Dunedinites discover backyard biodiversity
Dunedin locals are learning about the cool critters in their gardens and how to track and trap predators, as part of creating a unique network of safe spaces for native wildlife.
School children have been using detective work to find out what wildlife and critters are in their gardens, with the data being gathered to help create an ecologically rich, low-predator environment in Dunedin’s North East Valley.
Students looking at insects using a microscope.
It’s part of the Open Valley Urban Ecosanctuary – Kapuka Taumahaka Whakamaurutanga project, a collaboration between multiple local organisations that aims to restore local ecological integrity to the area and reduce predators, allowing native species to thrive.
“The main focus is working with schools to deliver backyard biodiversity. We are answering the question 'what wildlife will people find in their garden?'” says coordinator Clare Cross.
The students from four primary schools, an intermediate and a high school have used a range of methods and equipment to gather their evidence in many of their own gardens.
Tracking tunnels capture footprints
Tracking tunnels that tempt animals with peanut butter while using paper and an ink pad to capture footprints, were effective at revealing which predators were in the students' gardens, says Clare.
‘Chew cards’ with peanut butter and honey hidden inside were also left out to gather examples of bite marks, and bird feeders were installed.
Trail cameras captured footage of animals living in and visiting gardens. “Cats are not attracted to the tunnel so using cameras and putting out sardines was the best method for them.”
Bird feeders were installed by the students.
A range of animals were found - with rats, mice, hedgehogs, possums, birds and many cats frequenting the gardens.
Clare says studying in their own back yard engaged the children with the learning.
“They have a definite connection with that, rather than looking at data from somewhere else in the country.
“If they find a hedgehog, it’s getting them to think about whether that may have an effect on the Tūī in the garden and what they may need to do about that.”
Using scientific processes
The children learnt how to 'do science' through making a prediction, guessing what they might find, gathering results and comparing them with their prediction.
“They are part of the whole scientific process," says Clare. "Their ability and curiosity, the different questions they ask, and the conclusions that they came up with has been amazing for me to see.”
As well as delivering a school education programme, the project seeks to educate the wider community, and the children relished the opportunity to do this at a Sunday afternoon community event.
Kindergarten students sorting toys into invertebrate types.
The students used dynamic displays, 3-D models, stories and even cookies to show what they had found about invertebrates and lizards to the 200 people who came.
“It was awesome to see such a huge community project and support for this work in the Valley,” Clare says.
Getting whānau involved
It’s also been rewarding working with the childrens’ families, Clare explains.
“When the family is involved there is a multi-level aspect to the learning, and it helps to integrate the work into the community.”
Another initiative was holding workshops to teach people how to build trap boxes so they can trap rats and mice.
Some Pine Hill Primary School students also shared their work at the Jonathan Rhodes kindergarten. “I was impressed at how self-directed they were. They took the opportunity and they completely excelled.
“It was amazing, and to see how interested the littlies were with what they were showing them. They were really engaged.”
Clare says because the children enjoy the work so much, she hopes this will encourage them to take science opportunities when they come up in school and in the future.
Students and whānau with the rubbish they cleared from their local creek.
About the project
Open Valley Urban Ecosanctuary is run by The Valley Project in partnership with Lotteries Environment, Dunedin's Environment Strategy: Te Ao Tūroa, Orokonui Ecosanctuary and the University of Otago, with support from the Otago Participatory Science Platform.
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