Urban Trees Need Protection

Will urban trees get effective protection?

The protection of urban trees is likely to be an important issue under discussion of any replacement Act to the Resource Management Act (RMA).


Under the RMA there used to be the ability to protect urban trees. The Auckland Council had among most extensive urban tree protection rules. This was removed in 2009 by the then National Government through the Resource Management Amendment Act 2009. In 2013 the National led Government made further changes which further prohibited tree protection rules.


The changes meant that only rules that applied to specific identified trees or to a specific allotment could be used to protect urban trees. This made it incredibly onerous for councils to protect urban trees as very few trees have been included in district plans.


The Labour lead coalition Government has yet to introduce measures to reverse this lack of protection.


The FAO has identified the benefits of urban trees including: “Large urban trees are excellent filters for urban pollutants and fine particulates. Trees can provide food, such as fruits, nuts and leaves. Spending time near trees improves physical and mental health by increasing energy level and speed of recovery, while decreasing blood pressure and stress. Trees properly placed around buildings can reduce air conditioning needs by 30% and save energy used for heating by 20–50%. Trees provide habitat, food and protection to plants and animals, increasing urban biodiversity...planting trees today is essential for future generations!”


Analysis have also shown benefits in adding property value of an area and intercepting urban storm water run-off. Mature trees are also more important than young trees as they are more efficient at reducing air pollution, have greater capacity to intercept storm water run-off, and can reduce energy consumption of heating or cooling compared to young trees.


In Auckland, private land has lost 2% of its canopy cover between 2013 and 2016/18. The largest loses occurred in vacant residential lots (over 56 ha).


Urban ecologist Dr Margaret Stanle, from Auckland University in 2018 described the loses, in a Newsroom Article by Alexia Russell, as “horrific". She said “I really do think it's people not getting the message about the benefits of trees."  


The current protests in Auckland over urban tree clearance in Avondale which involved the proposed clearance of 46 mature native trees some thought to be about 100 years old.  The review of urban trees showed that indigenous forest occupies only 4% of the Auckland urban area.


Dr Mels Barton, from the Tree Council told the NZ Herald that “it illustrates what is happening every day across Auckland, and what already happened here in this suburb in the past - it is a chainsaw massacre."


Ministry for the Environment justification for the current limits on urban tree measures can be found here.


The Resource Management Review Panel report on replacing the RMA did not discuss the issue of urban trees in its report. The Urban Development National Policy Statement released in late July does not consider urban trees but does list access to natural areas and open spaces as an important policy issue.


It will be up to the incoming Government to determine whether there is a new direction in protecting urban trees and natural areas. The Indigenous Biodiversity National Policy Statement has been deferred to 2021.

Sign the Petition to Bring back general tree protection

Greenpeace has launched a petition calling on Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to urgently reinstate general tree protection across Aotearoa to save our precious trees. All over Aotearoa, our big old trees are being cut down at an alarming rate. They need to be protected.

The senseless destruction of part of an irreplaceable stand of old native trees at Canal Road in Avondale in Auckland is just the most recent example of why we need to reinstate tree protection. Up to one third of Auckland's urban trees have been destroyed since the last National Government removed general tree protection in 2012. Sign the petition here.

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