More than 100 Moturoa School students had dirt up to their elbows at Port Taranaki on Wednesday.
The school’s entire roll of 103 was down at the port getting stuck in as the children planted about 200 native rare and endangered species as part of the Trees for Survival programme.
Helping them out was a crew from Rotary Club of New Plymouth West, who had already dug holes in preparation for the planting.
Trees for Survival is a nationwide charitable trust, initiated by Rotary. It aims to teach children how to grow and plant native plants.
Moturoa School was the first school in Taranaki to take up the programme when, in 1996, Port Taranaki provided funding for a propagation unit to be bought. Rotary Club of New Plymouth West then set up the unit, provided additional funding for equipment and has helped with the school’s plantings around Taranaki.
Moturoa School’s programme is unique in that it has developed a focus on Taranaki plants, especially regionally distinctive and endangered species. Unlike elsewhere, the children are involved in the full cycle of propagation – the collecting and planting of seeds and taking cuttings, through to the final stage of planting out.
Every October since 2010, the school has planted many of the species at Port Taranaki, outside the main office on Bayly Rd and the surrounds.
The gardens contain about 1000 indigenous New Zealand plants. Many are local plants, such as the Paritutu korokio, which is a distinctive tangle-branched coastal shrub that grows naturally on Paritutu Rock.
Moturoa School principal Delwyn Riding said the children enjoyed getting out and applying the final touch – the planting – after the hard work of propagation.
“They get a real appreciation of plant sustainability and the concept of global conservation,” she said.
A key to the success is conservationist Bill Clarkson, who helped set up the school’s programme in 1996 and is the Moturoa School environmental educator, a role funded by AWE Taranaki Ltd.
Every Tuesday, Mr Clarkson spends five hours at the school running the propagation programme and teaching the children about plants and conservation. He has also written school teacher resources and documented the school’s Trees for Survival programme.
Mr Clarkson said it was satisfying to watch the children gain first-hand experience of conservation.
“It’s important children are given the opportunity to learn about the indigenous plants of their own country and district, and have the opportunity to care for their local environment. They have a real sense of achievement and ownership when they come back and see the plants growing and developing,” Mr Clarkson said. “It is as much about growing minds as growing plants.”
Mark Wilson, of Rotary Club of New Plymouth West, was also at the forefront 20 years ago. He said maintaining a relationship between Rotary, Moturoa School and Port Taranaki was important for the community.
“We’ve always had a great connection with the port – a lot of former employees have been members of our club over the years – and we see that the kids benefit from the planting programme. So it’s keeping those connections going that has been important,” Mr Wilson said.
Port Taranaki chief executive Guy Roper said the quality of the plants and gardens around the company’s building was a fine demonstration of the hard work of the Moturoa School children.
“I have been very impressed with the kids’ knowledge and understanding of plants. They have done a great job planting out the gardens here at Port Taranaki,” Mr Roper said.
The garden planting is part of a wider relationship Port Taranaki has with Moturoa School, which has included sponsorship and donations, such as computers.