Memorial tree stolen in ‘ram-raid’

The site from where a 45-year-old tree was stolen in Duntroon. A tree of the same species and age...
The site from where a 45-year-old tree was stolen in Duntroon. A tree of the same species and age is in the background. Photo: Wyatt Ryder
A 12m-tall memorial tree has gone missing from the main street of Duntroon in what the owners described as "the rural equivalent of a ram-raid".

Known among locals as the Max Smith tree, the 45-year-old liquidambar tree sat near the public toilets on private land belonging to the Maerewhenua Corporation.

Maerewhenua spokesman Errol Wills said it felt like a situation from Neighbours At War.

"I’m pissed off. There are things in modern society you don’t expect to happen."

Not only was it a beautiful old tree, but it had important connections to the history of Duntroon, he said.

Max Smith was the project engineer of the Upper Waitaki hydro-electric power scheme in the 1970s.

Mr Smith, who died in 2013, was instrumental in creating the Lake Ruataniwha rowing course and known for planting hundreds of trees throughout Upper Waitaki.

The tree was planted by the Ministry of Works when it owned the land during the project.

Mr Wills said while the theft of the tree was "not the end of the world" and nobody was hurt, it was a thoughtless and upsetting action.

"All that remains is a heap of rubble. Someone has overstepped their mark."

It looked like "the rural equivalent of a ram-raid", he said.

"It probably doesn’t match criminal-wise, but it’s the same intent. They’ve come on to private property and ruined a tree."

He suspected the tree went missing the Monday before last while the only worker on site was at woodturning club.

None of the neighbours had noticed anything, other than the tree had disappeared.

The theft had been reported to the police.

He hoped somebody had seen something and would come forward with more information.

So who did cut down the tree?

Could it be the logging crew that just moved in for a nearby project?

The corporation had spoken to them and they knew nothing about it.

A Waitaki District Council spokesman said it had checked with its contractors and it was not them.

Network Waitaki clearing trees near powerlines? Or the local development organisation?

Not them either, Mr Wills said.

"I’ve got my suspicions."

He believed the perpetrator was an industrial worker who had taken the tree and run it through a wood chipper, as there were thick tyre tracks and woodchips left on the scene.

There was also a large pile of gravel and rubble covering the base of the tree.

Who told that worker to cut down the tree was still a mystery.

"Someone made a decision, for some reason, that the tree had to be removed."

A police spokeswoman said inquiries were ongoing.

The tree is not listed as a heritage tree on the district plan.