The felling of three “protected” pecan trees in Auckland has locals and The Tree Council calling for an end to chaotic council processes. 

There are only about 6000 scheduled trees in the Auckland region – specimens notable enough to have protection in the council’s Unitary Plan. Three of them, rare 80 year old pecan trees in Avondale that were listed on the Heritage Schedule, were chopped down last week after an error in the council’s online maps. The specimens were recorded incorrectly as belonging to a neighbouring property. 

The Tree Council says if a few more computer clicks had been done, the council would have been able to give tree fellers the right information. But it describes a system where one section of the council doesn’t know what the other is doing; where the information you get depends on which department you were sent to; and a help line that doesn’t have ready access to information that could prove vital in stopping this happening again. 

The Tree Council secretary, Dr Mels Barton, says surely heritage trees like these should be recorded on the title of the property so there is no confusion. “There is no communication within council to ensure such information transits from department to department,” she says. “This is completely and utterly inept. There are only 6000 scheduled trees in the region and actually it’s probably less than that.” She wants an audit done of every protected tree which would not only show if they are still there, but would ensure what is there matches up to plans and maps so this can’t happen again. 

The council’s manager of resource consents, Ian Smallburn, has told the group the council deeply regrets the matter and is checking all its processes and practices. Two remaining scheduled pecan trees still stand, because they were located on an adjoining property. 

The trees were the remnants of the distinguished horticulturist Hayward Wright, who was noted particularly for his work with kiwifruit but also many other varieties, both fruiting and ornamental. The address is the largest remaining section of the Avondale Hayward Wright nursery.

Barton says the trees were removed for no good reason, the subdivision on the property having already worked around them. However Avondale locals say without the impediment, a bigger house can be built. Auckland’s development boom is being blamed for a series of similar such actions, including the destruction of an oak tree in a Sunnyvale subdivision recently. Barton says in that case, a parcel of land with a great many mature trees on it was clear felled except for this one particular oak, which the developer had already been caught trying to hit with a bulldozer. But when the titles were divided up, the protection status of the tree wasn’t transferred, and it was chopped – the new owner saying he didn’t know it was a scheduled specimen. 

“Nobody is taking responsibility for sorting it out,” says Barton. “There are no repercussions. The fine for cutting something down illegally is about $300. Some contracts are taking that cost into account. Once it’s down, that’s the end of it. There needs to be a serious overhaul of what’s going on.”

Monarch butterflies in the pecan in May. Photo: Robin Brehmer

The Tree Council is getting regular complaints of protected trees being illegally removed in Significant Ecological Areas, on private land protected by consent conditions and in reserves. It is concerned about the number of non-notified consents which are granted as a matter of course, allowing trees to be taken down without public input. 

“There needs to be an urgent attitude change within Auckland Council towards the protection of these significant urban assets, which provide our city and its residents with so many services and benefits. The Mayor has signalled that trees are important for our city with his laudable plan to plant a million new trees, but this policy looks farcical in the face of the loss of thousands of mature trees every year, many of them protected, with Council’s consent. It could take 100 years for any of the Mayor’s new saplings to start delivering the scale of benefits and services currently provided by these existing protected trees,” The Tree Council says. 

Now it wants the Auckland Council to use the pecan wood to create some sort of memorial to commemorate the history that has been lost from what was Auckland’s market garden suburb, and a grove of new pecan trees planted. 

The Tree Council chair Sean Freeman has asked for a meeting with Planning Committee chair Chris Darby to discuss enforcement issues.

The Avondale Road pecans were listed through the efforts of the former owner of the land, Robin Brehmer, and local tree champion Jenny Pullar. Describing the axing as “heartbreaking”, Brehmer says the stand of five were the last of a great many historic trees that are now all gone. “It took quite a bit of effort to get them scheduled in the first place,” she says. “The developer was going to cut them down two years ago.” She says trying to design a house outside the drip line of the massive trees would have meant it would be pushed right back on the boundary. The whole community is devastated about the felling, she says, not least because of the huge amount of energy spent in trying to make sure they stayed up. 

When applying for protection status the community told the council that ecologically the 121 Avondale Rd trees, and particularly the pecans. have supported a huge amount of birdlife in the area. “Tui, fantails, grey warblers, shining cuckoo, morepork, blackbirds, sparrows, finches, white eyes, harrier hawk and more lived or visited, and returned to nest each year. These pecans, with their grand height, are a necessity to maintain a green corridor for birds through and around the Rosebank area. Compounding their environmental use, monarch butterflies have overwintered on these pecans in recent years.”

Pullar says council errors with the marking of positions of scheduled tress on their maps does not surprise her in the slightest. She’s aware of numerous other errors. “If they were ever to check their records against what actually exists they will find that it’s very difficult to identify which trees may or may not be scheduled as map markings are often very misleading … and that a large proportion of the scheduled trees no longer exist.

“The Council has absolutely no followup or monitoring of existing Scheduled Notable Trees.”

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