Why expert says Christchurch's Port Hills should be replanted with native bush instead of pine trees

Christchurch's Port Hills ignited almost exactly seven years after another large fire burned hundreds of hectares of land. 

It has one expert urging landowners to rethink their plants in the area to futureproof the hills against another catastrophic fire.

As Kiwis spent the past couple of months basking in a long, dry summer, for firefighters, the weather meant they had their work cut out for them.

The El Nino climate system has brought hot, dry and windy conditions to parts of the country prompting warnings from Fire and Emergency (FENZ) to start preparing for the risk of wildfires.

Along the east coast of the South Island, where the weather has been particularly dry, the warnings have come to fruition with fires sparking.

Just north of Christchurch, firefighters have been battling a large vegetation fire that ignited on Sunday night.

Meanwhile, firefighters are continuing their mammoth effort to put out the Port Hills fire in Christchurch which began last week. The fire has burnt through more than 650 hectares of land and destroyed one home.

The fire on the Port Hills.
The fire on the Port Hills. Photo credit: Pool/George Heard

The fire has sparked a community meeting later this week about building resilience to fires on the Port Hills.

There have been questions raised by residents about the use of gorse and pine trees in a fire-prone area.

Speaking to AM on Monday morning, Victoria University Ecologist Dr Nicola Day said pines "love fire".

"Everything about them is designed to burn and so it's not really a surprise that once you have pines in really hot conditions then the fire will spread and ignite really quickly," Dr Day told AM on Monday.

Following the 2017 Port Hills fire, the hills were replanted by the council with low-flammable native bush.

"That's a win for native biodiversity… It's also a win in terms of protecting the environment from fires," Dr Day said.

She said it would be helpful if private landowners considered planting different species that don't burn so well.

Dr Day said Christchurch Adventure Park was replanted in pines because it was substantially cheaper.

"The immediate upfront cost of planting natives might be really high but I don't know how much money is being spent fighting all these fires across the country," Dr Day said. 

"So, I think that we want to think about a more holistic long-term view of planting and what that can mean in terms of resilience and resistance to future disasters like this."

Watch the video above.