Birdsong returns with help of students

Issue: Volume 98, Number 15

Posted: 30 August 2019
Reference #: 1H9xmM

Conservation work goes hand in hand with learning for students who are part of a large-scale restoration project to protect native birds in a national park in Fiordland that is under threat.

Even removing dead animals from 54 traps around the nearby Kepler Track, one of New Zealand’s Great Walks, is a learning opportunity for students at Te Anau School, who do conservation work as part of their curriculum.

Monitoring traps on 530 hectares of native forest is a key part of the Kids Restore the Kepler (KRTK) programme, which involves Te Anau primary school and other schools in the area, in partnership with the Department of Conservation (DOC) and Fiordland Conservation Trust.

The formerly flourishing birdlife was devastated by rats, stoats, ferrets and cats, but is slowly being restored, with traps aiding the recovery. The songs of robins, fantails and bellbirds resonate through the trees, in contrast to neighbouring areas of the forest where there are fewer traps.

Great outdoors resource

The area the students monitor starts just two kilometres away from the school, and parents join them on visits.

“The children love going into the park and it is a fantastic outdoors resource on our doorstep for learning,” says principal Grant Excell.

The students do surveys and help promote awarenessof the project, as well as checking and reloading traps. It’s a rich learning environment, says Grant.

“They learn to identify bird species, about the effects of introduced predators, and how to set traps, which are designed to cause death humanely.”

Practical work like collecting and removing rubbish and monitoring positive signs of bird recovery is also part of the job. Alongside students from other schools in the area, they conduct garden bird surveys in Te Anau and record the data.

“There is a strong focus on science in our curriculum. For example, when they find rats’ bodies that have been in a trap for some time, that’s a chance to learn about the science involved in the process of decomposition,” Grant says.

The students are closely supervised and often walk up to seven kilometres. Traps are checked up to 10 times a year. Recently, in a two-week period the students counted 13 rats and one possum that had been caught in a single line of traps.

Bush inspires music and art

The local bush has also inspired music related to the birdlife. Another local school, Mararoa School, has created what it calls the ‘Kepler Symphony’, a performance involving the students gathering in a circle, making different sounds and singing, jumping and clapping.

For making art, the students use bark rubbings and take relief rubbings. Local freshwater sites such as lakes and streams are also part of their learning.

Te Anau School is close to Lake Te Anau, the second largest lake in New Zealand, and the students’ study of the marine environment is helped by Otago University’s mobile lab, the Aquavan, which visited the township as part of its educational outreach.

The Aquavan showed students how freshwater and marine environments are connected, following the Waiau River from Lake Te Anau to the coast.

Teachers and parents upskilling

The support given to students in different years is age-appropriate, and teachers and parents have the opportunity to upskill while working with their students and children. Field trips and class activities are planned with the teachers, and for the teachers. As well as expert support, input from students is part of the KRTK programme.

The involvement of the wider community happens naturally as children share their enthusiasm with family members and peers.

Grant says, “This partnering activity is very organic and truly grassroots, as it enables all our local schools to use their local environment for learning. Every two or three weeks the students have an interaction with DoC or KRTK, so there is constant involvement with the community.

“Our children will go on to high school next, and if they live locally they will use the water and the mountains for their family’s activities in the future, so it’s just a matter of joining the dots to develop an appreciation of their natural environment and how to preserve it.”

Strong education focus

In 2006 the Kepler Challenge mountain run began a partnership with the Department of Conservation to establish and maintain predator traps along the length of the Kepler Track Great Walk.

This raised awareness of the many special animals still resident in the area, including kiwi, whio/blue duck and bats/pekapeka, and inspired the creation of the larger restoration project within the Kepler Mountains. There are now 500 local students involved.

The project has a strong focus on educational goals (connection with nature, knowledge and skills, restoration and conservation, reflection and celebration), and aims to provide children with authentic experiences in the bush and the outdoors from early childhood to college.

The conservation goals include understanding the role of each organism within an ecosystem and the interactions between organisms. Each week, study resources for schools are provided on the KRTK website about a topic that is part of the environment, such as the sun/ra, water/wai, and the Kepler Mountains/Takahea.

Creativity flourishing

As one of its education activities, KRTK has joined forces with Southland District Libraries.

Each month, young people aged five plus can attend creative sessions. The idea is to celebrate and share the children’s knowledge of the Kepler area and work on creative travelling projects, linking the libraries as well as the communities in Southland and beyond. In July they made driftwood mobile art installations, as the first of their creative travelling projects.

For more about the Kids Restore the Kepler project, and to watch a video of the students checking traps.(external link)

We want all our young people to have meaningful learning that engages the support of parents, families and whānau(external link). Use of local environments and community partners is very valuable in doing this.

Environment project developing future leaders

Here’s what some of those involved in the Kids Restore the Kepler project have to say:

It has been personally inspiring to see not just individual students but whole school communities develop deeper understandings and actions around protection of the unique biodiversity of Fiordland. Through this programme, and the opportunities it presents, I have watched thoughtful and active young leaders develop and progress the cause of hands-on conservation throughout Aotearoa/ New Zealand. Mark Oster, Environment Southland biodiversity leader

The programme has a clear structure, goals and vision, which allows young people to have fun while they are working towards some meaningful goals, the fulfilment of which will ultimately make them better citizens, and our country a better place. Lynlee Smith, Fiordland College principal

The Fiordland Conservative Trust believe that engaging youth in the outdoors is essential for the ongoing awareness and protection of New Zealand’s natural heritage. It is awesome to see all of the educational facilities in the Te Anau Basin making use of the Kids Restore the Kepler project in the way that best suits their situation.  This is exactly why the Fiordland Conservation Trust sought to establish this project along with its partners. Murray Willans, Fiordland Conservation Trust chair

I like doing it because I like animals, and if we don’t save the birds we won’t have any around. Esme, Year 5

I do it because it is helping the forest and New Zealand has a history of native forests and we need to keep it. Maki, Year 6

I like it because it helps save the birds, otherwise in 100 years there won’t be any left. Bella, Year 5

I do it because I like the way New Zealand looks and I want it to stay that way. Ella, Year 6

I just like the environment, including the birds, plants and bugs. Ben, Year 5

I love it that we get to outside so much, and we see and learn about things that most people aren’t aware of, like water bears. [Water bears are tiny water creatures with a body like a bear.] Taylor, Year 4

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 4:11 pm, 30 August 2019

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