'Auckland's burning Amazon': Protestors warn destruction of native trees example of urban 'slaughter'

The blue tarpaulin is where the protestors are living
The blue tarpaulin is where the protestors are living

Protestors taking a stand against native trees being cut down to make way for property development in Auckland are hoping to shed a light on a wider problem of mature, urban trees getting the chop throughout Auckland.

Local residents, arborists and other protestors are pleading for more support from around the city in their fight to stop the rare trees from being culled from a grove at a private property on Canal Road in Avondale. 

The block of land is just under an acre, however the dense vegetation prevents you from seeing it in its entirety.

The grove is filled with a multitude of trees with rare species such as kawaka and black maire, some of which are about 100 years old. 

Only 20 out of the 46 original trees are still standing and the site is strewn with forsaken stumps. 

Although the Tree Council do not believe in direct action and have not been protesting, their Secretary, Mels Barton, is concerned about the felling of native, urban trees. 

"This situation is happening on sites, completely under the radar every single day," she exclaims.

If all the trees do end up being removed, the site will be filled with "a heap of three storey dwellings" according to landscape architect Mark Lockhart, a key figure in the protest. 

He told Newshub that removing the "essential green space" will bring harm to the community as it becomes an "increasingly built-up environment". 

"This stand of mature native trees plays a significant ecological role in comparison to many of the local reserves which are predominantly used for sport and simply don’t have trees of this age or size."  

Protestor Helen Adeane said it's an issue that everyone should be concerned about. 

"People say that they're worried about the Amazon but this is Auckland's burning Amazon."

Local resident William Lee was one of the first to try and stop the tree's demise. 

When he first saw there was machinery entering to chop the trees he decided to take a stand by blocking off the grove's entrance. 

Protestors gather round the native trees
Protestors gather round the native trees

His daughter Juressa told Newshub the area is unique and should be saved. 

"There isn't something quite like this in Auckland, possibly not in the top half of the North Island.

"Native trees are being chopped down. We've lost a third of our trees in Auckland. This is highlighting the problem of the repealed tree protection from the Resource Management Act in 2012."

LiDaR data shows that Auckland is losing mature native trees at a unacceptably high rate according to Mels.

"We went back to the council, sort of a last ditch effort and said, 'your report says that you should be retaining mature natives so why aren't you making more effort to buy Canal Road or making any effort to buy Canal Road?'" said Mels.

"And you know they just fluffed about and made lots of excuses about how difficult it is to reclassify reserve land and blah blah blah."

When commenting on requests for the council to try and save the trees, council spokesperson Tracie Simpson told Newshub that they are unable to take any action.

"In 2012, the central government made changes to the Resource Management Act, which removed blanket tree protection and took away Auckland Council’s ability to protect trees on private land." 

"There are currently no rules protecting trees on the site other than a protected pohutukawa tree. This is because the land at 52-58 Canal Road is privately owned and the council does not have a legal authority to intervene. The landowner is able to exercise their private property rights but does have a legal obligation to preserve the protected pohutukawa."

Mels says that it's not just the council who is at fault and that this is a symptom of a bigger issue.

"The removal of general tree protection from the RMA was probably the most destructive change to the RMA that's been done over the years because it has enabled anyone to go out onto their property and cut a tree down for no good reason at all, with no conversation with anyone about it even." 

"The Labour party promised, even before they were elected last time, that they would get general tree protection back into the RMA. We're still waiting for that three years later approaching a new election.

We're quite disgusted really with the government on that because it is very urgent to stop the slaughter that's going on on private land with trees." 

Juressa hopes that this protest brings the issue of mature tree loss in urban areas to people's attention.

"I hope that this is the start of the bigger movement. That's why we created the second petition with Greenpeace's help. It is to implore central government, Jacinda Ardern, to bring back general tree protection."