© New Zealand Broadcasting School 2021

'Employ, educate, regenerate' - replanting Canterbury's lost forests

Hugo Cameron
A native tree planting at The Groynes park  Samuel Scholes

A Christchurch environmental organisation aims to revitalise Canterbury - and open opportunities for the disadvantaged along the way.

Steve Bush calculated Trees for Canterbury, the organisation he manages, has put well over a million plants in the ground since its conception in 1990.

The organisation was created to regenerate the lost native bush of Canterbury, starting with backyard plantings but now operating out of a fully functioning nursery in Woolston.

"Canterbury, believe it or not, only has two percent of its original native bush left. So, we're trying to change that," Bush said.

He said that this percentage is low by world standards, and in some areas of Canterbury there are not even small pockets of native flora remaining.

Projects Coordinator Robin Stove said planting trees is important for us all, especially in the current climate crisis.

"They do so much for us. It's giving back to the environment, we're getting oxygen from them, they're giving life to the planet," he said.

Stove also said that the plantings created carbon sinks, a step towards the carbon neutral goal the Christchurch City Council is aiming for by 2050.

The project operates under three principles: employ, educate, and regenerate.

"The employment is to work with as many different people who have challenges in life. To give them somewhere to come... a sense of self worth, and a sense of belonging," Bush explained.

He said that Trees for Canterbury offers work to people with disadvantages (physically, intellectually, at risk youth, or people who have made mistakes in life) to give support and training for self-development, instilling self-esteem and work habit.

The organisation's website stated that almost 2500 people have gained training or community involvement through their nursery.

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Volunteers at a community planting Samuel Scholes

On a weekly basis the group recruits fifty volunteers from different walks of life.

Florist Amye Silvester was at a community planting in The Groynes park near Northwood with her family. She said since she spends a lot of time pruning pieces off plants she should give back somehow.

"With a three-year-old it's quite cool to see her involved in putting plants in and helping the environment," Silvester said.

Trees for Canterbury holds these community events semi-regularly during the planting season. Nine community plantings were scheduled from May through to October this year.

It is also involved in the Council managed planting of native forest in the Port Hills.

Bush said the organisation is not for profit - it sustains itself through trustees (who just do it for the "warm fuzzies") plus the sale of natives from its nursery, and that income goes back into the project.

"We're not reliant on grants or donations anymore... The more [plants] people buy, the more we can do for the environment and for the greater Christchurch community," Bush said.

Harewood Community Board member and Environment Canterbury candidate Aaron Campbell was at the planting in The Groynes, and said there has been more interest in environmental events recently.

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Aaron Campbell and Robin Stove Hugo Cameron

"I think this year particularly it's been a compounding effect of [Swedish climate activist] Greta Thunberg and the Student Strike for Climate marches, there's been an increased level of awareness," Campbell said.

Campbell had recently advocated for more funding for the Styx Living Laboratory Trust which organises environmental work in the Styx River catchment.

He felt projects like the Living Laboratory and Trees for Canterbury are often overlooked in local politics and don't receive the funding they need.

Steve Bush said that Trees for Canterbury was doing well regardless.

He said that since their millionth tree in September last year another 40,000 had been planted, and three more planting days were in the calendar for this year.