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Students turn wetland into a growing success

The wetland established by Kahutara School in South Wairarapa, which has just received its seventh student-led annual plant out, is flourishing.

Thirteen students aged five to eight from the 100-strong school recently volunteered to get their hands dirty at the Mangatete site, alongside a former student who came back to help.

Wetland organiser and Kahutara School teacher aide Mary Mason said she is thrilled at how the area has been transformed from unused “swampy land in a farm corner”.

“When we first came over here in 2017, this was just bare, absolutely bare,” Mason said.

“When you look at the difference now, it’s quite amazing.”

In 2017, Fraser and Margaret Donald – the grandparents of a former pupil – donated land from their farm and began the restoration work by landscaping it to form two ponds, installing a solar pump, and bringing water to the site.

This encouraged ribbonwood trees to thrive and reach four metres height in a short time, as well as promote the growth of kowhai, kahikatea, harakeke, cabbage trees, and black beech.

“I’ll never see this at its full potential, but you always have to think about future generations,” Mason said, noting that the students who have helped grow the area’s biodiversity are always “really enthusiastic” about planting days and taking care of the area.

“They talk about coming back: ‘When I am 50, I am going to come back and see what it looks like’.”

Parent volunteer Tracey Honeysett said the planting day was a great opportunity to see the difference the pupils’ collective efforts are making.

“My older son is here, and has done this for the past few years at school, and now his younger brother is in the same group,” she said.

“This was quite a bit of wasted land, and it is amazing now to see what they have put into it, and they can see the results of the environment coming back.”

Former Kahutara student Isaac Honeysett, now in Year 9 at Rathkeale College, said it was fun using his teacher-only day to help out.

“It is really interesting to see how things have grown, and now it looks really cool.”

Year 8 student Brooke Davies said the wetland is incredibly meaningful because the project brings people together while working in collaboration.

“I think the wetland is an amazing place to be,” she said.

Over the past seven years, pupils, parents, farmers, and teachers have developed the wetland after participating in the Whitebait Connection programme, led by Mountains to Sea Wellington and supported by the Greater Wellington Regional Council.

The project has also received support from numerous community groups, including South Wairarapa Rotary, Ducks Unlimited, South Wairarapa District Council, and Featherston’s Own Charitable Trust.

Ruamahanga Restoration Trust has also aided the project by donating 230 plants from Norfolk Road Nurseries and predator traps for the “non-stop rats and mice,” Mason said.

The trapping supports wildlife that includes kingfisher and fantail, kotare, and ducks coming into the pond, as well as the occasional white heron.

Last year, the school won the annual Challenge Shield – a historic school gardening competition in South Wairarapa – with an entry that included the wetland.

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