Primary schoolkids dig trees for Arbor Day

A new Arbor Day initiative announced by Forestry Minister Stuart Nash will see thousands of primary school children get the chance to plant native trees in their communities.

The initiative is open to more than 2,400 primary schools. It is a partnership between Te Uru Rākau/NZ Forest Service and the conservation charity Trees That Count.

“Every primary school will be offered five native trees to plant, through the new Trees for Schools programme,” Mr Nash said.

“Kiwis have celebrated Arbor Day for more than 130 years, since the first tree-planting ceremonies in Greytown in the winter of 1890. Many community groups keep the tradition alive on 5 June every year but it has not been widely promoted in the past few years.

“We want to bring back the celebration of Arbor Day across the country as part of our push towards a sustainable and low-carbon future. Tree planting is one of the best ways to slow the effects of climate change, restore and enhance the environment, and improve biodiversity.

“We particularly want to encourage children to adopt Arbor Day, as future decision-makers. The trees we plant and the actions we take now will influence their lives. By planting trees, they learn more about the importance of the environment for our way of life, culture, and economy.

“Native birds and insects thrive in our indigenous forests, and tree planting protects waterways and prevents erosion in rural and provincial New Zealand. Exotic trees also contribute around $7 billion in annual export revenue - the third largest primary sector by value.

“Forestry and wood processing create jobs, training and skills opportunities and keeps up the momentum of economic recovery in our regions. Greater use of wood in our buildings and innovative products and industries can also support our drive to a low-carbon future.

“Whether you’re a student, teacher, a farmer, landowner, community group or iwi, or a gardener supporting your local nursery, I would like to encourage every New Zealander to get involved and plant trees this Arbor Day,” said Stuart Nash.

Schools who wish to be part of the Arbor Day initiative should register an interest before 30 June through a new portal on the website of Trees That Count. Trees will be delivered to schools from July onwards, along with a poster and educational material to help with tree care and maintenance. The portal is

The cost of the initiative is estimated at around $150,000, which will be met from within the baseline budget of Te Uru Rākau/NZ Forest Service. It is estimated around 10,000 native trees could be planted this year as a result of the programme.

A potted history of tree planting on Arbor Day – useful links

  • A brief history is on the website of Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of NZ here
  • Archival newsreel footage of Arbor Day ceremonies in 1948 is on the Archives NZ YouTube channel here
  • One of the earliest photos of an Arbor Day event in NZ is on the Alexander Turnbull Library site here. It shows children at Rata School in Ohingaiti, near Taihape, in 1894. 
  • A photo of Arbor Day celebrations by Ngati Porou children at Reporua School in Gisborne in 1912 is on the Alexander Turnbull Library site here
  • An 1890 newspaper report from Greytown describes NZ’s first Arbor Day here