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Full circle: coming back to native trees

New CEO of the Project Crimson Trust and its programme Trees That Count, Robyn Haugh, has found that native trees have always been there for her. Now she’s thrilled to be giving a little back.

“One of the best places in Aotearoa is where I grew up in the Maungawera Valley, near Wānaka,” says Robyn. 

“We would go camping in the bush around Lake Hawea, and my Dad was always pointing out rimu, tōtara, other native trees. 

Her father’s passion instilled a lifelong love of native trees for Robyn. 

“When we moved to North Canterbury in my teens, we were on dry farmland: but Dad was still planting anything that would grow.”

The work of Trees That Count in upscaling native tree planting efforts across Aotearoa—and of its operator Project Crimson Trust in saving the pōhutukawa and rātā—is, then, a natural fit.

Robyn joined the Trust in 2020 as Head of Product and Technology, leading several major initiatives for the Trees That Count programme. Her enthusiasm for the work has only grown since.

“I can’t think of another charity I have such an affinity for,” Robyn says. 

“This Trust is so important because it has such a drive to regenerate our land—starting with helping pōhutukawa flourish, and now wider afforestation and reforestation.” 

The need for native tree planting on a massive scale has only increased with the expected outcomes of COP26 in Glasgow, along with the New Zealand Government’s proposals for emissions reduction and carbon sequestration. 

“We believe that planting native trees, as opposed to exotics, provides the best option for addressing both the climate and biodiversity crises,” says Robyn.

“Increasing native planting in Aotearoa rather than elsewhere offers the best environmental, social, economic and cultural outcomes for our country.” 

Robyn’s passion for native trees is matched by an equal commitment to fostering community and development within the Trust’s team, partnerships and the planting community.

“We see a major role for business and communities, alongside Government, in our endeavours, and I’m looking forward to fostering these connections,” says Robyn.

She sees native tree planting as just the first step in allowing Aotearoa’s native biodiversity—and people—to truly flourish. 

“Everything starts with trees. Then the trees allow everything else.”

This circular pattern has been echoed in her own life.

“I spent ten years in the UK living by the sea. When I came home to NZ, everything came full circle. 

I’d always loved the outdoors but had never realised it was so entwined with the native bush itself, the peacefulness of the trees.”

These moments of calm will be needed amongst the business of leading a charity that punches well above its weight in terms of impact. Robyn has keen ambitions for the growth of the Trees That Count programme.

“Currently, while we’re able to fund an incredible number of native trees thanks to generous Kiwis, planters still apply for double the number that we can supply each year,” she explains.

“I’d like to see us meet the massive demand that exists for native tree planting in Aotearoa.”

2022 will see the native tree marketplace platform that forms the basis of Trees That Count reach a million native trees supplied to almost a thousand planting projects. 

Additionally, 2022 will see Project Crimson manage more large-scale planting projects and extend its data collection abilities to help enable biodiversity measurement.

“In five years, I hope we’ve helped to influence and incentivise all New Zealanders to invest in our ngahere, in our biodiversity,” says Robyn. 

“If I can do something that helps advocate for native trees in any way, or influences someone to do the right thing, for the right reasons: that’s the goal.”

View Robyn's profile on Trees That Count, or connect with her on LinkedIn.