A living, breathing community classroom in Queenstown

Issue: Volume 102, Number 7

Posted: 1 June 2023
Reference #: 1HAa8R

Young conservationists at Shotover Primary School are doing their part to restore the regionally significant Shotover Wetland, transforming it into a thriving source of life and learning for the school, and for the community.

Year 7 and 8 Enviro Leaders at an autumn planting session.

Year 7 and 8 Enviro Leaders at an autumn planting session.

As the name suggests, Shotover Primary School sits near the junction of two iconic Queenstown waterways, the Kimiākau Shotover River and the mighty Kawarau. The confluence is called Puahuru, a reference to ‘warm waters’ – which they’re not of course, fed by the icy alpine waters of the Basin’s maunga.

Given that the two rivers were part of an extensive network of ara tawhito (traditional travel routes) and mahinga kai for a number of iwi, including Waitaha, Kāti Māmoe and Kāi Tahu, there are varying interpretations of the confluence’s name.

One assumption is that Puahuru was an important junction and at times, a settlement, in which case ‘warm waters’ could refer to a place for warm interactions between people or hapū and a place for whakawhanaungatanga (making connections).

It is most fitting then that a wetland adjacent to this important juncture has become a place where a school community joins together to nourish both taiao and tangata.

The Shotover Wetland, a 10-minute walk downhill from Shotover Primary, has been formally recognised as a regionally significant wetland, home to the at-risk Olearia lineata as well as 21 species of native plants. Bird species observed on the wetland include pukeko, pūtangitangi (shelduck) and kāhu with possible habitat for other local species.

Clearly, this is a space worth protecting and restoring – which is exactly the task that teachers and students have taken upon themselves.

With support from the Whakatipu Reforestation Trust and other community groups, the vision is 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”.

Learning opportunities abound, with goals around enabling students to be active participants in a community action group, to make an impact on climate change and to encourage the return of native wildlife.

Conservationists in action

The room is abuzz at Shotover Primary. Today is the first session for a group of Year 7 and 8 students who have elected to be Enviro Leaders this year. They’re seated around trays of yellow kōwhai seeds that they have just popped out of their casings, tuning into Jo Smith, Whakatipu Reforestation Trust’s education officer.

Propagating kōwhai seeds collected from Pigeon Island by Year 5 and 6 students.

Propagating kōwhai seeds collected from Pigeon Island by Year 5 and 6 students.

“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, one of the learning activities that has developed as the project has grown.

Initially the plants were sourced from the Reforestation Trust, with over 2,200 planted since 2016 and now the goal is to get the students growing a few of their own.

“It will take a long time but they could grow up to 25 metres high. We got the seeds from the Year 5/6 students who collected them on school camp. They brought us back the seeds from Pigeon Island,” says Aria, Year 8.

A living classroom

For Emma Watts, leader of Design, Arts, Technology and Science at the school, the wetland acts as a living classroom, offering learning opportunities that extend from ecosystems to climate action.

Emma Watts and Jo Smith with the school’s nursery, funded by Trees for Survival.

Emma Watts and Jo Smith with the school’s nursery, funded by Trees for Survival.

“Using the wetland they learn about seed dispersal systems in nature, collecting seed, genetic diversity in plants, the function of a wetland, biodiversity, the impact of predators and invasive plant species, water quality plus all the skills and strategies for monitoring the health of an ecosystem,” says Emma.

“If we look at the issue of restoration from a transdisciplinary perspective, there are all these groups active in native planting, monitoring, predator control – and not just mammalian pests but invasive weed species too. The different groups are all working together for one common goal but coming at it from different perspectives.”

Jo Smith agrees that the project is ambitious.

“We’ve got a big plan that’s slowly coming to fruition. It’s all about engagement and being part of nature and learning the different processes that work within it. It’s a natural evolution. And because wetlands are so precious, a lot of our learning is around that.”


This year, students are trialling cardboard guards to protect the plants from rabbits.

This year, students are trialling cardboard guards to protect the plants from rabbits.

This transdisciplinary approach sits at the heart of Shotover Primary’s philosophy, with curriculum learning for the whole school structured around four macro concepts – Identity, Belonging, Change and Systems which rotate through on a four-year basis.

“This year our concept is ‘Identity’ and our first transdisciplinary theme is Healthy Me, Healthy You, Healthy Communities. We’ll spend about 15 weeks looking at Identity through different curriculum lenses – what does it look like from a scientist’s point of view? A social scientist’s POV? And so on.”

Emma explains that the wetland project offers many learning opportunities around the first theme of the year.

Students learn about the importance of getting into nature for personal wellbeing, discover how wetlands mitigate flooding and filter water for the community and the importance of biodiversity for community health. They also have an opportunity to get their hands dirty and do something about climate change.

“It’s that direct action. We can sit and watch a video or have someone come and talk to us about climate change, but often students want to do something, and they want to do it now.”

A long-term project

With the help of Bonnie Wilkins from Southern Lakes Sanctuary, students have set up tracking tunnels to monitor which predators are around, and the next step is to lay a trapline for mammalian predators.

“We track the pests using tracking tunnels and chew cards with an app called Trap NZ that helps us track what pests are in different areas. We found a lot of hedgehogs at the fenceline of the wetlands which is where they like hanging out,” says Archie, Year 7. “Some people think, ‘Why are you killing the hedgehog? They do nothing.’ But it turns out they eat all the bird’s eggs that nest on the ground.”

“We put traps out to try to get rid of pests because if we get rid of the pest then plants can grow better and they will stop killing our native birds,” adds Finnley, Year 7.

From there, the students will increasingly be involved in monitoring the health of the wetland – carrying out bird counts, photopoint monitoring to compare the growth of plants year on year and measuring water quality with support from the local council’s scientists.

“To me that’s the most exciting and challenging thing,” smiles Emma, “that the whole wetlands project doesn’t just happen for a term.

“It’s not like we can go ‘tick, we’ve done climate change or biodiversity’. It’s a long-term project. It’s growing the plants, planting them, monitoring, going back to check regularly to make sure that we’re making a difference to the health of the wetland.”

Laying tracking cards to identify mammalian predators is the first step to setting up a trap line.

Laying tracking cards to identify mammalian predators is the first step to setting up a trap line.

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero, reporter@edgazette.govt.nz

Posted: 8:54 am, 1 June 2023

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