20 Jan 2016

Kauri protester pleads guilty to trespass

11:27 am on 20 January 2016

A man who staged a sit-in protest up a west Auckland kauri says he should not have had to break the law to protect the environment.

Arborist Johno Smith, 32, pleaded guilty to trespass in the Waitakere district court this morning.

The Kauri was attacked with a chainsaw while protester Johno Smith was in its branches.

The Kauri was attacked with a chainsaw while protester Johno Smith was in its branches. Photo: RNZ/Supplied

Smith spent nearly two weeks up the tree in Titirangi in December, in an attempt to stop a property developer cutting it down.

The High Court has granted an injunction to stop development on the site, until an appeal against the development's resource consent is heard later this year.

Smith said he took full responsibility for his actions but wanted stronger laws to prevent mature trees from being removed.

In court he requested a restorative justice meeting with the property owners.

Smith remains on bail and will be sentenced next month.

The owners of the property on which the kauri sits had planned to fell the tree so they could build on the section but in March last year, after a vocal campaign and a four-day sit-in up the tree by activist Michael Tavares, they gave an assurance the tree was safe.

But they also said they wanted to hand the responsibility to others, including the council, to buy the land and compensate them.

A council-appointed mediator was brought in to help discussions between the owners and campaigners said the owners had a valid resource consent, granted by Auckland Council, to build two houses on adjoining sites and remove the tree.

But in December, contractors arrived on site with chainsaws to fell the tree. Local protestors convinced them to stop, then Mr Smith climbed the tree.

When he scaled the kauri on 11 December, Smith said the tree was a "beautiful specimen".

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs