Empowering young people is part of the Enviroschools kaupapa and this year we wanted to engage with some of our Enviroschools from the Northern Rangitīkei area, and give them the opportunity to learn more about the issue of introduced pest plants in their district. We were excited to have 71 students attend from five local schools for our inaugural pest plant hui in February, and hope that by raising awareness they are now empowered to take action in their place.
The pest plant hui was held at Awastone on the Rangitikei River in Mangaweka for the morning, before moving to the Mangaweka campground for afternoon activities.
“Our environmental education aims to encourage students to engage with their environment and give them the tools to take action to protect and enhance our natural world.” – Sarah Williams
Horizons Regional Council pest plant team were brought along to share their expertise on pest plants of the area and the students were excited to be greeted by Woody Weed.
The day began with a fun interactive game, Weed Wipeout, to help build an understanding of the concept of what a weed is, how quickly some can spread and what that means for our native plants and natural ecosystems.
“Chances to engage with young people are an important part of our role in raising awareness in the next generation, who will go onto be kaitiaki of this land.” – Mike Beech (Horizons Environmental Programme Coordinator)
Participants were then separated into mixed school groups where they took part in a series of rotations with the Horizons pest plant team members, who each had two invasive weed species to show them. The species on display are the most commonly found/problematic in the Rangitīkei area including Old Man’s Beard (Clematis vitalba), Woolly Nightshade (Solanum mauritianum), Tradescantia, Banana Passionfruit (Passiflora tripartite), Tutson (Hypericum androsaemum) and Gunnera sp. Students learnt the identifying features of these pest plants and why they are such a problem for our native flora and fauna.
The next round of rotations saw the team introduce the students to control methods including biocontrol agents. Pest plant biocontrol is the act of introducing a natural enemy (either insects or pathogens) to control a pest plant. This is a way to control an invasive species when other methods are not successful, or the spread has become uncontrollable. Other methods of control were also discussed included spraying, cut and paste, and weed pulling. We were lucky to have tradescantia fungus and beetles to view. These target the plant in different ways and together can help to combat the spread of this plant. The students also enjoyed learning about broom gall mites, green thistle beetle and buddleia weevil.
To test their newfound knowledge, students were split into school groups to match pictures of weeds and biocontrol agents with the correct labels, and then sent off on a scavenger hunt to locate some of these weeds on site. These activities helped to embed the learning from the morning and build more confidence in identifying common weeds that they might find in their schools, at home or in their local rohe.
For the afternoon a hands-on approach and a challenge was set for each student to have a go at spraying some pest weeds with our gun and hose spray game. Three groups were formed and everyone had a go at using the spray gun and hose that the Horizons team use as part of their weed control methods when tackling pest plants. Plastic bottles were filled with water, either native or pest plant species were laid out in front of each spray unit, and students had to identify the plants and only spray the weeds to clear the patch of bush from all the nasty pest plants. Each school was given time to choose their best competitor to take part in the final challenge in the War on Weeds School Championship, the ultimate spray off.
Top contenders raced to spray a patch of bush to “eradicate the weeds”, after putting on the all-important safety gear including overalls, gumboots, gloves and googles. The fastest time to spray all the pest plants and avoid the natives was recorded for each competitor and a time penalty was placed on anyone that sprayed a native by accident.
Top scores from the ultimate spray challenge were calculated and added to the previous scores from the earlier challenges. Anticipation was building as the day came to a close. We announced that Taoroa School took out the War on Weeds Championship for the day.
“We had an epic day learning all about different pest plants and biological control agents. Throughout the day there were lots of little challenges to test our knowledge of the different topics covered and Taoroa School proudly came out on top as the ‘War on Weeds CHAMPIONS’” – feedback
The day was so successful we repeated this same hui format a month later at Mount Lees Reserve for both Enviroschools and non-Enviroschools from the Manawatū District and will be looking to take this to other districts as soon as we can.
“Thank you for an outstanding day of learning and fun!” – Taoroa school
Banner image: Participants listen to Mike Beech talk about the issue of plant weeds in the Northern Rangitīkei area.