Eight people have been arrested as they tried to stop the felling of dozens of mature native trees at a central Auckland development site.
The group, Mana Rakaū - Save Canal Road Native Trees, has been at the Avondale site on Canal Rd since July last year in protest of the removal of the grove of 100-year-old native trees.
There were originally about 50 mature trees on the site - including tōtara, kahikatea, karaka and pūriri - but about half of these had been felled after the section was sold to developers to build houses.
The protest group had for months kept the contractors at bay but police today surrounded the perimeter of the site and several protesters were arrested.
Activist and former Green party candidate Steve Abel said more protesters were detained by police after climbing into the site to try stop the felling of trees.
He said police and contractors came down "en masse ... with no announcement or notice to cut down this irreplaceable native arboretum in the heart of Avondale".
"In terms of the vision of Auckland as a high quality liveable, compact city, this is the nature of it, destruction on an unimaginable scale of something as irreplaceable as this native stand."
He said it was the failure of Environment Minister David Parker, Auckland Council and the developer to find a resolution.
Kaitiaki Juressa Lee said the council had failed to listen to the community and its pleas to protect the trees.
"We're about to lose about 30 trees here today, significant trees, native trees, rare trees, trees that don't typically grow in Tāmaki Makaurau. Trees that are the longest growing, slowest growing trees in the world, trees that have significance to Te Ao Māori.
"The council have failed to provide a green space for our community and our pleas over 20 years to purchase this land off the family. The council have failed to protect any other trees, any more trees since the end of last year and this destruction today the council could have prevented, they had many opportunities to prevent it from happening.
"We've had this many police at this site before standing around doing nothing so I'm not surprised but I'm still shocked ... it's a pretty heavy hand they are taking against the community who mostly want to keep these trees.
"There's a beautiful pūriri who has suffered a lot already...I want to see that puriri stay, there's a tōtara, there's a karaka, there's a protected pōhutakawa, there's a rimu that has been poisoned but is on the boundary, that should stay ... I'm really hoping I don't see any more trees felled."
There was a heavy police presence at the site all day, with dozens of officers shielding the contractors removing the trees.
A spokesman refused to say how many officers were present, but protesters estimated about 30 were there.
Area commander for Auckland City West, Grant Tetzlaff said eight arrests were made in relation to trespass and obstruction.
"Our role has been to ensure the property owner can exercise their rights while also ensuring the protesters are able to exercise their rights to protest.
"We respect any person's right to protest in public spaces. Unfortunately some of those present have chosen to try and force their way onto the property.
"We are aware that the property owner has finished work and police have since left the site.
"Police will be in the area this evening and will respond to any issues that may arise."
Auckland's urban tree loss has been under increasing scrutiny over recent years, with arborists describing it as a "chainsaw massacre".
The problem stemmed back to changes under the previous National-led government to the Resource Management Act in 2012, which removed blanket protections of trees in urban areas.
This meant trees without any formal protection on private land could be legally removed, regardless of their age or biodiversity values - even a threatened kauri tree estimated to several hundred years old could be felled.
It has been well detailed that in the years that followed the RMA changes Auckland, and many other parts of the country, experienced a "chainsaw massacre" as developers rushed to take advantage.
An Auckland Council report last year showed some parts of Auckland had lost nearly 10 per cent of their canopy cover in only a few years, largely due to development.
While there had been large canopy growth on public land, since blanket tree protections were removed from the Resource Management Act in 2012, came into force in Auckland in 2015, there had been dramatic reductions on private land.
Despite this, the council's Urban Ngahere Strategy advocates for protection of mature trees across the region, which protesters say it is not living up to.
In February, just a few blocks away from the Canal Rd site, a 160-year-old protected macrocarpa tree was felled to make way for Ockham and Marutūāhu Collective's 117-unit Aroha project.
Protesters had prevented the tree being felled for nearly two months, but stood down after taking into account the need for conscientious high density housing in the area, and developers agreeing they would plant more trees and advocate for tree protection.
- additional reporting RNZ