the regional council remains unmoved by Mikaere's request and removal of the trees will proceed as planned, according to operations director Stephen Hall. He confirmed the council had received the letter but disputed the significance of the Motiti Island link to the yellow-flowered pohutukawa in Waitara.

"There is clear evidence in Duncan and Davies catalogues that they were available commercially for more than a decade in the 1950s and 1960s.

"The tree has been planted at a number of other locations in Taranaki," he said.

Moore welcomed the support from Mikaere and said it was culturally important to ensure the trees, included those gifted from outside of the region, were looked after. "You don't just grab them and say thanks very much. There's an obligation," she said.

Ngai Te Hapu is not the first group from outside the region to lend its support to the Waitara protesters. Earlier in the month, the group received protest signs and knitted patchwork from an Auckland group who used them in a successful challenge against a decision to cut down pohutukawa in Western Springs.

 - Taranaki Daily News

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