Trees play crucial role in binding our social fabric
Giving suburbs their special character
Last week, council’s grants allocation subcommittee distributed just over $38,000 to 11 applicants. This funding round related to heritage projects largely dealing with the active encouragement and assistance to landowners and community to manage, protect and enhance ecological and geological assets. Of the other three applicants who missed out because of not meeting the guidelines was applicant and Waikanae resident Rama Bhagawanji. He had requested a $2000 grant to help towards the total $4000 needed to brace a “large California redwood”. His application stated the tree was designated by council as a notable tree, which made it a significant tree worthy of protection and met the funding criteria. The application, however, was rejected as council staff found it was not in its register of notable trees. This is probably the case for hundreds or even a few thousand trees that are valued by residents in individual homes, people in neighbourhoods and communities. But they have not been formally recognised. These trees give neighbourhoods and communities their special seasonal characters. I wrote an opinion piece in the last edition of O¯ taki Today on this subject. Successive long-term plan consultation exercises have repeatedly identified the need to keep the special character of our townships often described as a string of pearls. What we don’t specifically identify is the value that trees in urban spaces contribute to the special character of these townships.
O¯ taki township, as the oldest urban settlement in the district, is a really good example of an urban treescape that blends native trees and exotic trees introduced by colonial settlers. I’m not aware of anyone telling the history of O¯ taki through its urban trees. The appreciation of these trees and the identity it gives neighbourhoods and communities can be subliminal because they grow slowly over decades to occupy the background consciousness of those who live in these neighbourhoods. There is a biodiversity that ebbs and flows. “There is so much research, in the last 20 to 30 years in particular, around the huge mental and physical health benefits of being able to see and experience nature,” said Auckland University ecologist Dr Margaret Stanley in a recent RNZ interview. She added that more needs to be done to retain mature trees and green corridors in urban New Zealand. She noted that in Auckland just 15 per cent of trees on private land are protected and in a 10-year period the city lost 35 per cent of its trees. “What we have seen is a little bit of a chainsaw massacre,” she added.
As council reviews its growth strategy in response to the housing crisis our ability to balance the need to facilitate the development of more houses, and especially affordable and social housing, while also protecting the special characters of our townships, is under threat. The Government’s new Enabling Housing RMA
Amendment Bill will see three, three-storey houses built almost anywhere without resource consent, and with developers able to increase above this through a resource consent development. These increased densities will witness competition for space between the value of existing trees and the developer’s right to maximise profits. Some would argue the developer has the advantage of the moral argument that in a housing crisis, particularly affecting the poor, the value of urban trees has a lower priority. The counter-argument is the point made by Dr Stanley about the mental and physical benefits of urban trees and nature. The counterfactual moral argument is that the poor should not be denied the mental and physical benefits of
nature as enjoyed by the rich in their green leafy suburbs. There is a need to review our urban trees policy and increase community awareness on the need for individual property owners, groups and communities to not only identify their notable trees, but getting them registered with council.
On our Otaki ¯ property we have discovered a large native tanekaka, also known as a celery pine. We learnt of it when local Ma¯ ori requested for some of its leaves and bark to be used for medication. They said this endemic tree used to be easily found but in recent years the one on our property was the only remaining one in the greater neighbourhood. I need to walk the talk and get it registered with council.