Waitaki Valley project provides biodiversity and cultural opportunities

A three-year biodiversity education project in the Waitaki Valley aims to enhance unique local biodiversity while providing students with strong connections to the culturally significant area.

The Hakataramea Sustainability Collective (HSC), in conjunction with Waitaki Valley School, received $17,500 from the Lower Waitaki Water Zone Committee for the project which will be led by Year 7 and 8 students.

HSC's Community Hub Co-Ordinator Laura Johnston said that there is a strong desire from the community to protect and improve the surrounding environment and biodiversity.

"We ran two community workshops to better understand how we can encourage and enhance local biodiversity. These were very well attended and provided some great insights and an appreciation for what is right under our noses but often overlooked."

Project taking shape

The funding is for school students to plan and create a community nursery at the school, which will teach them how to collect and propagate local native plant species in Waitaki Valley.

"The students never fail to impress me with their practical approach and enthusiasm to participate, build, and learn. The project is taking shape with plants already being cared for at the nursery. There is plenty of room for the nursery to grow in the coming years," said Laura.

"We have some special side projects too. A recent visit to a QEII National Trust covenant inspired a student project to help grow at-risk plants that are endemic to the area and aren't growing in the wild anywhere else in Aotearoa."

Laura said the project would not be possible without funding from the Lower Waitaki Water Zone Committee, as well as Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI), and the generous support and encouragement from the community.

"We are a community based on the banks of a river. It's important to us all that our children and the generations to come are still able to swim and fish in it as we do today."

Building connection and sense of belonging

Waitaki Valley School students learn how to collect and propagate local native plant species

Waitaki Valley School students learn how to collect and propagate local native plant species

Lower Waitaki Water Zone Committee chair Michael McMillian said the project presents an important opportunity for students to reconnect with the land and to learn the whakapapa.

This will help the younger generation to understand where they fit within the natural environment and to develop a sense of kaitiakitanga while learning more about the processes and practices of caring for their backyard.

"We have a huge amount of whakapapa and history in this area. Being able to share those stories in a practical way is important," Michael said.

"Many local people do not know the history of the valley. It is vital to connect with mana whenua to hear the stories of kai gathering and what the plants are used for.

"I believe this project has so much potential to help heal the land which has been hugely modified from what it was in the past."

Youth engagement key to success

"Getting students involved in making decisions about which plants to choose and why, and then growing locally sourced seedlings will help create a generation who have the knowledge and energy to restore the environment to when it was a thriving and abundant place for everyone," Michael said.

For Michael, the overall vision for Waitaki Valley is to create a connected corridor of biodiversity that will bring back the indigenous flora and fauna to the area. However, he believes that planting needs to be coupled with knowledge and a willingness to learn from those who hold it.

"Spending time understanding local biodiversity before getting into the planting is important and the idea of harvesting native plants from the valley will give this project a better chance of success.

"If you learn the stories and history of an area from the people who were there before you, and take the learnings of mana whenua on board, then a new connection and sense of belonging can be passed on to future generations."

Funding for local projects

Each of Canterbury's water zone committees has an action plan which outlines how they will work with the community to deliver their aspirations for freshwater, as outlined in the Canterbury Water Management Strategy (CWMS). Committees, including Lower Waitaki Water Zone Committee, were provided $50,000 to support projects in their zones.

Lower Waitaki Water Zone Committee has supported the following projects as part of its action plan:

  • Waitaki Valley biodiversity project: $17,500
  • Waihao Wainono Catchment Community Group coordination: $12,000
  • Te Puna a Maru (Borton's Pond) ecological restoration project: $11,886
  • Know Your Catchment: $6,000
  • Waimate urban stormwater education: $2,562

Waihao Wainono Catchment Community Group coordination

This funding of $12,000 will go towards plants, an information kiosk, and administration costs to enhance two projects. The Waihao Wainono Catchment Community Group is currently involved with Waihao Walkway and The Sir Charles Creek plus a new project, the Upper Waihao Improvement Program.

Te Puna a Maru (Borton's Pond) ecological restoration project

The project focuses on mahi to improve the health and abundance of habitats for native plants and animals that are important mahika kai (resource gathering), led by Te Rūnanga o Moeraki. Funding of $11,886 will go towards planting costs to restore self-sustaining habitats.

Know Your Catchment

Know Your Catchment is a web platform for the community to engage and learn about freshwater in the Waitaki catchment. The funding of $6,000 is to improve the platform so it's more usable. The data includes information about water quality, irrigation, wetlands, recreation, and different ways freshwater supports wellbeing.

Waimate urban stormwater education

This education and engagement project aims to highlight the importance of reducing toxins and waste getting into our stormwater networks which eventually make their way into the wider environment and waterways. The funding of $2,562 is to go towards materials to use in conjunction with Waimate District Council and the local schools to increase knowledge of stormwater and how to protect it.