Our roving reporter recently caught up with Upper Moutere School’s principal, Grant Watson, and 35 keen kids at a restoration planting session at Beuke Bush.
Upper Moutere School students don’t muck around. They’ve only been on site for about 45 minutes and already they’ve put 200 plants in the ground. There’s nothing left for the juniors to do, so they’re heading back to school for lunch.
They all say hello as they file past.
Principal Grant Watson is standing nearby, about to start mustering the seniors. They can see I’m about to collar him for a chat and they’re waiting for me to distract him long enough so they can start splashing around in the stream without any interference.
Grant’s on to them, though. He faces them so they know they’re under surveillance, and talks to me out the side of his mouth.
Today’s planting exercise, he says, is the culmination of a process that began 15 months earlier, with local seed gathering. From those seeds, students have raised 1,500 plants—mostly Carex, with a few kānuka and māhoe as well—some of which have already been planted.
He points to the stream, almost back to normal levels after the weather bomb that hit the district earlier in the week.
“They’re going to put Carex down to here, so they’re waiting for this to empty out. Simon was keen for the kids to splash it out, or something.”
Simon Le Gros of Le Gros Landscape and Construction, who’s standing next to him, grins.
When asked if the kids enjoy planting out, Grant nods. “We didn’t bring all of our senior children; we brought the children who have shown the most interest. But I can guarantee that if we’d brought anyone, they’d be with us a hundred per cent. And they’d do what they’re asked to do and stay focused until they’re finished.
“They’re good kids…” He pauses. “Except when they go walking through the water.”
Big Understandings about the environment
This process of seed gathering through to planting isn’t a one-off. Looking after the Planet is one of Upper Moutere School’s three Big Understandings. The school’s website states that by engaging with “the rich learning opportunities that their local environment provides”, students “gain a ‘Big Understanding’ of the world in which they live.”
In practical terms, that means next year’s plants have already been propagated in the school nursery. They’re just about to get their real leaves, so in a couple of weeks they’ll be pricked out and put into rootrainers.
The kiwi, the catchment and the power of Country Calendar
Grant doesn’t have a horticultural background. He says he was initially inspired by “the nature coming down the Moutere Hill.” Then he saw a Country Calendar episode that crystallised the idea to set up the nursery.
“[There was] a school up north which had a native block. I’ve since met their principal at a conference here in Nelson and he’s actually breeding kiwi there now,” he says.
“And then the whole Moutere Catchment project came up at the same time, and the Ministry were looking at localised curriculums. So what’s more localised than us being able to be part of the Moutere Catchment restoration and One Billion Trees?
The school’s since been involved in local planting sessions, including just under a thousand plants planted at Lancewood Villa a couple of years back.
A legacy at Beuke Bush for future Upper Moutere kids
Water’s now sloshing over the sides of a few kids’ gumboots. Noting that a few of his students will soon need life jackets if they keep this up, Grant steps in. He gathers everyone together and sends them off to help Simon check recent plantings along the riverbank. After the heavy rain and subsequent flooding of the last fortnight, some plants have lost their guards, been buried under debris or given up the ghost altogether.
Most, though, have survived.
The kids amble along, with varying degrees of attention to the task at hand. Simon follows them, repositioning guards and stakes, and Grant keeps an eye on everyone. It’s relaxed and fun and the kids are clearly having a ball.
For them, today might be more about the novelty of being out of the classroom and splashing around in a stream than the bigger picture of Restoring the Moutere and what it represents. But give them two or three decades and maybe one day they’ll bring their own kids to walk the riverbank path at Beuke Bush. They’ll listen to the calls of tui and korimako, smile proudly at their tamariki and say, “I helped plant this, back when I was your age.”
And watch the kids’ eyes light up when they see the track leading to the water.