From our Chair: Turning on the power of a trillion trees

As the Chair of Environment Canterbury, I would like to use this column to engage with you and other people living or working in Canterbury. I would love to hear your views and ideas.

Environment Canterbury Chair Jenny Hughey

Environment Canterbury Chair Jenny Hughey

Global commitment to planting needed to reduce CO2 

A trillion trees could remove nearly two-thirds of the human-derived CO2 in the atmosphere, according to international research.

Scientists think this is potentially the single most powerful tool for reducing CO2 so far but would need to go alongside continuing efforts to reduce emissions.

These trees would cover about 11% of the Earth’s land area (China and the United States combined) and would need a huge international commitment and take perhaps until the end of the century before the full effect was apparent. 

So, in Canterbury a renewed focus on planting trees makes real sense.

More trees are better for everyone

Tree planting is also a great way for people to connect with others while contributing to everyone’s wellbeing.

As an organisation, Environment Canterbury has a big focus on planting, to help protect waterways from pollution, but also as a tool to control erosion on steeper country.

We’ve invested millions of ratepayer dollars, as well as leveraging Government and other funding, to support and encourage landowners with hundreds of planting projects all over Canterbury.

The benefits of innovative planting

Most rural people will know, however, there are much wider benefits from planting trees than our highly important focus of protecting waterways.

For a start, research by the Institute of Environmental Science and Research and Lincoln University has suggested that native mānuka and kānuka seems to be able to remove nitrate as well as harmful bacteria from the root zone at a much higher level than pasture or pine trees.

This has real implications as we look for innovative ways to manage and reduce nitrate leaching into groundwater as a result of intensive farming, with some areas in Canterbury showing ongoing increases in N levels because of the legacy effects of farming.

Mānuka and kānuka are also important species for the longer-term re-establishment of native bush, either in covenants or other areas protected from stock.

And on top of that there is the potential for highly valuable mānuka honey and plant oil extracts.

Project SCAR

In mid-2019 Environment Canterbury kicked off the SCAR (Soil Conservation and Revegetation) project in Hurunui and Kaikōura districts.

SCAR is a four-year, $3 million programme which includes money from the Ministry of Primary Industries to assist landowners to plant and protect erosion-prone land.

It’s simple – our land management advisors help landowners get:

  • subsidised poplar poles (young tree stems) and free protective sleeves
  • up to $5000 towards a detailed farm map
  • a subsidy for fencing to retire areas
  • and support for native planting to assist the regeneration of retired areas

In addition to the obvious environmental benefits, programmes such as SCAR are providing employment and helping communities build local capacity and skills.

Join the movement

With the effects of climate change already upon us, actions to protect land and enable farmers to be more resilient are essential and will help reduce the long-term costs to individuals, communities, and councils.

If there’s a tree-planting group in your area I would love to know about it, and if you can’t find one, contact us for help.

Planting trees is a great nature-based response to problems facing our environment.

It is great for our health and connects us with future generations – let’s aim to plant more trees this year!

Send your feedback

As ever, I am interested in hearing your views on tree planting and other topics – please email me at