Protection of Western Springs native forest/ngahere

Request for your assistance – Environment Court

Dear fellow resident of Westmere,

Hello. We are a newly incorporated society formed to save the Western Springs Forest from a plan to clearfell all 200 of the  pine trees in a way that would destroy both the regenerating native bush beneath them, and the essential character of this inner city forest SEA. 

With your support we can ensure a gradual transition from old pines to native forest that is better for the birds and other wildlife that live in the forest and also preserves the character of our local forest for recreation and visual enjoyment.  

For years many of us have walked through the Forest up from the Western Springs lake and down through the track on West View Road. But the track has been closed by Council on the premise that the trees in the reserve are dangerous because they might fall on someone. This is an extreme position that doesn’t stack up with common sense or assessments made by local arborists who say the trees are safe. We want to see the trees managed sensibly and get the track opened up again as soon as possible.

We are fortunate to have this urban native forest/ngahere in our Westmere community. It is the largest urban forest in Central Auckland and is rich in bio-diversity – much of which will have its habitat destroyed by the Council’s current plan to clearfell the old pines in one intensive operation.

The forest has seasonal streams, native birds, lizards, insects and a diverse sub-canopy community of native trees and plants that are growing up and will replace the pines in good time. 

At the foot of the forest is Motions creek which has ‘at risk’ native eels and is frequented by black swans and other birds. The forest is part of the flight path green corridor for birds, including the occasional white heron or kotuku, which is why it has been designatedas a Significant Ecological Areaunder the Unitary Plan.

Motions Creek bordered by the lush forest understory

All this is at risk of destruction and harm due to the proposed clear felling operation by the Auckland Council which is scheduled to take place in early 2020.

But with community support we can save our local forest.

We are asking people to give whatever support they can and if you are able to contribute anything financially for the legal challenge that would be a huge help.

The Forest is made up of 200 overstorey  pine trees standing tall on the horizon over the native understory. We all can see the gnarly pines as we drive and walk about Westmere and Western Springs and from as far away as Point Chevalier. We might take such a sight for granted or consider pines as nothing important but these particular trees are of significant value and a vital nursery for the natives, habitat for biodiversity, are a windbreak from the sea and absorb rain deluges that could cause erosion and flooding. They also collectively contain hundreds of tonnes of sequestered carbon which helps our climate as long as they remain standing.   

The Auckland Council recently obtained consent  to remove all 200 pine trees in a traumatic clear felling operation that will smash most of the native trees and leave a degraded landscape of low lying scrub, tree stumps and weeds.

They intend to plant the area in young natives over coming years and manage the weeds with extensive herbicide spraying which will drift across our neighbourhood.  

None of this is necessary or good for any existing native ecology let along the character of the forest and the quality of life for local residents.

If the Council’s logging operation proceeds up to 72% of the native forest and ecology will be destroyed.This is because each of the old pines is about 30-40 tonnes of wood. The very old native tree ferns, pohutukawa, pururi, whitey wood and other plants below will be crushed. Such an impact is  not contested by the Council.

The proposed planting of natives to remediate would not mitigate for this destruction. All going according to plan new natives would take 50-90 years to establish. The forest is currently a closed canopy, but it will become open and full of weeds. Managing this will be a major undertaking.  We only have to look down the Bullock Track to see what happened when the large pine  trees were removed.

There is an obvious alternative.

For many years the forest has been managed through gradual removal of pines as they are damaged or become pre-disposed to failing. This minimises impact on the native understory and everything that lives there. The natives are flourishing. There are relatively few weeds in the forest and these too can be managed with regular native plantings as light gaps appear.

A young rimu that will eventually grow tall enough to take over the role of protective canopy from the pines

The Society For the Protection of Western Springs Forest is advocating for this tried and true transition management of the forest with some improvements.  There needs to be non chemical weed and pest management and, crucially, the public walking track needs to be opened as soon as possible so that we can all enjoy this local treasure once again.

With this alternative plan, the forest will transition over time to a totally native ecology, so we will end up with the same result in a shorter term than the long-term mess and destruction and biodiversity and habitat loss inherent in the Council’s current plan.

The legal appeal:

Many local residents, who have become founding members of the society, objected to the original resource consent application and also attending the hearings in December 2018. During the hearing it was clear the Auckland Council experts hadn’t considered many important matters, including the actual health of the pine trees. We hoped the resource commissioners would decline the application, however in May 2019 they agreed to it with conditions. We believe their decision is wrong and their conditions are insufficient. The pine trees should be managed case by case for health and safety and the native forest/ngahere and the biodiversity that lives on it should be allowed to continue to grow and flourish beneath. This is what happens in other jurisdictions and with other transitioning Forests.

Our Society has recently lodged an appeal in the Environment Court. This is one thing for which we need immediate funds.. These appeals depend on expert evidence and professional legal counsel. To date, we have had experts donate their time to guide us and help us challenge the resource consent, but now we need to engage them officially for the hearing. Environment Court cases are expensive; costs can easily go over $80,000 for the experts and other legal costs. Usually communities do not even get through the first step of filing an appeal as the paperwork, legal work and filing fee itself are daunting, but we have gotten through that step.

We believe we have a very good chance of success but without professional assistance the case is not possible. These environmental cases are won or lost over expert evidence. 

We know that we are all being asked to donate to various worthy causes. That this unique forest is in our neighbourhood and if we don’t protect it, no one else will. We can’t do this alone.. Any donation would be hugely appreciated – including your time. No contribution is too small:

Donate $25, $50, $100, $200

See the support us page for details

Please also take a look at our FAQs and don’t hesitate to contact us with any offers of help:

We will be holding local information and organising meetings over the coming weeks and months. We’d love to have you there. Together we can save our local forest.

Thank you for your support.

Kind regards,
Wendy Gray
Society for the Preservation of Western Springs Forest