Kaitiakitanga in Waimea Inlet

Issue: Volume 99, Number 13

Posted: 14 August 2020
Reference #: 1HA9pL

Students at Nelson’s Waimea College have been working with local mentors, council and community groups to improve the habitat of an elusive wetland bird, the banded rail.

Bluff banded rail

Banded rail. Photo credit Imogen Warren

For the past three years, Year 9 and 10 students at Waimea College have taken part in a cross-curricular enrichment programme, where they can choose to do one module per term for three hours a week. Each module is given a title that captures its essence; for example CREATE is the arts-based module and CHANGE is the module relating to social issues.

One of the modules, SAVE (Tiaki) focuses on environmental issues in their own backyard, the Waimea Inlet. Each term a group of Year 9 students learns about migratory birds, water quality, pest control and kaitiakitanga, says Roger Waddell, course leader and science and education for sustainability teacher. He says the module can cross maths, digital technologies, art, science curricula – and even include acrostic poems.

Tasman District Council Scientist Trevor James explains whitebait habitat requirements to SAVE students.

Tasman District Council Scientist Trevor James explains whitebait habitat requirements to SAVE students.

The SAVE module follows the inquiry-based Enviroschools Action Learning Cycle. In the final few weeks of each 10-week module, students apply their learning and design their own projects, which include engaging with the community.

“They start by brainstorming what they see, what they know and how the inlet could be different.  

“We provide enough basis for them to decide on their action topics. Several process methods are embedded in the pedagogy, such as ‘is it achievable in the timeframe?’ ‘Is it too expensive?’ So it’s them learning how to plan projects,” says Roger.

Since the enrichment programme began three years ago, participants in SAVE have been involved in projects including enhancing habitats for whitebait and the banded rail, and predator trapping.

Community bands together

The Waimea Plains were occupied by Māori from the 1500s and known as one of the most productive areas in Aotearoa. An intensive programme of land development, which continues to this day, began when Europeans arrived in the 1840s and has impacted and degraded biodiversity and water quality. 

Students join forces with several community groups or mentors to come up with solutions to some of the problems facing the inlet. 

Waimea College students have been involved in planting salt-tolerant plants such as ake ake, manuka and flax to improve the habitat and provide coverage for the banded rail.  

“We are well on the way to a huge area being planted in a site Tasman District Council (TDC) has allowed us to use near the school,” says Roger.

Tracking and trapping

Keep Richmond Beautiful mentor Greg Pickford assists students making tracking tunnels.

Keep Richmond Beautiful mentor Greg Pickford assists students making tracking tunnels.

Over the past three years, along with TDC and groups like Battle for the Banded Rail, the students have been building a network of predator traps to fill a gap in trapping lines, which now ring Waimea Inlet.

“Because we have different groups of students each term, continuity is an issue, so we have recruited a retired teacher to check the lines and upload information onto trap.nz. The students can look up how many rats, stoats and predators have been caught,” says Roger.

“They are learning about digital technologies as well. We do a unit on GPS. When we are down checking the traps, I have my GPS with me and the students have to get from one trap to another using it.” 

Retired locals from the Keep Richmond Beautiful group help students make tracking tunnels out of Corflute.

Studying water quality

Waimaori facilitator Mel McColgan works with students assessing stream health.

Waimaori facilitator Mel McColgan works with students assessing stream health.

About 22 streams flow into the Waimea Inlet. Along with the Waimea River, they drain urban, industrial and rural catchments. Reservoir Creek flows near the college and students walked from sea to source to conduct a water quality study looking at macro-invertebrates in the stream. 

Some students worked on enhancing whitebait habitats in the stream. Another group of students discovered there was a problem emanating from their school.

“They found that storm runoff from the school pool had been running into the stream so they worked with school management and Tasman District Council. 

“The process of sorting out the problem had begun anyway and a pipe now takes the runoff to the sewerage area rather than the stormwater area. But I thought the project was so valuable that the students decided to ascertain the variety and number of fish life below and above the stormwater outlet,” says Roger.

Bird watching and games

Each week SAVE students head out to the Waimea Inlet with binoculars to see what migratory birds are in the estuary. Early in the year, if they are lucky, they will see godwits getting ready for their long annual migration to Alaska.

Some students have been building nesting boxes for kingfishers. “They built them, dug a hole in the bank beside the inlet and put in an entry tunnel. We were probably a bit too late for the laying season, but we are hoping they will be occupied this spring,” says Roger.

 Students trialled a homemade live capture predator trap.

Students trialled a homemade live capture predator trap.

With an outdoor education background, Roger tries to include a number of experiential games as he believes they are a great way to learn.

“We play predator/prey-type games – the banded rail versus stoats and rats. It works on the emotional side rather than just reading it in a book.”

Enriched and empowered

Learning through applied, relevant, contextual activities is key to the enrichment programme. Roger says the students complete the module feeling they can make a difference. 

“A big focus of what we do is around climate change. I think it’s really important to put a positive spin on it – they can do something about it. Empowerment comes from looking at their own world and deciding on an action project that makes a difference.”  

For more about saving the banded rail, see Habitat restoration means more banded rail spotted in Waimea Inlet.(external link)

Student kōrero

Why did you choose to do the SAVE module?

  • I thought it would be a fun way to learn about our environment and how we can help it. Elise
  • I wanted to learn about New Zealand’s native bush and animals and their threats. Grace
  • I wanted to learn about native plants and birds and take action by trapping and planting around the Waimea Inlet. Amelia

What did you like the most and why?

Students assemble DOC 200 traps with a MenzShed mentor.

Students assemble DOC 200 traps with a MenzShed mentor.

  • I loved the action project because we got to choose an area to work in:
    you could do something in planting, wildlife, marine life, the environment.
    We also got to put our learning into practice. Isobel
  • My favourite part was the practical things we did every Wednesday. We could either bike, walk or run down to the Waimea Inlet and got to see all the things we had learnt in class demonstrated in a practical way. This included placing traps, looking at pest footprints and planting. Grace

What were some of the key things you learned?

  • I learned a lot about migratory birds and the flight paths they take. I also learned how our school was contributing to pollution both positively and negatively. The main issue was how the waste water from our pool was going through the storm water pipes instead of the sewage. We now have a temporary pipe and are working on placing a stable long-lasting pipe. It was great to put our learning into practice in this SAVE module. Elise
  • I loved to learn about one of our birds, the banded rail, and how we are trying to protect them. Isobel

Please note the printed version of this article displays an image of a weka, not a banded rail. The image on the online version has been corrected to show a banded rail. We apologise for this error.

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

Posted: 8:36 AM, 14 August 2020

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