Protesters blockade Mt Albert in last-ditch effort to save exotic trees

Protesters have taken to Auckland's Mt Albert in a bid to save 345 exotic trees.

The Tūpuna Maunga Authority, a co-governance body comprising local iwi, Auckland Council and the Crown, is set to begin felling the trees today to make way for native species instead.

But Anna Radford, spokesperson for Honour the Maunga, a protest group made up of local residents, says they need to reconsider.

"There will be severe environmental impact for the birds and the insects that call those trees their home," says Radford. 

"This is because it will take many decades for the native plants that are going in to reach maturity."

The trees currently on the site included olive trees, gum trees and monkey apple trees.

Radford says the Authority is refusing to hear their concerns.

"All we really want is for somebody from the Tūpuna Maunga Authority to come and engage with us before felling begins," says Radford.

The Tūpuna Maunga Authority say the culling is part of a restoration project to replace unwanted trees.

But Honour the Maunga say if they had been consulted, they would have pushed for the transformation to be done in stages.

"We support the authority's vision to cloak Mt Albert in native trees but we also believe that this can be done in a way that doesn't destroy all the exotic habitat in the meantime."

Vernon Tava, leader of the newly launched Sustainable NZ party, says "we need to look at these things carefully".

"Ultimately it is best for our ecosystem in the longer-term if we have native trees in those spaces," Tava told The AM Show on Monday morning.

"What I'm hearing from the locals is they don't necessarily disagree with that objective - their concern is with it all being done all at once, which is of course the cheapest way to do it. But there is still a question about whether it's the best way to do it."

He says if indeed Honour the Maunga were not consulted during the planning process, as they claim, it is understandable they feel excluded. 

"You are meant to thoroughly consult everything, and that's always where these things come a cropper. I suppose there's a broader political message there, isn't there - you do have to bring people along with you. Generally if you've got the evidence and you sell the idea to them the right way and present a long-term vision, usually you can bring people with you. Well, most people anyway."

Auckland Councillor Christine Fletcher has also weighed in. She says the plan to cloak the mountain with native trees was never meant to be rolled out this way.

"It's disrespectful to the community, it's disrespectful to the maunga that we're letting this take place," she says.

The Tūpuna Maunga Authority told Newshub it "has undertaken several rounds of Auckland-wide public consultation on management plans that discuss the ecological restoration of the fourteen maunga administered by the authority, including Ōwairaka / Mt Albert".

"The Tūpuna Maunga Integrated Management Plan underwent public consultation from February to May 2016, and the Tūpuna Maunga Authority Integrated Management Plan Strategies underwent public consultation in July and August 2019.  Both of these documents refer to the proactive management of exotic plant species and native ecological restoration."

Protesters have been at the site since 6am. They say they plan to make a human blockade to stop heavy machinery entering the area.