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The many ways we love trees

A blog from our Chief Executive Adele Fitzpatrick which featured as an op-ed in The Dominion Post.

A blog from our Chief Executive Adele Fitzpatrick which featured as an op-ed in The Dominion Post.

It won’t come as a surprise for the chief executive of a programme called Trees That Count to say “I love trees”. But I do. Our native trees are a special gift, and we all have a responsibility to restore and protect these gifts.

Trees That Count talks a great deal about the importance of planting native trees as part of the fight against climate change. That’s why we have a live count of native trees planted - because each native tree, which is purposefully planted and supported to grow into canopies that last for generations, are a powerful part of tackling our oversized footprint as a country.

But carbon offsetting is just one of many reasons why our native trees are so important. It’s something many people know, but struggle to articulate, when talking about the value of native conservation. We know we love trees, we know they’re important in many ways, but how can we measure and explain that to people who might not?

Thanks to Tāne’s Tree Trust and Dr Jacqui Aimers, PhD Forestry Science, we now have a wonderful piece of research which speaks to the ways in which our native trees are important - beyond things like carbon offsetting and providing timber.

The full report on non-timber values in native forests will soon be published by Tāne’s Tree Trust and made available on their website but here’s a preview of Dr Aimers’ findings:

  1. One of the top things our native trees do is enable honey production, which accounted for $316 million of our national exports in 2016. Mānuka honey is especially popular, and mānuka trees provide the added benefit of nurturing other native forest species as they grow, all whilst feeding bees and a valuable economic export.
  2. Native trees like mānuka and kānuka are important in a growing skincare industry. Their oils have anti-microbial effects, and growers can obtain as much as $600 per tonne for raw foliage for mānuka oil extraction.
  3. If you want whitebait sammies to continue into the future, then we need to look after and restore our native forests because they can continue to make whitebait fishing possible (or not). Native trees help provide suitable habitat conditions and clean the streams where whitebait breed, so the more stream-repairing native plantings that happen, the better.
  4. Native forests play an important role in gathering other types of food too - like wild game, kōura (freshwater crayfish) and wild foods like pikopiko that are becoming more popular in contemporary Kiwi cuisine.
  5. Native forests also generally provide better habitat for our native fauna and insects than exotic forests, particularly for berry and nectar feeders. It’s great to hear that a survey of more than 1,500 New Zealand households showed the average household would willingly pay $264 per year for five years to conserve key native species in planted forests.
  6. Compared with most other land uses native forest has very low nutrient leaching. In fact, trees can contribute to nutrient recycling, absorbing nutrients from intensive agriculture. They are also vital for stabilising soils, reducing sedimentation, moderating water flows, and protecting downstream ecosystems and infrastructures. Approximately one million hectares of land is at serious risk of erosion and this would be reduced by native tree planting.
  7. Our native forests are also part of the New Zealand experience, highly valued by locals and tourists alike. Where would we be without our native silver fern? Forests play a vital role in the ‘Clean, Green and 100% Pure NZ’ branding - and tourism is one of our top economic drivers.
  8. Native trees play a big part in the ambience and environments for recreation. In 2015, a nationwide survey showed spending time outdoors was important for 88% of New Zealanders. This positively affects our mental health, community building and innovation.
  9. Native forests are culturally and spiritually very important for our tangata whenua, and the positive impact native forests have on water quality is vitally important to the mauri (life force) of freshwater ecosystems.

More and more, New Zealanders are seeing ourselves as stewards, or kaitiaki, of this land. We care about things like the protection of our native birds and the water quality of our streams, which is motivating us to put pressure on policy-makers.

But we also need to turn our minds, our pressure and our money to protecting and restoring our native forests. It’s our forests that help keep our streams clean and allow native birds to thrive. Only native trees can contribute to the biodiversity of our land, speak to our cultural and spiritual values and create the iconic New Zealand nature scenes that draw locals and tourists to our scenic places.

So how can you help?

  • Consider planting more native trees or shrubs in your garden or on your land, and if you do, add them to our live tree count
  • Next time you or your loved ones celebrate a milestone (a new home, a graduation, marriage, anniversary or memorial), consider gifting a native tree to mark the occasion.
  • Start a tree registry instead of a gift registry for a special occasion.
  • Help us plant a native tree for every baby born this year.
  • If you own a business, gift native trees to say thank you to customers and staff or Fund trees into our marketplace as part of your organisation’s commitment to our environment.
  • Need a boost for a planting project? Apply for trees from our marketplace for planting as part of a community project or to plant on your land to help clean up waterways, reduce erosion or restore native biodiversity.