Opinion: Cynthia Crosse
I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast
A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray
A tree that may in Summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair
Upon whose bosom snow has lain
Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.
Written by American, Joyce Kilmer, this beautiful poem, Trees, was made famous by the magnificent bass-baritone Paul Robeson and the lyrics were, ironically, carved on a piece of wood that stood on my mother’s mantel piece when I was young.
Along with climbing in trees and laying safely hidden in their branches as a child, I have come to think of trees not as incidentals but … as family! This is where most rationalists will turn the page, I know, but I think it is only fair to out myself as a tree-hugger from the get go.
But is this sentiment such a stretch?
New Zealand passed its first Rights of Nature law in 2017 giving the Whanganui river legal rights. Around the world, indigenous peoples are fighting for nature to be given rights of self-hood - to restoration, regeneration, and respect.
Trees are, in case it needs saying, vital to our environment as our recent climate emergencies have only highlighted. We need them for shade, to regulate the temperature, to retain water, to provide the cover required for other plant species to grow, and for food and nesting for our birds and wildlife. Oh, and let’s not forget, we need them for air to breathe!
To me, it seems incredible we need to argue the value of trees in this current climate. Opinions have differed about the legitimacy or otherwise of felling the introduced species on Mt Albert, but those under threat closer to home at Canal Road are, without exception. mature native species.
Prior to lockdown, as rumour had it, the Avondale property was sold to a developer conditional on the trees on the property being felled. The site comprises four sections and is home to 46 mature native trees, many planted a century ago yet only one of them, a pohutukawa, is listed in Auckland Council’s schedule of notable trees. The site forms part of the Whau Wildlink, a green stepping-stone for birds and wildlife to connect islands in the Hauraki Gulf with the Waitakere Ranges. As such, the property is featured in a guided walk pamphlet of Avondale’s historical and natural points of interest, which was funded by the Local Board. The Tree Council, Forest & Bird and thousands of locals have all indicated their support for the trees to be retained.
The Whau Local Board had been approached to consider purchase of the property as far back as 2017, but Council declined to purchase the land, believing the nearby Canal Reserve to fulfil the community’s needs for open space in this locale. We can only hope we don’t exit Level 4 to the sound of chainsaws!
A goal of Auckland Council’s Urban Ngahere (Forest) Strategy is to support an average of 30% canopy cover across the city. In 2013, the total canopy cover in the Whau was just over 30%, however, 20% of it is on private land. Trees on private property are able to be nominated for protection however, The Tree Council warns, it’s a difficult process and such requests slip to the bottom of the priority pile for Council assessors. Changes to the Resource Management Act in 2009 reduced protection of native trees that were previously secured by Council when over six metres tall. Just seven years later, some 12,879 trees had been cut down in Auckland’s Waitematā board area.
In an area such as Avondale, zoned for intensive development and with no protection of trees on private land, our canopy cover risks being drastically reduced as intensification proceeds. More must be done by Council and by us, as citizens of this planet, to ensure these taonga remain for future generations. As the Tree Council’s Mark Lockhart points out, not only should mature trees be protected, but mid-life trees that are the aged trees of the future. It would be a travesty for us to hand our children a childhood with no trees in which to play!