In the three years since it was founded, the Ruamahanga Restoration Trust has successfully raised over $160,000 for schools and local community groups to use towards restoration plantings, predator control, water science kits, and a student conservation award prize. From humble beginnings working with only two schools in 2020, the Ruamahanga Restoration Trust formed collaborative partnerships with nine schools in 2021 and has at least an additional six coming on board to join ‘Schools Behind Our River’ in 2022.
The mission is to provide schools and rural community groups with restoration projects and educational activities that support conservation and environmental heritage. This includes restoring and regenerating wetlands and pockets of native bush along the length and breadth of Ruamahanga River and its tributaries, ensuring access to clean water, protecting native fish species, and creating biodiversity corridors from Mt Bruce Pūkaha down to Rathkeale and onwards as far as Kawakawa Palliser Bay.
The trust’s signature project ‘Schools Behind Our River’ delivers hands-on outdoor learning opportunities for school students to embrace environmental conservation projects that connect local communities with the health of the river catchment, protecting and restoring biodiverse habitats and environmental heritage. One of their goals is to help secondary students think about how the environment can inspire their interest in science, statistics, conservation, farming, technology, or media communications, which in turn will either inspire career paths, an innovative idea, or a sustainable business model that supports local businesses and farming communities.
The trust has been using all of its available funds to support the purchase of wildlife monitoring equipment, predator traps, native seedlings, school field trips, water analysis tests for House of Science Wairarapa, multi-species eDNA testing kits from WilderLab, and packaging their own educational tracking and trapping predator kits exclusively for use by local schools in collaboration with Pukaha Wildlife Centre and EnviroSchools Wairarapa. As such, the Trust’s funding activities are designed to engage a range of student interests from trapping to data collection and analysis, to storytelling and media content production.
The trust has also conducted several restorations plantings at Rathkeale College planting as many as three thousand native seedlings in and around sites on the Eco-Trail that winds its way through remnants of an ancient podocarp forest and wetland areas adjacent to the Ruamahanga. A project scheduled for Queen’s Birthday Weekend in June 2022 will have a community working-bee group help plant 1800 carex secta, cyperus ustelatus, and phormium tenax flax plants around the edge of the school’s two sewage settling ponds, converting them from a wasteland into a biodiverse habitat. The hope is to restore the ground cover around the ponds, encouraging native vegetation without compromising the structure and stability of the pond-wall structure. Hopefully, this will help the wasteland area recover to the point that it can serve as a sanctuary for aquatic birdlife with places for nesting and sufficient cover for small indigenous fish species to breed among the grasses along the water's edge. The planting of the ponds will coincide with a wildlife monitoring activity to help measure the presence of indigenous birdlife, predators, and native fish species in and around the wetland area adjoining the ponds. This will include the use of the eDNA multispecies tests from WilderLab to determine the presence of various flora and fauna.
Trustee Campbell McLean hopes to make the pond planting activity a local community-based event that students also feel motivated to join. “The last thing we want to do is make the students feel coerced into these activities. They should want to be involved and engaged, and hopefully, they’ll see and appreciate the results during their time at the school and beyond.”
Another project that the Trust has its sights on is to create pockets of biodiversity corridors running from Mt Bruce Pukaha on the upper reaches of the Ruamahanga River all the way down towards Rathkeale. “It’s a long-term vision,” said Campbell, “to get the support of the Greater Wellington Council and rural landowners along the river between the bridge at Mt Bruce and Opaki, to help fence-off pockets of regenerating bush and create safe flight paths all the way to Rathkeale where there’s an abundance of trees and a good food supply for birds.”
Campbell is also keen to attract people. “We need support from the wider community as sponsors, volunteers, donors, philanthropists, and contributors of any kind, which also means welcoming school leavers into our network. This is a multi-generational activity. Age, ethnicity, or occupation, does not define us in this task. We have something unique here and it’s worth putting time and effort into for future generations, long after we have gone.”