Wednesday was one of those EPIC days that happen from time to time in my life. It was my first visit of the year to Queenstown Primary and I had been tasked with working with students on worm farms and taking 4 of the Envirogroup on a field trip to help stop the spread of wilding pines.

I worked with a few classes at QPS last year on setting up worm farms to capture some of their food waste. QPS have three worm farms on site which, on a small scale, are working very well. One of our goals for this year is to turn the small scale into large scale and see if we can divert almost all of the organic waste generated at school from the landfill and into worm farms and chickens.

To help start this off I was asked if I could work with 2 students from each class and help them develop a system to capture the food waste and divert it into a worm farm (1 for each syndicate), which the students have designed and also manage themselves.

This project is a perfect example of how the Enviroschools programme can be used to action sustainable change to a school as a whole. Today’s work was geared towards the first stage of the action learning cycle – Identify the Current Situation.

We had an absolute ball. Each syndicate came to talk to me for about 40 minutes. We did all of our learning outside, the best place to learn about the environment. After refreshing our memory, and learning some new things about worms we investigated the worm farms that we have in school. We could see how well they had been working and discussed ways that we could divert more of schools from the landfill to the appropriate streams. As part of this discussion we thought about ways of telling the story, how to we let everyone in school know what we were doing and what they can do to help us achieve our goal.

So that was the morning, pretty exciting, very full on, but so amazing to be outside. The afternoon was gearing up to be just as fun. I met up with 4 lucky members of the QPS Envirogroup halfway through lunchtime. We were about to spend our afternoon with the Wilding Conifer group and a TV crew from TVNZ. How exciting! Myself and Mrs. Gray have been working with this amazing community group about how we can involve some of the students in the great work they do to rid Queenstown of wilding pines. These four students are the first ones to taking action with  this amazing group of volunteers.

So what’s the issue here? – Pine trees were introduced to New Zealand in the mid 1800’s and as with many other species brought here, they have spread like wildfire. Ordinarily I’m a massive fan of trees. In this case though, things are a little different. If you’ve ever spent much time in a pine forest you will notice that not much grows under the canopy. The floor is littered with pine needles and not much else. As these conifers spread across our land they flourish and take over the native growth. Around Queenstown the climate and ground conditions appear to be almost perfect for wilding conifers. The winds do a fantastic job of distributing the plentiful supply of seeds from the established forest into areas many kilometres away.

The wilding Conifer Group has taken on the task of controlling these trees and they are doing an amazing job. They have a number of different ways that they tackle the problem, one of which is to organise groups of volunteers to go and remove conifer seedlings by hand. It might sound like a pretty hard job, but believe me, it’s super easy and lots of fun.

The group has been doing such an amazing job, they have attracted the attention of TVNZ who sent a film crew along to film some volunteers in action. We were tasked with removing some conifers from Ben Lomond, this is the mountain that can be accessed from the Skyline gondola. Skyline are so into the work that the group are doing that they let us ride up and down the gondola for free – Awesome!

All the volunteers were each issued with a set of loppers and received expert instruction from the groups leaders and experts as to how to remove the conifers in the most effective way. It is so easy, cut as low to the ground as possible, check that no pine needles are left on the trunk – if there are, a new branch will grow from them so you need to cut lower. All you have to do then is lie the seedling on the ground, where it will slowly compost away. Sound simple? It is.

Between the five of us we removed around 300 seedlings in only half an hour! EPIC! There is no shortage of these seedlings around the Queenstown area. If you’d like to help, the best thing to do is get in touch with Briana Pringle ( who will be able to tell you details about the next volunteer day.