“Ehara taku toa i te toa takitahi, engari he toa takitini” – Success is not the work of an individual, but the work of many.

For those of you who cannot bear to read another story about the senseless destruction of  te taiao, stick with me, this story has a happy ending. 

E te Iwi, never underestimate the power of showing up. On Friday, I left my home office to bear witness to the removal of a lowland ngahere of kahikatea. I have seen countless rakau across Tamaki makaurau senselessly removed in my twenty years as an arborist. The removal of this grove of trees is easily the most nonsensical destruction of our rare heritage rakau I have seen, but it didn’t surprise me at all. Since the National Government removed General Tree Protection, it’s been a chainsaw massacre.

Recently felled kahikatea trees
Recently felled kahikatea trees

This is a real question for all of you. If you were to stand amongst a forest of freshly fallen native rakau, how do you think that would make you feel? You see the confusion and dismay, in the way the piwakawaka flies above their fallen whare. You hear the mamae (hurt) in the karanga of the tui. How would it make you feel i roto i to ngakau (in your heart)? After that, could you stand by and let another forest fall that remains standing only meters away from you?

If you’re anything like me that answer will always be, NO! 

That’s why I walked on site at the airport in Ardmore on Friday last week and put myself in the way to stop the destruction. And although I was by myself in the moment, I didn’t walk onto that site alone. I could feel the support of the tree protection movement all around me. Works stopped, and an instant later, the power of that movement kicked into gear on social media.

I spent Friday night watching live streams from arborists, visiting this magnificent ngahere, and unbeknownst to me, so were the owners and developers of this whenua.

Recently felled kahikatea trees
Recently felled kahikatea trees

Saturday, when I returned to the ngahere, there were already two wahine waiting in the woods, one was whistling with the tiwaiwaka, and greeted me by saying “he doesn’t mind us being here.” “Because we don’t have chainsaws,” I responded, she smiled, and then we sat listening to the manu silently, isolated but incredibly connected. And once again I wondered if the call of these birds would be lost to this whenua forever. 

Saturday night Chloe Swarbrick would share some photos of the destruction. There was still no media pick up, but you could feel the momentum building. 

98% of lowland kahikatea are gone in New Zealand. These are the last tiny fragments left. If no government body will protect them, that obligation lies with the people. 

Sunday I return to the Ngahere, more kaitiaki are silently sitting in the bush, and the song of the manu is noticeably different today. I count the remaining standing kahikatea. There is 111 rakau, all ataahua, all taonga to me. And then my phone rings, and 20 mins later, I am negotiating the terms of these trees remaining on site. I am explaining to the CEO of Ardmore airport and the contracted civil construction, the value of these rakau, and their environmental and heritage value to our city. We are all in disbelief none of this came up in the consent process.

Why are these trees not already protected by the government???

The rakau are now fenced off. The airport has committed to find a way to redesign around these trees. Witnessing trees being fenced off in order to protect them, rather than destroy them, was a much needed win for my wairua.   

Campaigns are not won over a weekend. Without any reflection at all it’s impossible not to recognise the survival of these 111 kahikatea and all who inhabit them are the fruits borne from the labor of so many people connected to the wider kaupapa of tree protection. This battle was won off the work put in at Canal Road, by William Lee and his courageous whanau, by the people of Mana Rākau and the Tree Council, and the countless arborists who have shown support to oppose this ridiculous un-regulated destruction of our urban ngahere. 

This win came off the backs of the dozens of people prepared to get arrested for tree-protection in Tamaki Makaurau over the last year. Every person who showed up or pushed the share button, or took the time to visit Canal Road.  Each of you by being part of those campaigns added strength to our movement and made it possible for us to win so decisively in Ardmore. 

We have built a movement and we have momentum. That’s why we were able to save these rakau so quickly here in Ardmore.

Aku mihi ki te Ardmore airport for having the openness to communicate with us a ropu, and the willingness to work as an ally of te taiao.    

PETITION: Bring back general tree protection

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