Conservation kids protecting endangered species in Nina Valley
Eighteen kiwi have been repatriated into their habitat in the Nina Valley in the Canterbury region through the efforts of Hurunui College students, who contribute to their school’s conservation work inside the classroom and through volunteering.
It’s been more than 10 years since Hurunui College students began managing the conservation of native roroa (Great Spotted Kiwi) and whio (Blue Duck) species in the Nina Valley.
In the decade since then, Nina Valley Restoration Manager Tim Kelly says that the programme has provided real-life applications for student learning while protecting endangered species.
“It’s part of the school ethos now to be a conservation school, so the kids are familiar with kiwis and pest control and stuff because it’s become more prominent in their knowledge throughout their schoolwork.
“For example, students in science class are using microprocessors to make electronic systems to lure possums, and then trialling them up in the valley,” he says.
The electronic lure systems are created by the students, who use basic code to programme the microprocessor to switch on sound and light at certain intervals during the night. The success of the lures has been measured using olfactory chew cards, and Tim’s students have found that the electronic lures are 100 per cent more effective than olfactory lures alone.
While the conservation project has fostered learning across classes such as science and social studies, the majority of the work is extracurricular, with field trips scheduled once a month during the weekend.
The students have been involved in repatriating 18 Great Spotted Kiwi, a process which involves capturing the kiwi, translocating them and subsequently monitoring them using ultra-high frequency telemetry. The students also monitor more than 20 kilometres of pest trap lines.
Changing values, changing lives
While all restoration work conducted on public land falls under the supervision of the Department of Conservation (DoC), the project is fully managed by Hurunui College students. Tim has observed first-hand the impact this opportunity has had.
“We get kids that get up there because they just want something to do or it looks like it’s going to be fun. They don’t really have strong environmental values at the start, but after being up there and getting the experience, they develop some environmental values and it really changes some of their lives.
“We’ve had students who would not have been interested in the environment but have now gone through university and are doing a master’s or PhD in environmental science. Some students have gone on to work for DoC, things like that,” he says.
It’s a symbiotic relationship for Tim, who believes in providing education that also makes a difference to the natural world.
“The point of doing it is really to try and grow those values in the student body and in the community. It really raises awareness of the fact that you can’t rely on DoC to do all this work – you’ve got to be part of a community thing too.”
Students in Years 1–6 are welcome to attend the weekend trips accompanied by a guardian, while older students can come along as part of the group.
Year 9 student Maggie Ferguson says that attending the excursions has made her “more aware of issues outside of the Nina Valley, such as the problems posed by cats for our native wildlife.”
Year 13 student Mitch Berry has learnt how to operate the traps and telemetry equipment, and is currently working toward a unit standard for using hand-held radios as part of his role in the group.
“I started to go up the Nina for something different to do and to get fit for rugby,” he says, “but now I go up every trip for the beautiful views, to save the kiwi, and to meet new people.”
Milestones and awards
Around 70 per cent of students that engage in the project will stay involved throughout their years at the school, and Hurunui College recognises these contributions to the conservation project through milestones and awards.
These range from the Nina Valley Restoration Group hats given to students upon completion of their third weekend excursion, to the prestigious Environmentalist of the Year award.
The Nina Valley Restoration Group has received assistance from many groups and conservation charities over the years, and Tim believes other schools can do the same.
“Initially it can be a little bit difficult to get funds,” he says, “but once you’ve showed with your track record that you can use the funds well, it’s much easier to get funds.”
“Predator Free New Zealand is a good place to start getting involved. Have a look at that organisation – they can recommend different funds to apply for – and also get in touch with your local DoC office. They will be able to recommend something that’s going to make a difference.”
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