About 70 native plants have been stolen over the course of three nights from Tamatea High School's Matariki Ngahere Legacy Project.
The project aims to plant 2600 trees on an underutilised playing field to create a native forest celebrating Matariki and it is dedicated to the memory of Heitia and Marg Hiha, two well-known educators and sportspeople from Ahuriri.
Planting began on June 23, but head planner and planter Colin James said that since then
a mix of about 70 flax, totara and rimu went missing over three consecutive nights.
"The project has been two years in the making and they've done an awful lot of work at that school trying to raise the funds to bring it to fruition and this is the reward they get."
He said the enthusiasm from the students for the project had been inspiring, with some even naming trees they planted.
"I was talking to a kid and I asked him what he had called his tree and he said, Jimi Hendrix."
"These kids put their hearts and souls into it. Some of them said prayers over their trees, they did all sorts of things. It's amazing to see how they've responded to the project."
"They deserve encouraging, they don't deserve this sort of treatment."
Tamatea High School principal Robin Fabish said the thefts had been frustrating.
"Some people take it as an opportunity to go shopping, which is frustrating because we've fundraised, worked hard as a school. Everybody in the school has been involved in the planting," Fabish said.
"It's a legacy project, in 10, 20 years' time, people want to be able to come back and say, "I planted this tree", rather than come back and say "some bugger pinched it".
He said they've put cameras up and have increased lighting in the area and he would be getting in touch with the police about the matter.
He said the project was intended as a community asset as there was a large open space in the middle of the planned forest which could be used for weddings, funerals and concerts
"People doing silly things that undermine that, that's annoying, it's shortsighted and not thinking of the big picture really."
He said the theft was disrespectful to the memory of Heitia and Marg Hiha too.
"I don't think the people who are pinching the plants realise that in a sense they are desecrating that memory."
The school has received support for the project from NZ Forestry Matariki Tū Rākau fund, from Panpac, the Napier City Council, Tamatea Pak'nSave, Peak Irrigation, Garden Depot Napier and Ray Burkett who donated 48 tonnes of limestone rocks for landscaping.