Police and tree-cutting contractors turned up at Ōwairaka/Mt Albert in the early hours of this morning to try to begin the removal of exotic trees, protesters say.

A small group turned up about 4.15am with police, and left about 5am after being unable to access the summit road of the Auckland volcano.

The Tūpuna Maunga Authority - made up of iwi, council and Crown representatives - is having 345 non-native trees removed to restore native vegetation and wildlife to the mountain.

The tree removal was meant to start on November 11 until mid-December.

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Tree lovers block the entrance to the summit of Ōwairaka / Mt Albert in protest against plans to chop down 350 exotic trees. Photo / Jason Oxenham
Tree lovers block the entrance to the summit of Ōwairaka / Mt Albert in protest against plans to chop down 350 exotic trees. Photo / Jason Oxenham

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But protesters are maintaining a round-the-clock blockade of the summit road, calling on the authority to scrap its plans and stagger the tree removal process.

Other locals have voiced support for the project, calling the opposition a "slap in the face" for Māori and ignoring the history of colonisation and land alienation.

One of the protesters - Kieran McLean - said the contractors turned up out of the blue this morning.

"Police are talking with the residents and the people up here. A crowd of people are rapidly forming at the gate.

"There's various security hanging around and a few members of TreeScape as well, trying to get equipment in this early in the morning."

Honour the Maunga member Anna Radford said the decision to turn up early in the morning was cowardly and disgraceful.

Radford said it's a disappointing tactic that will only increase the protesters' resolve.

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"To come in the cover of the dark, in the middle of the night, is absolutely shocking. We would prefer they didn't evict us at all, but if they're going to do it, at least do it in the light of day.

"I'm really disappointed the Tūpuna Maunga Authority has taken a cowardly approach.

"To send in the police in the wee small hours of the morning, to wake up and terrify a group of peaceful people who are sleeping - it's shocking."

Tree Council in favour of felling exotics on Ōwairaka

Artist impression of the Tūpuna Maunga Authority's plans for Ōwairaka/Mt Albert once the native regeneration project is complete. Image / SuppliedImage / Supplied
Artist impression of the Tūpuna Maunga Authority's plans for Ōwairaka/Mt Albert once the native regeneration project is complete. Image / SuppliedImage / Supplied

Inspector George Fanamanu, police's area prevention manager (relieving) Auckland City West, said police attended the site this morning at the request of the Tūpuna Maunga Authority.

"Police's role was simply to ensure the public's safety and the safety of all those who attended. It was also to maintain the peace," he said.

"We recognise and respect the public's lawful right to protest, while also acknowledging people's right to go about their day to day business and to feel safe.

"Police have since left the site and will continue to monitor the situation and assess our operational response as required."

The Tree Council says it fully supports the Tūpuna Maunga Authority's plans to remove 345 exotic trees from Ōwairaka/Mt Albert.

The council said in a statement it had always recognised the positive role of large established trees, whether exotic or native.

But long-term the outcome of removing the exotic and weed trees from all maunga and restoring the native ecology would be "hugely positive" for Auckland and Mt Albert.

The Tūpuna Maunga Authority's Integrated Management Plan was publicly notified in April 2016, and the public was able to make submissions. Public hui had also been held for the past year.

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The plan's aim was "to restore and enable the role and responsibility of mana whenua as kaitiaki [guardians] over the Tūpuna Maunga alongside recognition of European and other histories and interactions with the maunga", the statement said.

"We recognise that whilst to many Aucklanders [ourselves included] these unique landscapes are highly valued recreational spaces, to the iwi these are treasures handed down through the generations," it said.

The tihi (summits) were the most sacred parts of the maunga and had been badly damaged by "ill-advised and ill-informed developments" including exotic plantings.

"We recognise that this is a cultural issue as much as it is an ecological one, and the Tree Council supports the Tūpuna Maunga Authority's autonomy over how they want to manage their maunga, having finally had them returned to them under the Treaty after at least 180 years of colonial control."

The council acknowledges people's concerns at seeing established trees removed from a familiar landscape but said those fears could be allayed by getting a better understanding of the overall plans for Auckland's maunga.