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Students learn importance of biodiversity

Students learn importance of biodiversity

A group of scientists, teachers, students and biodiversity professionals are teaming up at St Peter’s Cambridge this weekend to carry out an ecological survey known as an EcoBlitz.

The event aims to encourage high school students to learn more about nature and the importance of biodiversity for sustainable farming.

Lincoln University received funding from the Waikato River Authority last year to conduct two of these events at Owl Farm, a demonstration dairy farm jointly operated by the University and St Peter’s School and located at St Peter’s.

The first event will be held on Friday and Saturday (25-26 September) and the second is expected to take place in 2017.

Lincoln University Ecology lecturer Tim Curran says an EcoBlitz involves rigorously collecting and recording biodiversity data in selected areas so that surveys can be repeated to measure changes over time.

“These events get high school students working with experts to learn ecological survey techniques, identify plants and animals and discuss pressing environmental issues,” he says.

“Society is increasingly disconnected from the natural world and when you consider that we’re faced with a raft of urgent environmental problems, this disconnection hinders our ability to solve these crises.

“We need to foster an informed society that cares about such issues and has the expertise to address them. These EcoBlitzes aim to achieve that.”

Lincoln University Ecology lecturer Jon Sullivan says the first St Peter’s EcoBlitz will involve a strong focus on freshwater ecology.

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“Experts from Lincoln University, the National Institute for Water and Atmospheric Research and Waikato University will help students to document the diversity of native species living in the streams and wetlands of Owl Farm, on the edge of the Waikato River.

“We hope this EcoBlitz will document the beginning of a long-term improvement in the biodiversity of Owl Farm as wetland restoration and more sustainable and productive farming practices are implemented.”

EcoBlitz attendees will record plants, birds, mammals, fish, and aquatic and terrestrial invertebrates using a variety of standard survey techniques.

“Along with scientists from Landcare Research and the Biological Heritage National Science Challenge, we will carry out environmental DNA sampling of the soil to survey invertebrates, bacteria and fungi,” says Dr Curran.

Dr Sullivan says there is also considerable scope for building activities into the programme that are unique to the area.

“For example, given the potential importance of the local area as a habitat for long-tailed bats, we are including a module on bat detection.”

“We see this as the first step to provide baseline data on biodiversity on this working dairy farm to examine changes over time.”

The first EcoBlitz in New Zealand was held last year at Nina Valley from 14-16 March. More than 170 senior high school students from 21 schools joined over 50 scientists from various organisations to survey the biodiversity of the area.

• For more information about the St Peter’s EcoBlitz, see http://www.ecoblitz.nz/

• For more information about the Nina Valley EcoBlitz, see http://ninavalleyecoblitz.com/

ENDS

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