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Arborist fined $42k for RMA breach

An Auckland arborist has been fined $42,000 after cutting down a protected Monterey Cypress tree

Arbor Works was engaged by the property owner to cut down a Monterey Cypress tree on Moore Street in Auckland, as it was dying from the top and in deteriorating condition. Its principal, Mike Bird, failed to check if the tree was listed on Auckland Council’s Schedule of Notable Trees and removed it. 

The removal of the tree was then brought to the attention of the council in November 2022 by a member of the public, who saw the tree had been cut down. As a result, Auckland Council took Arbor Works to court, where it was heard that Arbor Works did not apply for a resource consent to remove the tree, nor did Arbor Works communicate with Auckland Council about the tree’s proposed removal. 

Sentenced after guilty plea 

As a result, the company was charged with breaching the Resource Management Act and was sentenced after pleading guilty. 

The Monterey Cypress in question is listed on Auckland Council’s Schedule of Notable Trees, a register which is accessible to the public. However, Bird failed to check to see if the tree in question was listed. 

Judge Brian Dwyer said that, in failing to do so, Bird had acted recklessly and failed to undertake a “simple, fundamental check”. 

“I concur with the council’s submission that the size, overall condition of the tree and the Defendant’s experience ought to have guided it to exercise care and check the tree’s status before removing it,” he said. 

“In short, we have a situation of an experienced professional undertaking its usual line of work, failing to undertake a simple, fundamental check as to the status of a large tree. Under those circumstances, I categorise Arbor Works’ actions as reckless and its culpability accordingly high.” 

Large fine 

Due to Bird’s guilty plea, the company’s previous good character and cooperation with the council, Dwyer handed down a reduced fine of $42,000. 

Following the verdict, Bird told Stuff that he was normally careful to check the status of the trees he was working on and admitted he made a mistake in not doing so. 

“This tree was partially dead and didn’t look to be significant in any way and I made a mistake not to check,” he said. 

“In my 25 years as an arborist, I have refused to cut down old trees that are protected and I’m glad there’s a system in place to protect historic trees,” Bird said. 

Check the register! 

This isn’t the first time Auckland Council has prosecuted an arborist for cutting down a tree listed on the Notable Tree Schedule. In September 2023, NZ Landscaper reported that Waitākere Tree Services had been fined $32,500 after clearing trees from a site on Manukau Road to make way for townhouses. 

Despite being instructed to by the developers to clear the trees, Waitākere Tree Services was found liable for removing a Notable Tree. 

“They ought to have been aware of the tree’s status,” said Auckland Council’s Manager Compliance and Investigations, Kerri Fergusson, at the time. 

“They are experienced in arboriculture matters; this is their area of expertise. Failing to carry out adequate checks is no excuse. This sends a clear message to those working in this space [that] appropriate checks must be made.” 


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