Just hours after the signing of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change in New York in April 2016, busloads of volunteers from Christchurch’s Student Volunteer Army descended on the Tuhaitara Coastal Park just north of Christchurch to plant 2000 kāhikatea, matai and tōtara trees as the first step in a five year programme to establish a podocarp forest in the park.
This was most likely the first tree planting project in the world to take place following the signing of the agreement, and was specifically responding to its call for communities as well as governments to take action on climate change. It was the first 2000 trees in the ground funded by Tress That Count.
The planting was organised by Te Kōhaka o Tūhaitara Trust, which manages the park, covering some 575 hectares along a 10.5 kilometre stretch of coastline from the Waimakariri river mouth to the township of Waikuku. The park was established as an outcome of the Ngāi Tahu Settlement with the Crown, with the lands being gifted by Ngāi Tahu to the people of New Zealand. There are six trustees – three appointed by the Waimakariri District Council and three appointed by Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu.
The Trust has a 200 year vision for the restoration of the park, which includes areas of major ecological and cultural significance and offers extensive educational and recreational opportunities. Local schools and organisations have their own “bionodes”.
Around 150 students and staff from the University of Canterbury took part in the planting. The Student Volunteer Army, which has its origins in the immediate aftermath of the Canterbury earthquakes, came prepared with spades and shovels, gloves, refreshments and a barbecue tent. Volunteers had responded to a social media campaign initiated by SVA this year in conjunction with the NZ Returned Services Association called “Serve for New Zealand” inviting people to register to contribute volunteer time to serve the community in association with ANZAC Day. They want to extend the concept to other days of national significance, including, for example, Parihaka Day and Women’s Suffrage Day.
The international significance of the signing of the Paris Agreement, with its unprecedented level of support from nations around the world, was reflected in the diversity of the people involved in the planting at Tuhaitara, including members of the local runanga and community, kiwi students and university staff from a diverse range of backgrounds, and members of the international student community at the University of Canterbury.
Trust General Manager Greg Byrnes told the group that with the Student Volunteer Army, Earth Day, Anzac Day, the signing of the Paris Agreement, the start of Trees That Count, and the Trust’s 200 year vision, all the stars were in alignment that morning.
The plan is to plant an additional 2000 trees per year at the site for the next five years.