Christ’s College Native Trees for the Christchurch Green Spine

Posted: 06 April 2020



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The Environment Committee at Christ’s College has been nurturing a nursery of around 25 different native species. Around 2500 juvenile plants were planted to a permanent location around the Brooker Ave Reserve in the ‘Red Zone’ as part of a government plan to rejuvenate an area badly affected by the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes. 800 Native plants and trees were planted at QEII in partnership with the Christchurch City Council as the first step in gifting a planted Adventure Nature Trail to the citizens of Christchurch. Eleven schools have been gifted Satellite nurseries that will produce 4500 trees to be planted in 2020. They will pot up and grow on 10,000 trees for the 2021 winter planting season.


The ‘residential red zone’ refers to areas of land in and around Christchurch, New Zealand, that experienced severe damage in the 2010 and 2011 Christchurch earthquakes and were deemed infeasible to rebuild on. Thousands of residents were forced to leave permanently, their homes were knocked down and once popular neighborhoods were turned into modern-day ghost towns. The earthquake caused widespread ‘liquefaction’, in which saturated soil loses its strength and stiffness and behaves more like a liquid than a solid.

The residential red zone has been uninhabitable since the earthquakes, and nature has slowly taken over the vast open space, with weeds growing through roads and the addition of plenty of bird life. The Red Zone now also known as the ‘Ōtākaro Avon River Corridor’ covers 602 hectares, which by comparison to Sydney’s Centennial Park at 189 hectares, London’s Hyde Park at 140 hectares and New York’s Central Park at 341 hectares – is huge!

While the area will likely never be inhabited, the New Zealand government announced plans in 2019 to regenerate the area. A ‘Green Spine’ would be at the core of the proposed parkland, 11 kilometres long and extending out up to 150 metres from both sides of the river, with seating, picnic and barbecue areas.

Working in conjunction with Eco Action, the local community and a number of other schools in the Christchurch area we have set up satellite nurseries to grow eco-source native plant seed from Travis Wetland. Eco-sourcing means plants are adapted to their local environment and are more likely to grow well.  Tree species bring grown by the students include Coprosma robusta, Cordyline australis, Aristotelia serrata, Aristotelia serrata and Hoheria angustifolia. These plants will provide year-round food and habitat for native birds and other fauna like insects, lizards and invertebrates.

Seeds are germinated and potted on by student volunteers and grow them on till they are ready to be put in the ground. Students then help transfer and plant the young saplings in the Red Zone.

Christ’s College and Rangi Ruru Girls’ School have fifteen students on each of two weekday afternoons during term time who do the propagation and pricking out of seedlings into the small pots that are initially grown on for gifting to the other eleven Satellite Nursery schools. The other eleven schools also have their weekly nursery plantings where students are involved. Planting out in their final locations occupies four Sunday planting mornings from 10-12 noon and uses around 100 students on each occasion.


Schools, teachers and the business community have collaborated to provide resources at cost or gifted donations that have allowed the project to grow. Significant expertise has come from energetic adults who have set up the charitable trust Eco Action Nursery Trust. They have arranged access to land seeds and materials as well as the relationships with Council and corporates that together enable students to do their voluntary work propagating and planting trees. Getting the numbers required at each school involved and then resourcing that commitment will continue to be a challenge to be met by the Trust which for the 20,000 trees planned to be planted in 2022 which will require about NZ$100,000 of either cash or kind donations. This is achievable with the current structures in place.


Through this activity students are given an opportunity to do a practical task that helps the planet and their local environment. They are taught about plant propagation as well as learning about global climate change mitigation through carbon sequestration. They are also taught about habitat restoration which results in more native bird friendly food sources so that the native birds will return to the central city.

Long term

The regeneration of the Ōtākaro Avon River Corridor is an opportunity for our students to demonstrate innovative environmental leadership. The impact this regeneration will have on our city cannot be underestimated and will physically change and shape the way Christchurch looks and feels forever.

This project will help reduce the impacts of future climate change and support a growing and prosperous economy.  Other long term benefits this type of conservation work are improved wetlands, storm water management and flood control, fosters biodiversity, supports wildlife and enhances water quality in the Avon by filtering the storm water first.

Our hope is that by being involved in this type of service work, our students develop a deep sense of responsibility and ownership for taking care of the environment and to be leaders within the wider community.


Author: John Wong, Head of the Environment Committee,  Christ’s College

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