Across the way from us in Central Otago a unique team-up of conservation legends (aka ‘Good Eggs’) is working to restore a local Queenstown wetland – with benefits for the whole community.
Before you dive in, a quick word. We love amplifying the work of those who value guardianship of the land and nurturing nature as much as we do. If you know of someone who deserves to be profiled as a Good Egg, drop us a line.
The room is abuzz at Shotover Primary. Today is the first session for a group of Year 7 students who have elected to be Enviro Leaders as part of their project-based learning this year. They’re seated around trays of yellow kōwhai seeds they’ve just popped out of their casings, tuning into Jo Smith, Whakatipu Reforestation Trust’s Education Officer.
“Look at your seed. Feel it, describe it. Is it hard or is it soft? Smooth or rough?”
She points at a diagram of a cross-section of a seed. “See that yellow coating? It’s called the testa. It’s a hard, waxy coating. The embryo inside is asleep but the coating blocks everything. How, in nature, would the water get in?”
Explaining how they can “fast-forward” natural processes, Jo shows the students how to nick the seed coat with a pair of nail clippers, carefully avoiding the micropyle. “This is where the radicle comes out, the little root, so we don’t want to tamper with it.”
These young conservationists are propagating kōwhai seeds for a new cycle of planting for the Shotover Wetlands, just down the road from their school. The wetland itself sits below the suburb of Lower Shotover, serving as a community greenspace with a popular walking track circling the perimeter of the wetland.
The idea for the Wetlands Project came from Grant Stalker and the Whakatipu Reforestation Trust who suggested it to teachers at Shotover Primary to start the project, planting the first trees in April 2016.
Collectively the group came up with a vision to “restore this wetland so that it is a thriving source of life and learning for the community, particularly the students of Shotover Primary School.” They also see the restoration of the wetland as an opportunity to facilitate connections between students and the community, fostering a passion for nature, such that all can thrive together.
“it’s all about engagement; being part of nature and learning the different processes that work within it.”
Why the wetlands?
The wetland is regionally significant for a number of reasons, including its high diversity of habitat types. Twenty-one species of native plants have been recorded in the Wetland, including the at-risk Olearia lineata. Bird species observed include pukeko, shelduck and kahu and the wetland also provides potential habitat for local crake, scaup, shoveller, black fronted tern and plover.
This type of wetland is scarce in Otago and it has been through a number of land use changes. As a result, there are a number of invasive weed species and the ecosystem has been severely modified by human activity.
To date, an impressive 2200 native shrubs, trees and grasses have been planted around the perimeter.
To restore the health of the wetland and encourage further native animal species, the students of Shotover Primary are working with the Trust and Grant Stalker to remove weed species, such as willow, and boost the population of native plants. To date, an impressive 2200 native shrubs, trees and grasses have been planted around the perimeter.
It has truly been a community effort so far – and there’s more support on the way. The developer, Grant Stalker will formally gift the wetlands to Queenstown-Lakes District Council later this year, and recently Queenstown Airport has pledged financial and physical support for the wetlands. “Now we can really put the project on steroids,” says Jo Smith of the Trust.
Emma Watts of Shotover Primary; Jo Smith of Whakatipu Reforestation Trust
A living classroom
For Emma Watts, teacher at Shotover Country and leader of Design, Arts, Technology & Science, the project acts as a living classroom and offers many more opportunities for learning about ecosystems and the environment.
“We’re going to look at storm water, because here in Shotover it feeds into the wetlands so we’re going to work with QLDC and ORC on monitoring the water quality. That’s water clarity, oxygen, macro and micro invertebrates. The idea is to monitor the overall health of the wetland and track it over time.”
The group will also conduct bird counts and use photo point monitoring to track the growth and health of the planting. Under way also is a plan to work with a local predator trapping group to set up a trapline around the wetlands.
“We’ve also done a lot of internal planting at the school with the younger children and it’s a lot more immediate for them. They bring their parents around at the end of the day and say, “I planted this one.”
Jo agrees that the students develop a real sense of pride in what they’ve created at the wetlands, saying “it’s all about engagement; being part of nature and learning the different processes that work within it.”
“Other members of the community often comment on the plantings and say how good they’re looking. People are really starting to take notice.”
So are the national bodies involved in conservation efforts. In 2022, Shotover Primary was awarded the School Plant Conservation Project award by the NZ Plant Conservation Network, and one of the students, Audrey Austin, won the Young Plant Conservationist award.
What do the students get out of it?
Emma throws this question to the students, “how does it feel to prepare these seeds for the wetlands and work down there to look after the plantings?”
“Happy”, is the resounding answer. “Because we’re giving life,” one student adds.
Guardianship is one of Topflite’s central values. In our growing operations it means holistically caring for our land and crops, but also keeping an eye on the bigger picture: improving biodiversity and preserving New Zealand’s environment for future generations. That’s why we love to tell the stories of Good Eggs who are doing great work as kaitiaki around New Zealand.
We also support New Zealanders to nurture nature through the SOAR Initiative.
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