23 Jun 2020

Watching wetland birds on a crisp Saturday morning is a rewarding way to start the day for 10-year-old Willow.

She is the Styx Purakaunu Living Laboratory Trust’s youngest volunteer and one of about a dozen people who meet on the first Saturday of each month to record bird numbers and their species.

Along with bird monitoring, trust volunteers carry out water quality monitoring on the Styx River catchment, a spring-fed ecosystem in Harewood, on a monthly basis, and the trust organises regular forest restoration planting days in the area. The Styx River is home to paradise shelduck, New Zealand scaup, herons, cormorants, pukeko, and pied stilts among other species.

Willow has been volunteering for the group for the past four years, along with her parents, and says it’s a great way to learn about the environment.

“I enjoy being outside and looking at the birds. I also enjoy getting a quiz from Chris [another volunteer] on the tree names every time I go. I’ve learnt bird names and lots about them. I feel good about helping.” 

She is the only child in the group, but the atmosphere is very friendly and everyone is willing to share their knowledge about wildlife and native plants with her.

Her mum, Jess, says Willow has been interested in the environment and animals since she was a toddler.

“We took her along to Summer in the Styx [an annual public event organised by the trust] and she liked the idea of helping in some way. She has been back each year, taking part in all the activities available, collecting donations and planting trees – some are now taller than her.

“Even though she hates getting up early on a Saturday morning, once she gets to the bird monitoring Willow enjoys watching and learning how the environment changes. She loves seeing how the birds and their babies grow and change, as well as finding new discoveries. She doesn't talk much but soaks up all the information that the other volunteers share with her.”

Jess says they’ve all gained a greater connection with the local area as a result of volunteering.

“We as a family see it as very important to give back to our community and bird monitoring and the trust has allowed Willow to find her own way of doing this. The other volunteers have been amazing with her.”

National Volunteer Week began on Sunday. The week celebrates the collective contribution of all volunteers who enrich New Zealand. This year’s theme is Te Hua o te Mahi Tahi – The benefit of working together.

Council Biodiversity Team Leader Antony Shadbolt, who works closely with the Styx Living Laboratory Trust, says the bird monitoring information collected by volunteers is used by the Council and also given to the ebird New Zealand Bird Atlas.

“We’ve been monitoring birds regularly for about six years so we’ve been able to detect new things happening, such as a colony of little pied cormorants at the Styx Mill Conservation Reserve.”

The trust receives funding from the Papanui-Innes and Fendalton-Waimairi-Harewood Community Boards. It has also secured Ministry for Primary Industries Matariki Tu Rakau funding (part of the One Billion Trees programme) to plant 900 native trees – mainly totara and kanuka – this planting season and 1900 next year.

Children from Marshland School and Ouruhia School and volunteers from Conservation Volunteers NZ and corporate groups often help out with the planting days in an area off Marshland Road.