Schools Behind Our River

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The Ruamahanga Restoration Trust has initiated an educational project called Schools Behind Our River that engages local schools and community volunteers in hands-on conservation activities that aims to help inspire future generations of farmers, scientists, storytellers, and conservationists.

Schools Behind Our River is kindly supported with community grant funding from Masterton Trust House, Eastern & Central Community Trust, and One Foundation.

Schools Behind Our River is aimed at engaging school students and the wider community in local projects that raise awareness of the importance of the Ruamahanga catchment, and to encourage school students to participate in a shared vision to protect and nourish the health of the local catchment for future generations.

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As pressure mounts on farmers around climate change, sustainability, and water quality, so too does the need to bring schools, landowners, iwi, and rural communities together with a common goal to protect our lands, waterways, and resources for future generations. 

As such, we believe in investing in a new generation of “eco-restorers” and young innovators –– the “restoration generation” who will eventually take leading roles in the future direction of our farms, natural habitats, and flourishing communities.

Schools Behind Our River is our signature project. We support schools and teachers with activities that engage students by creating awareness around protecting and restoring our environmental heritage. We provide schools with native trees and flaxes for restoration plantings in and around their schools and waterways, we fund and support the use of educational tracking and trapping kits in collaboration with Pukaha Wildlife Centre, water analysis kits from House of Science, and have further plans to provide schools with eDNA analysis testing kits from WilderLabs.

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Our project engages local students to get behind the nationwide trend to embrace environmental conservation efforts. Our activities start close to home and close to our river, but we are also aware of the need to start small and expand our engagement with the community one trap—one seedling—one mind, at a time.  As such, our funding activities are designed to engage a range of student interests from trapping to data collection and analysis, to storytelling and media content production. 

Our long-term goal is to expand our activities along the length of the Ruamahanga and embrace the entire catchment area. One of our goals is to help secondary students think about how the environment can inspire their interests in science, statistics, conservation, farming, technology, or media production –– which in turn will become a career path, an innovative idea, or sustainable business model.

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Our Achievements

In our first 18 months to March 2021, we raised $19,000 to work on environmental restorations plantings with two schools, recording over 500 man-hours of volunteer time, engaging 60-100 students, and putting into place a scope-of-work proposal around wildlife monitoring and trapping. 

In our second and current financial year of progress (April 2021-March 2022), we significantly increased our community engagement –– forming new collaborative partnerships and working with seven schools, including Solway Primary, Mauriceville Primary, Gladstone Primary, Carterton South Earth School, Kahutara Primary, Douglas Park School, and Rathkeale College. In Term 4 of 2021, we also have plans to support the Mokomoko Program with a number of restoration plantings on the Mākoura stream, as well as a number of field trips.

In the year to date (2021), the Trust has raised $50,000 of which all has been allocated towards our Schools Behind Our River project, purchasing native seedlings for the seven-plus schools, purchasing Nature Heroes activity books for primary schools, sponsoring a House of Science Water Analysis Kit, investing in tracking and trapping kits to be distributed to schools (in partnership with Pūkaha National Wildlife Centre and Wairarapa EnviroSchools), and supporting a community-led planting day on private farmland on the upper Waipoua River.

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Project Plan 2022

For 2022, we have identified an Eight-Step Plan that addresses the following goals:

  1. Support schools with funding for conservation project activities 
  2. Sponsor Water Analysis Kits from the House of Science for use by schools
  3. Support Pūkaha and EnviroSchools with tracking and trapping kits for schools
  4. Fund eDNA testing kits for schools, in partnership with WilderLabs and Pūkaha
  5. Purchase native seedlings for restoration plantings 
  6. Arrange field trips that underscore tiakitanga and whanaungatanga 
  7. Support community group activities that engage iwi and students
  8. Create an environmental award prize open to schools across the Wairarapa recognizing the best student-led school team for their innovative approach to tackling environmental issues and sustainability concerns, with new ideas and contributions that help the local community.

We will continue to help restore and regenerate ancient spring-fed streams and forest wetland areas around the Rathkeale College Eco-Trail as areas suitable for outdoor research and study by a range of local schools. Rathkeale school is home to original stands of kahikatea and totara trees that pre-date European settlement — trees that are held in great esteem by Rangitane iwi who once lived and traveled through the lowland podocarp forests along the Ruamahanga River. These unique and biodiverse pockets of bush and swamp are key to the long-term health of our river system and are natural habitats for a range of indigenous freshwater fish and native birds. These biodiverse habitats provide opportunities for student-led research in conservation, land management, and clean water protection. In tandem with these efforts, the trust hopes to assist and encourage students to create new methods and smart technologies with applications for sustainable farming, conservation, and climate monitoring.

Our activities in 2022 will include restoration plantings that will in turn act as a food source and natural habitat for native birdlife. Cleaning spring-fed streams will help improve an already diverse (but endangered) ecosystem for indigenous mudfish and eels - and attract native birds back into the wetland areas and shingle riverbanks. These activities will further provide opportunities for local schools to use these wetland bush areas and riparian margins for scientific research and conservation study programs that benefit the wider community.

We will expand our tracking and trapping program with the sponsorship of 'Predator Kits' packaged for schools, with special courses and induction training in partnership with Pukaha Wildlife Centre and Wairarapa EnvironSchools using our kits valued at $1000 each.

Whilst primarily focused on environmental education for students within the Wairarapa catchment our activities will also engage local iwi — consulting with Maori on places of cultural and natural heritage. As such, we hope to make younger people aware of the historic and bio-diverse role of our waterways, mountains, and lowland forests, but also to encourage students to embrace their past and future, creating new technologies that help record, restore, protect and sustain our natural heritage and unique environment.

Project Tasks

Activities will continue to involve volunteers and students planting native flaxes and other indigenous trees and plants on public and private land, restoring pockets of native bush on farmland, planting riparian margins around creeks and rivers, and undertaking tracking and trapping activities.

Trevor Demo

By this stage, we would have already completed some baseline monitoring work to determine counts for existing birdlife and native fish species, along with signs of predators, such as rats, stoats, and possums. We have factored in the need for a predator control program led by students and our project budget includes the purchase of predator traps and baits. While not expecting a predator-free zone in the short term, at least we will make a start to help achieve the broader goal of being Predator Free by 2050.

Specialists in predator Control and conservation are hired to work with students, train the teachers, supervise the activities, and to pass on the relevant knowledge as needed. Teachers and parent volunteers help supervise and allocate tasks according to the student's age and abilities, incorporating the tasks where possible into outdoor activities and the educational curriculum.  

Volunteers are encouraged to join us and contribute time and resources in any way they can.

Project Objectives

  1. Raise awareness among students and local community of the need to restore and protect natural wetland areas, including feeder streams through rural farmland and along the riparian margins of the Ruamahanga River.
  2. Engage local iwi in the conservation activities; to help pass on oral history and traditions regarding the local habitat and to draw attention to how the forest wetland and resources within the natural habitat along the Ruamahanga River catchment were once utilized by local Maori.
  3. Bring together students from local schools within the Wairarapa as a means to reinforce community spirit and a sense of resolve among our future generations; working together for a common cause to restore fragile ecosystems, regenerate native bush, protect endangered species, create bird corridors and mitigate the adverse effects of climate change.
  4. To inspire and encourage students and volunteers to create newsworthy stories for social media that are then highlighted by mentors and community leaders who acknowledge the tasks and results with praise and positive reinforcement.
  5. Provide meaningful outdoor physical activities for students that can demonstrate measurable results for the health of both students and the local ecosystem.
  6. Provide a framework in the first year from which to expand in the following years to incorporate other nearby schools and areas bordering the Ruamahanga River.
  7. We aim to take the lead on local environmental issues, to engage local schools, and to bring farmers, conservationists, scientists, iwi, and local communities together with a common cause that benefits all.

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Long Term Vision

Besides encouraging students to embrace conservation and science as a means to mitigate the effects of climate change, we also have a long-term vision that will encourage youth to take more interest and pride in their own environment –– preparing them for new responsibilities in their future career and community leadership roles.

Another long-term aim is to see a noticeable increase in native fish species and birdlife. The Trust will expand the Schools Behind Our River project to additional sites along the full length and breadth of Ruamahanga River and to engage more community participants with the aim of creating bird corridors from Pukaha to Palliser, with fresh clean waterways embraced by sustainable farming practices: essential for creating a healthier environment for all.

Schools Behind The River is designed as a long-term project with no foreseeable end.