In the 1960s the old Patangata County Council (now eastern Central Hawke's Bay) embarked on an ill-considered scheme to plant the road verges in radiata pines.

This was the idea of prominent ratepayer Duncan MacIntyre, who was then the MP for Hastings. MacIntyre was a complex and talented man, and a rising star in the Holyoake Government. Environmentally he was before his time, and in 1970 became our first Minister for the Environment.

I recall MacIntyre stating at a forestry seminar in the early 1980s on the Tokomaru Bay Marae (He was then MP for the East Cape and Minister of Agriculture) that the council's tree-planting initiative would "provide income that will help off-set rates".

He couldn't have been more wrong. The trees were never given any appropriate management and are now massive, hemmed in by a fence on one side and a road, now likely to be sealed, on the other.


PanPac has little interest in them, and the cost of removal is beyond the means of the CHBDC. Where some have been removed, at great cost, uncontrolled seedlings have taken their place. In some instances, seedling have established on the opposite side of the roads.

These trees have at least another century to live, and remain an awful imposition on the landscape. But it is not the only example where well-intended initiatives by public institutions that not considering the consequences.

Since the 1950s old catchment boards and, later, regional councils have promoted the planting of millions of poplar trees over farmland to arrest erosion. Along with willows, they have done a magnificent job in soil stabilisation. But no serious consideration has been given to their management and potential harvest for timber.

Inevitably, they will reach a massive size and be a liability. Like those roadside pines, they will live for another century if not felled, probably to waste. What a mess to clean up!

So, we don't just need vision here – that to be imagined – but to merely open our eyes to the vistas – those graphic examples.

Well, here's the thing! This headlong rush to plant a billion trees within the decade, driven by the current government, stands to have serious consequences. It has the makings of a landscape disaster, and in areas where contiguous whole-farm plantings in pine is carried out, the destruction of the social infrastructure that underpins rural life.

Forget about tree numbers; let's consider outcomes. There are creative options that fill the yawning gap between blanket clear-felled radiata and native forests. What can other countries show us?

The rural landscapes of the United Kingdom and northern Europe show a picturesque harmonising of trees and productive farm landscape. This has evolved over many centuries and now is really stabilised. This is not to say that we should replicate it; but it can inspire and demonstrate.


Central Europe forestry ethic features the concept of what the Germans call "plenterwald".
That is, a perpetual productive forest of mixed and managed species. High-value logs are removed when ready, often with draught horses to minimise forestry damage.

We could do the same with native associations which include selected species managed for eventual harvest, and likewise, with exotic hardwood associations. These forests are picturesque, favoured for recreation, and environmentally compatible.

Then, as alluded to above, there is the option of silvopastoral systems involving managed and marketed poplars over pasture. Or woodlots of reasonably fast-growing species alternative to radiata, such as redwoods, suitable eucalyptus species, and numerous others.

What Government, and the regional council for that matter, need to do is to establish an advisory structure to bring together knowledge and ideas, involving farm foresters, research institutions, regional councils and professional foresters, to develop concepts in accord with general public aspirations, and which will advance rather than potentially corrupt our rural landscape.

We need more trees, as does the planet, but New Zealand can take satisfaction from its forestry ethic. Our indigenous forest is protected, and almost all of our prodigious appetite for wood is satisfied from our pine estate (with all its pressing challenges), with more besides exported. But maybe we've got enough pines. We need vision as to the possibilities and an understanding of the issues to accompany this bucket of money.

This crash programme is dragging pine forestry down over stable and productive pastoral land, made more irreversible by the change in land ownership that goes with it. The consequences will last for generations, perhaps centuries.

* Ewan McGregor is a CHB farm forester, a consultant and former regional councillor.