Arborist Johno Smith spent a week in a kauri in 2015 to protest it being felled. (Photo: RNZ / Tom Furley)
Arborist Johno Smith spent a week in a kauri in 2015 to protest it being felled. (Photo: RNZ / Tom Furley)

The BulletinJune 4, 2019

The Bulletin: Fears for NZ’s cities with loss of mature trees

Arborist Johno Smith spent a week in a kauri in 2015 to protest it being felled. (Photo: RNZ / Tom Furley)
Arborist Johno Smith spent a week in a kauri in 2015 to protest it being felled. (Photo: RNZ / Tom Furley)

Good morning, and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Fears for cities with loss of trees, competitive battle looms for Dunedin mayoralty, and teacher strike talks to take place amid new secondary strike action.

New Zealand’s urban environments are losing worryingly high numbers of irreplaceable mature trees, reports Charlie Mitchell at Stuff. It comes a decade after a Resource Management Act law change removed the ability to give blanket protection to trees, and since then numbers have been steadily chipped away at. It doesn’t happen because some villain somewhere has decided that thousands of trees should be cut down – it happens because there is insufficient legal protection for individual trees or clumps of them. Data is patchy, but it is clear they have been coming out en masse, to the tune of thousands every year. Sometimes, it is for the most pathetic of reasons – such as trees along the main drag of Palmerston North being ripped out because of bird droppings falling out of them.

In comparative terms to the rest of the world, it doesn’t look good. New Zealand’s two biggest cities are falling behind some of the most heavily developed cities in the world in terms of tree cover. Auckland and Christchurch respectively have lower rates of tree cover than the likes of Jakarta, Seoul and Shanghai. Reporting from Vox suggests that increasing tree cover in cities mitigates both pollution and heat waves, the former which is particularly bad in Auckland right now, and the latter which will only get worse from the effects of climate change. There are also benefits for biodiversity from urban trees, and trees act as ecosystems in their own right.

There has also been strong reporting on Auckland’s loss of trees from Alexia Russell over at Newsroom, who focused in hard on the health benefits of being able to see trees regularly. To put it simply, nature provides some mitigation to the physical and mental health effects caused by living in cities. That’s particularly the case in economically deprived areas, and going back to the Stuff piece – there are some side by side photos showing there’s significantly more cover in richer areas. Research in 2017 found exactly that – South Auckland had about half the level of tree cover that central Auckland had.

A large scale programme of planting by Auckland Council is currently in place, and numerically more trees will be planted than the number currently being lost. But it can take decades for trees to grow into full maturity, so it arguably doesn’t compensate for those currently being felled. As well as that, many aren’t actually directly in urban areas in the same way – for example, upcoming planting dates include efforts in Tōtara Park in Manukau, and Metro Park in Silverdale.

There’s also a significant amount of irony in the loss of urban trees, given current debates around farms being converted back to forestry. The immediate economic benefits of forestry are much lower than those given by farming, and some in the rural world say they’re being hit with having to do something about climate change so that those in cities can continue with business as usual. This evidence shows they’ve got a point, and if urban dwellers want to demand changes in rural land use, then there should also be demands for cities to stop chopping them down.

A competitive battle for the mayoralty looms in Dunedin, reports the ODT, with two councillors now confirmed as candidates. First term councillor Jim O’Malley has thrown his hat into the ring, to join Cr Aaron Hawkins who was first out of the blocks. Scout Barbour-Evans and Carmen Houlahan are also confirmed, and more candidates are expected, though Labour MP for Dunedin South Clare Curran has confirmed she won’t be among them. They’ll all be vying to replace mayor Dave Cull, who has confirmed he’ll be standing down.

Talks between education minister Chris Hipkins and teacher unions will take place this week, in an effort to break the industrial action deadlock. Stuff reports teachers remain disappointed with what came out of the Budget, with no surprise increase in the package that has been offered so far. Mr Hipkins, for his part, says the offer is the furthest the government can possibly go, but of course it’s not just the pay that teachers are striking over – other issues like the teacher shortage and excessive work hours have been contested. Meanwhile, starting today a month of Tuesday strikes from secondary schools will begin – Radio NZ reports each Tuesday a different year group won’t get taught, and today it’s Year 9s.

Housing issues are getting worse in what is arguably New Zealand’s most poorly planned growth city. Newshub reports Tauranga’s housing shortage has got so severe, that the median rent is now up to around three quarters of the median income, and it has got to the point that the mayor is warning potential new residents to not move until they’ve got housing sorted. And with Waikato University about to open a campus in the city, things are only going to get worse.

As Budget spends go, $25 million isn’t a big one. But as Stuff reports, there’s plenty of conjecture around just why that sum was put towards maritime efforts to stop people smuggling – colloquially known in Australia as ‘stopping the boats.’ Now, these boats literally never turn up on New Zealand’s shores, and Australia has in the past suggested that’s because they’re doing the work, in a manner that many observers consider cruel and brutal. The government is insisting that the latest moves haven’t been as a result of Australian pressure, but admit they will be welcomed across the Tasman.

I’m keen to get some debate going on this subject, and please feel free to bring up other issues around it. The NZ Herald reports Auckland Transport spent $12,000 over the course of a year on social media influencers, in order to promote public transport, cycling and road safety. Some are furious about it, and say it’s wasteful spending of ratepayer money, when it could be going towards services (which – a reminder – some of AT’s public transport services are actually going alright at the moment.) In the interests of full disclosure, we at The Spinoff have had a commercial relationship with AT this year, along with publishing some severe criticism of the CCO.

Now, my own personal view is that such complaints about this spending are absurd. Twelve grand is a piddly amount of money in advertising terms. You could many times that just to film a TV ad, let alone actually put it on telly – for context, that money would be about the right sum to buy you one 30-second slot during Celebrity Treasure Island. So my question to you: am I wrong? Am I over-estimating the value of influencers, to compare them to a TV ad? Is this just another sign of AT getting away from their core purpose? Email me –

A wide range of notable people have been honoured in the latest Queen’s Birthday list. It’s rather rare to be able to say this, but this year there are more new Dames than Knights. A full list can be found here, and looking through it, it would seem that one of the things that keeps these awards relevant is the immense social and geographical spread they now cover. There are some immensely deserving names listed, from all walks of life. Having said that, there’s a rather spiky post on the Point of Order blog that makes a fair point – while one scientist was honoured, ten made the list for services to sport in some capacity.

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Chloe Swarbrick and Marilyn Waring. Video by Jose Barbosa and Alex Twentyman

Right now on The Spinoff: Teacher Annabel Wilson writes about her friend in the profession being denied residency because she doesn’t earn enough. Toby Morris and Emily Writes collaborate on the latest edition of The Side Eye, discussing how women actually feel about abortion rights (as opposed to what men say they feel.) Oscar Francis went to report on a Men’s Rights Activist conference, and they tried to recruit him. We sat Marilyn Waring and Chlöe Swarbrick down in a room together to share political experiences, and this remarkable interview came out of it. Sam Brooks reviews an episode of Dancing with the Stars which saw the return of former dancing stars David Seymour, Shane Cameron and more.

Finally, Tze Ming Mok writes a letter to a friend missing in the heavily oppressed Xinjiang province, on the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre. It’s a deeply moving and in many ways deeply frightening piece.

This absolutely infuriated me when I first heard about it, and I’m glad to see it more widely reported. Today’s story for this section comes from the NZ Herald’s Chris Keall, who has reported on an appalling act of vandalism against Wikipedia. The site, which is one of the greatest free stores of human knowledge in history, was abused in the most tawdry fashion by clothing company North Face, who have since apologised. If you’re wondering if I’m perhaps over-writing this, no, I really am this angry about it. Here’s an excerpt which explains what North Face did.

The North Face had photographs taken of people wearing its gear in climbing and tramping hotspots such as Brazil’s Guarita State Park, Peru’s Huayna Picchu and Cuillin in Scotland.

It then had someone go in and edit the Wikipedia entries for those locations, swapping out the existing photos for North Face ones – knowing full well that whenever a budding tourist searches for pictures of a location, a Wikipedia image is often at the top of the list.

The jape succeeded – at least in terms of getting The North Face photos to the top of search results, without having to pay Google a penny for Ad Words. But then the backlash began.

It has been a weekend of mixed results for New Zealand Football. The Football Ferns have managed to claim their first ever win over England’s Lionesses in a World Cup warmup, in fact it’s the first time an NZ team has beaten England at any level. Unfortunately, the U20s boys were knocked out of their World Cup in a penalty shootout against Colombia, meaning their campaign has been cut short in the round of 16.

I’m personally chuffed to see the Central Pulse win their first ever ANZ Premiership, after many years of trying. It’s hard to overstate just how bad they once were, but how consistently excellent they’ve been for the past three seasons, and now it has finally culminated in a 52-48 triumph over the Northern Stars. Stuff has a good feature on just how arduous a journey to the top it has been for the Pulse.

Finally, we recorded our 2nd episode of cricket podcast The Offspin over the weekend. For some reason, we thought it would be an awesome idea to start recording at 2.17am after the Black Caps had hammered Sri Lanka, and it actually turned out pretty well. In other results, South Africa have been predictably pretty poor so far, losing to Bangladesh. And overnight, England have failed to chase down a big Pakistan total, handing one of the tournament favourites their first loss.

From our partners: A two-tier system of energy use is developing, with those on high incomes much more able to reduce their bills than households on lower incomes. Vector’s Chief Risk and Sustainability Officer Kate Beddoe outlines what the company plans to do about that.

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