Queen's Platinum Jubilee Tree planting event at Government House


Just after World War 2, there were incentives to clear forest and bring land into agricultural production. In places, the land had been stripped bare as forests were felled for sheep grazing. Today, you only have to look at the hills around Taihape and see the stumps of a once proud forest, dotting the paddocks of marginal farmland.

In the late 70’s direct action was taken by people to halt the felling of native forests for timber and the country paused to consider the future of its natural heritage. In 2002, all native forest logging on public land ended. (Labour Government Election promise) We still had more than six million hectares of native forest and healing had begun.

I am just a bit older than the Department of Conservation – 1984 - so I see positive changes in attitudes to conservation as progress in my lifetime.

I want to be able to look to the past and learn. I want to be able to look to a future full of opportunities to restore our natural heritage.

In 1988, Cyclone Bola devastated my home region of Tairawhiti, and the land went out to sea.

Following that incident, sustainable land management practices were put in place on the susceptible hillsides and planting of manuka on steep slopes to stabilise the land began. Pine forests were planted in the marginal country.

In recent times, when those pine trees matured, they were harvested, and a further spate of cyclones has brought the hillside down again.

We need to look at a better way forward. We need to work more closely with nature.

A month ago, I launched the implementation plan for the Aotearoa New Zealand Biodiversity Strategy 2020 – Te Mana o te Taiao. Collectively, we can make a difference to tackle the biodiversity crisis. – This means living with nature and healing the land.

These Queen’s Jubilee plantings represent just that. A spade in the ground to mark our place under the sky.

Fittingly the beginning of the planting of the 100,000 native trees – which support the Prime Minister’s vison of paying tribute to a woman whose dedication to a lifetime of service has never wavered - aligns with the dates of Matariki.

Matariki is a cluster of stars also known as the Pleiades. (Subaru to you)

This cluster has a special place for Māori communities and its connection to understanding of their natural and spiritual world.

During the lunar month of Haratua (mid-May to early June) Matariki sets in the western sky and is a sign that the harvest season has finished. People should have completed their preparations for the cold months ahead.

Matariki reappears in the skies in the lunar month of Te Tahi o Pipiri (late June or early July) in the Northeast, signalling the Māori New Year and a time for planting. If you are up early enough, you can see Matariki rising just above the horizon in the pre-dawn cold.

This year, for the first time, a public holiday on the 24th of June will celebrate Matariki. That date will shift each year to align with the Māori lunar calendar.

There are 14 sites from Kaitaia to Bluff, chosen to receive a portion of the trees to be planted this season.

These are community and iwi led riparian plantings, they’re restoring farm waterways and public reserves. They are providing corridors to link isolated patches of vegetation so that native wildlife can begin to reconnect landscapes.

The Government proudly supports ‘Trees that Count’ with this project. We are working with regional councils to make biodiversity protection, natural heritage, more viable for landowners because it is communities that will make the difference.

These plantings represent an important way forward for our quality of life. – and all of this with Nature at the heart of economic activity.

By carrying out these plantings in native wetlands, grasslands, and forests, we help New Zealand to meet its climate change commitments to increase carbon storage.

Over the next five years, people can expect to see a more coordinated and collaborative approach to biodiversity work, from central and local government to achieve much-needed gains for nature.

This is about creating and finding linkages. The linkage between communities, the linkage between remnant forests and wetlands from the mountains to the sea. Let us do this together.

The planting of this kauri at Government House to launch this event shows the connection with threatened native species and the values that restoration planting can realise, to protect and heal our whenua.

Kauri represents one of the world's mightiest trees, growing to over 50 m tall, with a trunk up to 16 m, and live for over 2,000 years. Nature will endure. Let us give this project the best possible start.

Mā mua ka kite a muri, mā muri ka ora a mua

Those who lead give sight to those who follow, those who follow give life to those who lead.

This Whakataukī also speaks to the importance of working together. It acknowledges and values the importance of both the leader and the followers.