School students learn about bio-control

Students from Awahou School spent yesterday morning with Horizons Regional Council staff learning about the use of beetles to control the pest plant tradescantia and helping to transfer some of the beetles to Tōtara Reserve in the Pohangina Valley.

Horizons runs an ongoing weed control programme at Tōtara Reserve, which is a designated regional park covering 340ha of bush and is home to a plethora of native flora and fauna. Tradescantia, or ‘wandering willie’, is a ground-covering weed that smothers small native seedlings, hindering their growth in native bush blocks like Tōtara Reserve.
Horizons Community Biodiversity Advisor Neil Gallagher says traditional weed control methods have proven futile in the control of some weeds, including tradescantia.
“Bio-control agents like the tradescantia leaf beetle have been introduced as an alternative way to target some of these species,” he says.
Awahou School students were invited to help collect and transfer some of the beetles from their nursey site near Massey University to a site in the reserve where tradescantia is spreading. A garden leaf vacuum was used to collect the beetles in large numbers, however the students were excited to get involved and collected several by hand as well, placing them in containers for transport.
At Tōtara Reserve, the students helped place the beetles in a small plant cloche on the forest floor, where they are able to acclimatise and settle into their new home before getting stuck into the tradescantia.
Mr Gallagher and Environmental Educator Sarah Williams talked the students through the process, and provided advice on how they can monitor the beetles in their new home as they make their way through the weed.
Mrs Williams says young people can’t care about something they don’t know about.
“Being able to support Awahou School in exploring their local area and helping them learn to be kaitiaki (guardians) of their environment is a great opportunity,” she says.
Principal Trudi Rei says having a place like Tōtara Reserve on their doorstep provided an amazing learning resource for students.
“For a few years now we’ve been getting the students down to the reserve each week to do ‘bush school’, where they learn about the native bush, and we’re really keen to get involved in projects to help protect this place,” Mrs Rei says.
“This term we have a whole-school focus on kaitiakitanga, so being invited to be part of this project is a great opportunity for the students.”