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Arborist fined for felling Notable Tree

An arborist has been ordered to pay a fine of $32,500 after cutting down a Notable Tree in Epsom, Auckland

In 2020, Waitākere Tree Services Limited were contracted by a developer to clear trees from a site on Manukau Road to make way for townhouses.

Waitākere Tree Services was instructed to remove all trees and, despite checking the Notable Tree Schedule on the Auckland Council website, it failed to identify that a Notable Tree was on the property.

According to guidance from Auckland Council, a Notable Tree is “of special importance because they commemorate important events in a nation’s history, are exceptional or unique examples of a species, are critical to the survival of other species, or are of such age, stature, character and visibility that they are regarded as the best in the district”.

Notable Trees are listed on Auckland Council’s Notable Tree Schedule (other, but not all councils in New Zealand, have a similar register). Inclusion on the Schedule means that a tree:

  • Has been officially recognised as being a Notable Tree

  • Is protected by provisions in district or unitary plans to ensure it is not damaged or destroyed.

  • May be eligible for grants and other incentives.

Following its felling, the site developer, Eden Developments, noticed the tree was no longer standing and notified Auckland Council that it had been cut down. In response, Auckland Council took Waitākere Tree Services to court and argued that the company failed to perform adequate checks to ensure it did not remove a Notable Tree.

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

“They are experienced in arboricultural 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.”

Status known but not provided

During court proceedings, it emerged that Eden Developments and Stonewood Group Limited, which were contracted to undertake the development, knew of the tree’s status but failed to provide it to the arborist.

Despite Judge Melinda Dickey’s concern that Waitākere Tree Services were not provided with the report – and her belief that the tree would not have been destroyed had the arborist been provided with access to the report – she still found that the company and its owner were careless in its approach.

Auckland Council chose not to press charges against the developers, which the judge labelled a "regrettable event".

Dickey said: “It is a regrettable turn of events, which leaves the responsibility for what occurred resting with the defendants in this case, as no other person has, I understand, been charged with the offending.”

Arborist ‘should have known better’

However, Dickey added that didn’t detract from Waitākere Tree Services’ responsibility to identify a Notable Tree on the property.

“While a website check was undertaken, it missed the notation for this tree because of the way in which the check function is set up,” she said. “The omission was compounded by the people ‘on the ground’ relying only on the advice from their employer as opposed to making their own assessment and checking further.

“Whilst there was no deliberate non-compliance, the defendants clearly ought to have known better as qualified people experienced in this field.”

The defendants offered to replace the Notable Tree, which was a copper beach, with “the most mature beech they could find in the North Island”. However, the judge decided on a financial penalty of $32,000 instead and commented that the community would lose the benefits of the tree for “a generation”.

More legal woes for arborists

In issue 19 of NZ Landscaper Magazine, we reported on another arborist, who found themselves in hot water regarding the incorrect removal of a tree.

In that instance, an arborist was contracted to perform work that included the removal of three trees from a customer’s back boundary. Before work commenced, the customer instructed the arborist via text message to “do what you think is best as an arborist” and to “give it [the garden] a good crew cut”.

In response, the arborist removed 17 trees. A Disputes Tribunal ruling found that they had removed 11 without consent and was ordered to pay $1,450 compensation to cover the cost of purchasing and planting 11 replacement trees.


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