Wilding pines, or wilding conifers, are the wrong trees in the wrong place. More than a quarter of New Zealand is at risk of being smothered by these invasive pests, which affect ancient native landscapes, unique biodiversity and productive soils.

We have been involved in wilding pine control since 2003. In 2016, we partnered with the National Wilding Conifer Control Programme (NWCCP)(external link) to plan and coordinate control across Canterbury/Waitaha.

Read on to find out more about these pest trees and what we and our partners are doing to control them.

What are wilding pines?

Wilding pines are species of conifer that have self-seeded and are growing where they shouldn’t.

Exotic conifers, including pines, were introduced to Aotearoa New Zealand for use as timber, shelter and erosion control. They adapted well here and grow and spread too quickly creating dense infestations.

Not all conifer species are a problem in this region - some are more spread-prone and invasive than others. There are ten introduced species of pine, fir and larch that are responsible for most of the wilding problem we have in Canterbury/Waitaha.

Common name Scientific name
Bishops pine Pinus muricata
Contorta (Lodgepole) pine Pinus contorta
Corsican pine Pinus nigra
Douglas fir  Pseudotsuga menziesii
European larch Larix decidua
Maritime pine Pinus pinaster
Mountain Pine and dwarf mountain pine Pinus mugo and P.uncinata
Ponderosa pine Pinus ponderosa
Radiata pine Pinus radiata
Scots pine Pinus sylvestris

Why are they a pest?

They are an extremely invasive pest plant - their seeds can travel on the wind for many kilometres, and they grow quickly and spread exponentially.

There are economic, social and cultural impacts of wilding pine spread in Canterbury/Waitaha including:

  • Loss of productive farmland and precious water resources (they are very thirsty trees).
  • Destruction of native biodiversity as they smother native plants and reduce the habitat for native animals.
  • Increased wildfire hazard and intensity.
  • Dramatic changes to iconic landscapes and scenery.
  • Negative impacts on culturally and historically important landscapes and sites.

Unlike well-managed plantation forests, wilding pine infestations are rarely a usable resource.

Unless we work together to prevent the spread of wilding pines it’s estimated that more than 25 per cent of New Zealand would be covered by dense wilding infestations within 30 years.

Controlling wilding pines

We control wilding pines in Canterbury/Waitaha in 16 areas, called management units.

Our goals are to:

  • remove wilding conifers from the landscape
  • eliminate seed sources wherever possible
  • transition the management of wilding pine control back to the landholder.

The National Wilding Conifer Control Programme (NWCCP) led by Biosecurity NZ was established in 2016 to ensure a collaborative, coordinated and effective approach to national wilding management.

Programme partners include central and local government, community stakeholder groups, mana whenua, researchers, industry and private landowners.

The NWCCP exists to deliver on the outcomes of the National wilding conifer management strategy 2015-2030 – its vision: to prevent the spread of wilding conifers and contain or eradicate established areas of wilding conifers by 2030.

Of the total known infestation area nationally (over 3 million hectares), around 70 per cent had received at least one round of control work by December 2022. Repeat control and ongoing maintenance are still needed to remove new growth from seeds already in the ground.

Please check our Public Notices page for upcoming wilding pine control work on public land.

Fighting climate change

While it is true that all trees, including wildings, do sequester carbon, wilding trees are not a helpful tool when it comes to achieving climate change targets because their negative impacts far outweigh their carbon-absorbing benefit.

Read more: 'Are wilding pines useful for fighting climate change? (mackenziewildingtrust.org)'

Wilding pine spread over the years

SH73 in the 1970s

SH73 in the 1970s

SH73 in 2012

SH73 in 2012

SH73 in 2018

SH73 in 2018

Control requirements and responsibility

Wilding pines are classified as pests in Canterbury’s Regional Pest Management Plan (CRPMP) and are in the Progressive Containment programme. The outcome of this programme is to contain or reduce the geographic distribution of the subject to an area.

No one may sell, propagate or distribute wilding pines or the conifer species declared pests in Canterbury within Canterbury.

The following scenarios in this document explain who is responsible under the CRPMP to manage wilding conifers to prevent reinfestation on property.

What you can do

Anyone can join us in the fight against these invasive pests, here are some practical ways to get involved:

  • Join one of the fantastic community groups and help tackle the wilding pine problem locally.
  • Remove wilding pine seedlings on your own or public land. Pull them out of the ground or cut small trees close to the ground - they can be left on-site to break down naturally.
  • Replace pest trees on your property with native plants or less spread-prone exotic species. Check out the Right tree for your place guide (PDF file, 595 KB) for inspiration.
  • Work with neighbours to control wilding pines that have spread across property boundaries.
  • Businesses can sponsor community projects, take part in volunteer days and help spread the word.

If you have any questions about wilding pines, please contact our biosecurity team at 0800 324 636 or email biosecurity@ecan.govt.nz.

How to identify wilding pines

Conifers are woody plants that have cones instead of flowers. You can identify conifer species by the appearance of their needles, cones and bark using the Wilding Conifer Quick ID Guide.

For more in-depth information, visit the New Zealand Plant Conservation Network’s website via the links below.

Contorta (lodgepole) pine

Lodgepole pine
Pinus contorta

Large shrub or small to medium-sized tree (sometimes large in cultivation); habit erect or spreading. Branches straight or somewhat twisted. Bark reddish-brown, grey on surface, fissured and forming small plates.

Find out more about lodgepole pine

Corsican pine (Pinus nigra)

Corsican pine
Pinus nigra

Tall tree to 40 m with open-branching habit. The dark brown bark is fissured and forms scaly plates.

Find out more about Corcican pine

Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris)

Scots pine
Pinus sylvestris

Medium sized tree reaching about 35 m. Needles are stout 2.5-7 cm by 1-1.5 mm, in bunches of 2.

Find out more about Scots pine

Mountain pine (Pinus mugo)

Mountain pine
Pinus mugo

Small tree or multi-stemmed shrub. Dark green rigid leaves, more or less curved but not twisted.

Find out more about Mountain pine

Radiata pine (Pinus radiata)

Radiata pine
Pinus radiata

Medium to large tree. Needles are slender, 15 cm long, deep or dark green and held in bunches of 3.

Find out more about Radiata pine

Bishops pine (Pinus muricata)

Bishops pine
Pinus muricata

Medium sized tree up to 25 m high with straight trunk, and spreading or slightly drooping branches.

Find out more about Bishops pine

Douglas fir/Oregon pine (Pseudotsuga menziesii)

Douglas fir/Oregon pine
Pseudotsuga menziesii

Very large evergreen tree. Bark thick, reddish-brown beneath, rough and furrowed when mature.

Find out more about Douglas fir

Maritime pine (Pinus pinaster)

Maritime pine
Pinus pinaster

Medium-sized to large tree with open crown, the stout trunk becoming bare of branches for most of length.

Find out more about Maritime pine 

Ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa)

Ponderosa pine
Pinus ponderosa

Medium to large tree. Needles are 25 cm long, rigid, dull-green, in bunches of 3, projecting forward.

Find out more about Ponderosa pine

European larch (Larix decidua)

European larch
Larix decidua

Open-branching deciduous tree to up to 43 m tall. Needles are grass-green, 4 cm long held in dense whorls of 40-65. Male cones are yellow; female cones are crimson red, maturing to brown.

Find out more about European larch

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