Once a year I help arrange a student teacher hui for the Enviroschools of Central Otago, regular readers of my blog will remember last years which we held at Rippon and Te Kakano and was indeed a resounding success. One of the purposes of this event is to bring students and teachers together to share ideas, meet each other and take a positive action for the environment.

The new Enviroschools reflection process was released by the national team in 2011, we as facilitators have been trained by them to help our schools go through this valuable process and Steve and I ran this years teacher workshop on this process. So the Enviroschools team of facilitators, teachers and students, across Central Otago are most definately into it.

Queenstown Primary were the first of the schools, in Central, to successfully go through this process and as such there has been lots of discussion about what it is that QPS have done to find themselves nestled in the Bronze eddy of their journey along the Enviroschools awa. One of the community projects that they have been heavily involved with is supporting the Wakatipu Wilding Conifer Group in the removal of the wilding pines from Ben Lomond.

With all of this in mind, as Steve and I were planning 2011 we thought that it would be a great idea to host our hui at QPS and take some wilding pine action during the afternoon. So it was a little while ago now that this actually happened, I’ve had a very busy second half of 2011 and my blog writing seems to be the area that has suffered the most, but now it’s time to let everyone know just what an amazing day we had.

The day had a fairly simple plan, gather together, have some introductions, tour QPS, listen to some talks from some inspiring local experts, head up Ben Lomond courteousy of Skyline, erradicate some wilding pines, back down the gondola and go home again, oh and how could I forget, a couple of breaks in the middle to enjoy some delicious kai and korero.

The tour of QPS was fantastic! I spend a lot of time working there so I know just quite how much work goes on there and it was really amazing for me to be part of a group of visitors who hadn’t been there before and get to witness what they thought of these amazing projects.  We visited; the many worm farms – including the new flash one donated by the Copthorne Hotel, saw where the new vege gardens were being installed, checked out the murals, saw the plastic fantastic inquiry work, the recycling systems, the entrance way planted with natives by the envirogroup and had lots of interesting and inspiring conversation about the sustainable projects going on at QPS from our tour guides.

Honor, from SBS in Queenstown, has been running a project this spring called Sow and Grow. SBS have purchased some seeds and have been giving them away to locals and also after conversation with myself, been getting in touch with the Queenstown schools and pre-schools to supply them with seeds free of charge to help them get into growing their own food. It’s been such an epic project. Honor has loved working with the schools and jumped at the chance to come along and talk to us about the project and meet everyone else from across Central.

I’ve also been working with DOC a lot this year, mostly on helping get the message out about Project Gold and how they plan to help community plant thousands of kowhai across Otago. When I spoke to Susie about the hui she was really keen to come along to talk about this project and how schools could get involved, especially since the project is based all across Otago. We got to see the epic video that was made showcasing Cromwell Primary growing some kowhai from seeds with the help of Jo Waklin.

Mark, also from DOC, very kindly came along to tell us all about wilding pines. They are rather sneaky trees and love the climate around Queenstown. Everyone must have seen a pine cone, and he explained how there are hundreds of seeds in each one which get picked up by the wind and blown across the mountain sides. Even if only a small percentage of these seeds germinate and grow into trees that is thousands of non native trees growing each and every year. One of the main problems with conifers is that when they grow they create a bio-system that restricts the growth of natives. If you’ve ever been into a pine forest then I’m sure you will have noticed how barren the forest floor is, especially if you compare it to the floor of a beech forest. He also told us about the different ways that you get rid of the trees, you can pull them out if they are small, or you have to use loppers, a saw, or maybe even a chain saw to cut them down at the base ensuring that there are no small branches visible above the ground.  If there are any shoots starting to emerge then they will grow into a tree, so we have to be careful and make sure we do the job properly.

With our heads full of exciting information it was time to enjoy a hearty lunch and set off towards the gondola. A massive thanks goes out to Skyline, who very kindly gave us lift passes for free. They are very supportive of the Wakatipu Wilding Conifer Groups work and I’m pretty certain that without this amazing support it would have been much harder for this group to acheive so much work on Ben Lomond.

As we left the gondola and walked towards the site we got to walk through the pine forest and it is so easy to see the problem the conifers create. It’s dark, and the floor is littered with pine needles meaning only a few rather dubious mushrooms seem to be growing there. As we walked out of the edge of the forest and looked at the floor you could see a vast range of natives growing in this gorgeous alpine environment.

Once we reached the site we had a quick check in about what we were doing. The side of Ben Lomond is steep, we have to be really careful to make sure we have our backs facing uphill when we pull the seedlings out of the ground or we could find ourselves tumbling down the mountain side. That was a situation I was very keen to avoid, and thankfully everyone remember what they had been told and stayed safe.

Pulling pines is a really satisfying experience, you are doing such a great job to help out the local native environment and it’s super super easy. In the hour or so we spent at the site some of our crew managed to pull a couple of hundred each!

With the clock ticking it was time to gather back together and make our way back down the gondola and home. Massive thanks going out to Queenstown Primary for hosting us, DOC and SBS for coming to share their knowledge with us as well as Skyline and the Wakatipu Wilding Conifer Group for helping us take some positive action.

Anyone got any ideas for the 2012 hui? I think it could be time to venture out of QLDC and into CODC.