International Student Volunteers–January 9-13
We had a busy week at CUE Haven as a great team from International Student Volunteers got out of their comfort zones and did some new tasks they’d never tried before—and the result is that CUE Haven is a little new and different!
International Student Volunteers (ISV) is a US based organisation which gives young people the opportunity to combine volunteering with adventure travel. ISV operates in eight countries, including New Zealand. A typical tour consists of two weeks of conservation projects followed by two weeks of adventure travel. The focus is on conservation and learning about environmental sustainability and over 140 universities recognize ISV projects for academic credit.
The ISV team was led by Kirsty Denny of ISV with the assistance of John Busson of Conservation Volunteers NZ. The team was made up of Melissa, Katie, Brianna-Lee, Kimberley, Swaathi, Helena, Larissa, Raelene and Samantha, all of whom are from Australia.
The team arrived on Monday morning had a short orientation to the CUE Haven project and introduced each other. They were from all over Australia and we heard lots of hair raising stories about encounters with snakes, spiders and angry kangaroos.
After introductions and lunch, they went straight to work weeding in an area we had planted during the winter. We plant trees about a metre apart in what used to be pasture land. In no time, every imaginable type of weed sprouts up between the trees. The worst enemy is kikuyu grass which can smother small trees, and the objective is to give the trees room to breathe and grow.
The first challenge for Australians was to be able to recognize New Zealand native trees amongst the weeds, so John and Kirsty gave a short training session in the field.
Of course they mentioned that in NZ there was no need to worry about snakes or spiders or any other dangerous creatures. But one thing we didn’t expect was that some of the group would get hay fever from some of the plants they were exposed to! Fortunately, antihistamine tablets cleared up the problem right away.
For the next two days, the team worked on extending the gully walking track. The track runs along the gully stream in some of the mature bush and the work requires cutting the track through dense vegetation, up and down hills and across little streams. It was a new experience for the team members and hard physical work, but they had lots of energy and enthusiasm and pushed the track ahead 133 metres and cut 12 steps into a steep bank.
In addition to clearing and smoothing the track, the team also cut in and boxed steps on the steep sections.
On Thursday, the group took a break from track work and went for a hike in the mature bush to harvest seeds from some of the big trees. They collected a nice crop of puriri and karaka seeds for future planting while also learning a lot about New Zealand native vegetation. And John and Kirsty used the nursery mural to give a short lecture on New Zealand native birds:
We then assembled in the nursery to pot up seedlings. Last summer we harvested karaka and kahikatea seeds from the CUE Haven bush and they were cultivated in the nursery of our plant supplier, Scrub Growers. Matt from Scrub Growers brought out some of the seedlings which were now ready to be transplanted from their seed tubes into larger containers.
Matt gave a brief training session on how to do the potting and the team went to work and repotted the small trees.
After the potting demonstration, part of the team did some weed releasing.
The rest of the group worked on building a retaining wall around the nursery water tank. The easy part was hammering in the boards—the hard part was cutting the tops off the posts:
That afternoon, the group took a trip out to Scrub Growers to meet with the nursery staff and to see how a professional nursery operates and they tried their hand at the automatic potting machine.
On the last day, the group split into two—some opted to do weeding while others wanted to continue working on the walking tracks.
A significant aspect of the ISV visit is education and in addition to the learning opportunities in the field, the team also worked each evening in discussion groups led by Kirsty. They discussed topics such as conservation, sustainable development and biodiversity both from a New Zealand as well as a global perspective.
We really enjoyed working with this team. Everyone was committed and interested and made a huge contribution to the project. Thanks to Kirsty and John for their valuable leadership and to each member of the group. We hope you enjoy the rest of your stay in New Zealand and we hope you’ll come back to CUE Haven to see us and to explore the walking track you have helped build.