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Natural Heritage our Grandchildren Can Thank Us For

Natural Heritage our Great-great-great-great Grandchildren Can Thank Us For...

New Zealand’s One Billion Trees initiative goes one better than similar 'Million Trees' efforts in places like L. A., London, and Shanghai. The plan is to plant One Billion Trees by 2027 – and it's a great plan! Trees have many potential benefits, not least sequestering carbon, helping mitigate our CO2 emissions, and thereby reducing our effect on climate.

But not all trees are equal. While fast-growing exotic species may quickly accumulate carbon; long-lived species, such as our native conifers - totara, rimu, matai - can lock up that carbon for hundreds, even thousands of years.

Trees can help grow our economy too. But again, the right trees. Recently Forest & Bird found numerous invasive pest plants on the proposed Billion Trees species list, including some on DOC's weed list! Invasive pest plants can cause biodiversity loss, take over productive land, potentially increase wildfire risk, and modify ecosystem processes - including ones we rely on such as water yields. Once these plants establish, their ongoing control becomes a major expense for both government and private landowners, for example, as now with wilding conifers.

Waitākiri Ecosanctuary is a prospective Christchurch red zone project, spokesperson Dr Colin Meurk says, “One Billion Trees is a golden opportunity to do right by our diminishing biodiversity. To plant our own unique noble trees - create habitat - for our native birds, bats, lizards, frogs, and all the ‘creepy crawlies’ that rely on, and thrive in, our native bush. The main focus shouldn't be production timber alone, but ecological restoration and its multiple values.”

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It's also a great opportunity to increase the number of native trees in our urban centres. Christchurch has a dearth of indigenous forest habitat, but groups like the Avon-Ōtākaro Forest Park, AvON, Greening the Red Zone, the Lyttelton Summit Society, the Ihutai Trust, Travis Wetland Trust and many more, are busy advocating for and planting habitat. What a great boost it would be to have the resources of One Billion Trees behind them!

Dr Sarah Wyse, of Lincoln University's Bio-Protection Research Centre says, “Since changes to the RMA in 2012 we have lost many large trees from our cities, while around the world, cities are recognising the benefits of urban forest, and are actively replanting trees. It's not only habitat; urban trees improve air quality, conserve energy by cooling our cities in hot weather, and reduce storm-water flooding and erosion. They improve the biodiversity values of our cities, and they also improve the physical and mental health of those living and working near them.”

Prior to human settlement, 85-90% of New Zealand was forest, ruled by birds. Human activities have removed most of that, particularly in areas such as the Canterbury Plains where approximately 97% of forest is gone. Even in recent years we have seen the removal of shelter belts on the Plains, to make way for large irrigators. Our trees have been under siege.

Re-naturing the red zone is a chance to try and reverse that, to wholeheartedly attempt to preserve our globally unique, taonga species for generations to come.

Tanya Didham is co-chair of community group, Greening the Red Zone.


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