Students gift mahi to conservation in the Lake Ohau Basin

The Student Volunteer Army (SVA) was founded as a student-led club at the University of Canterbury in response to the Canterbury earthquakes in 2010-2011. They mobilised thousands of young people to volunteer and assist with clean up. The organisation has grown into a nationwide civic education charity focused on making service a part of student life by inspiring and motivating young people to be the change in their community.

The SVA’s community outreach camps give student volunteers an opportunity to make an impact in communities across New Zealand and explore regions outside of Christchurch. 

Three projects were organised for the students to do on Saturday 6 May to help protect and revitalize local Lake Ōhau ecosystems.

The first group of volunteers teamed up with Wilding Free Mackenzie and Mainland Vector Contracting to remove wilding pines from Ōhau Downs Conservation Area. This critically endangered ecosystem is home to more than 100 endemic plant species and a range of native fauna such as Banded Dotterels, NZ Pipit, Black Fronted Terns and McCanns Skink. Haeleigh Turner, Coordinator for Wilding Free Mackenzie said the fast-growing wilding pines are invasive in the Mackenzie region and can take over natural ecosystems, posing a significant threat to many of the native species that live within them. It was very special to have SVA volunteers sweep through the Ohau Downs Conservation Area, using loppers to cut down young wilding pines and pasting herbicide on the stumps to prevent regrowth. Students got to experience a very special landscape on a beautiful clear day, doing mahi to protect the fragile nature of the Mackenzie.

The remaining two projects were carried out in support of the Ōhau Conservation Trust.  A key Trust project is establishing a new native forest (Avoca Forest) on a site between Lake Middleton and Lake Ōhau Village. On Saturday, one group of volunteers helped prepare for planting in the Avoca Forest by clearing planting sites and digging holes. After a busy and productive morning, Viv Smith-Campbell, Chairperson of Ōhau Conservation Trust, said the students spent the afternoon doing planting. It was great to see the students, particularly the international students willingly tackling unfamiliar mahi, with smiles and enthusiasm.

 Possum control in the hills to the west of the Village is undertaken by the Trust to protect native mistletoe/pikirangi plants which grow on beech trees in this area.  The Trust was all ready to set up predator traps for stoats, ferrets, weasels, rats and hedgehogs, when in the 2020 wildfire, the 80 new traps the Trust had just received, were all destroyed. This new predator trapping is to protect forest birds and in particular korimako/bellbirds which pollinate the mistletoe. This group of students were given the task to carry and place brand new predator traps along trapping lines said Viv Smith-Campbell. This meant carrying traps along tracks up the hills and gullies to the west of Lake Ōhau Village. Viv said there were no complaints about this strenuous days work – and some of the students were rewarded with wonderful views from high above the beech forest as the last traps were placed in Freehold Creek.

Breanna Camden, a SVA Exec member said that after a day of hard mahi, students enjoyed exploring the Twizel township, taking a quick dip in a lake, and the chance to connect with other student volunteers.

On a cool Sunday 7 May morning the SVA returned to Lake Ōhau for tree planting in Avoca Forest. 

The Trust was thrilled to also have the Waitaki Boys’ and Girls’ High Schools Enviroschool students there to help with the planting, said Viv Smith-Campbell. It was so fitting that so many young people helped to establish this legacy forest, to be enjoyed long into the future. 

Our local volunteers and friends were also there to help, and in just over two hours, over 900 plants were put in the ground. There was such a special atmosphere with all these groups coming together for one common goal said Viv Smith-Campbell and the volunteers celebrated the joint mahi with a hot BBQ lunch.

It was such a productive planting session said Viv Smith-Campbell, that we’re able to cancel our last planting day scheduled for 21 May, as we have no more plants to be planted this year.

Over the weekend, the SVA volunteers and Lake Ōhau community groups worked together to remove 1000 wilding pines, plant 1083 native trees and place 54 predator traps.

Gareth Harcombe, the UC Student Volunteer Army President, said they would like to thank the community groups they worked with for their passion and hospitality, in particular Ōhau Conservation Trust, Wilding Free Mackenzie, Environment Canterbury, DOC Twizel and Mainland Vector Contracting staff.  We would also like to thank all the student volunteers that came along, without whom we would not have been able to complete so much mahi for the Lake Ōhau community.

Kia tūao, e tū ki te ao.

Be a volunteer, stand up in the world!

Article written by Viv Smith-Campbell of Ohau Conservation Trust, with input from Haeleigh Turner (Wilding Free Mackenzie) and Breanna Camden (UC Student Volunteer Army)

Posted: Wed 17 May 2023