Archive | August, 2015

Environmentalism in a UNESCO World Heritage Site

22 Aug Weed Team Member

In 1982, in recognition of the global significance of the island’s beauty and biodiversity, Lord Howe Island was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site . Just prior to that, The Lord Howe Island Act of 1981 was established which created a Permanent Park Preserve over approximately 70% of the island. Lord Howe Islanders are proud of the World Heritage designation and would do almost anything to preserve it.

Many programs and strategies have been introduced to protect the bio-diversity of this unique island including the 2004 establishment of The Lord Howe Island (LHI) Weed Eradication Program. This is a thirty-year plan to eliminate all non-endemic weeds from this island of fourteen-and-a-half-kilometers. A big part of this plan includes The Weed Team.

The Weed Team is a group of approximately ten-paid employees plus a variety of volunteers who are committed to removing non-endemic weeds which, if left to their own devices, will kill the rare plants which cover the hills of Lord Howe and take over the beautiful landscape. The Weed Team spends eight-hours per day, four-days per week, climbing into the hills on a search-and-destroy mission to eradicate very specific invasive weeds.

I had the opportunity to spend a day foraging through the jungle with the Weed Team and, let me tell you, these folks work hard; so hard that one can tell, they don’t simply do it for the money. These men and women are passionate about what they do.

We met in town at their garage behind the island’s board offices. I was provided with a backpack (though you should bring your own), some gloves, a tool-belt with clippers and a knife, and an empty weed-bag to fill.

We climb into their pick-up truck and head out to today’s grid. The island has been divided into hundreds of grids, which are marked by blue tape placed on trees, and a different grid is targeted each day. The Weed Team completes the full circuit every two-years. There are 670-non-native plants and, of those, 271 are considered invasive. The Weed Team eradication program targets the worst thirty-five.

Weed TeamToday’s grid is a fairly easily accessible one (I think they’ve chosen it as they knew I’d be joining them) and, after leaving the truck on a muddy hill (the truck begins sliding Weedssideways so we bale-out), we begin a ten-minute walk into the jungle-covered hills. Upon our arrival at today’s grid, I’m shown the two species of weeds which we’ll be pulling, and instructed on the proper way to dig them up and cut the roots off. There’s no need to bring the entire weed out of the jungle because, if we find a lot of them, our weed bags will become quite heavy. Simply carrying the root out of the jungle will prevent further spread.

While this is a planned thirty-year program, in the ten-years it’s been in existence, they’ve reduced these invasive weeds by eighty-percent. While many on the Weed Team are rock-climbers, not all areas of Lord Howe are accessible, even to them. In these cases, a helicopter is brought in for very targeted spraying of the weeds which has a minimal impact on other plant life.

We’re spread out on a search-line, much like ones formed by police when searching for missing people. Sometimes we walk, other times we crawl in order to make a thorough search of the jungle for the, sometimes, tiny weeds hiding under dead palm leaves.Weed TeamThe original weeds were mostly brought by visiting ships and from people’s gardens. They don’t belong here and, as they compete with other vegetation for sunlight, water and nutrients from the soil, some take over the food source for endemic, flightless, Lord Howe Wood Hens.

We break for tea and lunch, eating our packed snacks and sandwiches under the jungle canopy (mostly) hidden from the sudden rains. While sitting there, we report the number of each type of weed, and its stage of development to the team leader. After thirty-minutes, we’re back at it, on our hands and knees, using our knives to dig out the unwelcome weeds.Weed Team MemberThough the Weed Team is normally out there until 3:00pm, today is a short day in the jungle as they need to report to the museum for a required class. We hike out of the jungle, this time down slippery rocks, up hillsides, and through the jungle plants, which continuously tangle in our legs, before finally reaching the pick-up which has been moved to meet us.

Besides it’s UNESCO World Heritage designation, why is LHI so committed to this weed eradication? Well, again, there’s the protection of the Wood Hens. But there are also 238-native plants here and 113 of them exist only on Lord Howe Island. That’s pretty amazing in its own right and, considering the size of the island, well, it’s quite remarkable. The goal of the Weed Eradication Program is zero-weed density by 2034. Being an island, there is a very realistic possibility of complete eradication of non-endemic species.

You can volunteer on the LHI Weed Team, but there are things to keep in mind:

First, this is not a vacation. Sure you’ll get to enjoy the incredible scenery of this unique island, and even meet many of the 350 locals. And you’ll learn so much about the native plant and bird-life. But, make no mistake, the work is physical and you’ll work your butt off. Still, your three-week volunteer experience will include your lodging and a small food stipend. And you’re sure to be in great physical shape after this. If you’re interested in the Weed Eradication Program, or in volunteering, or in any other LHI information, please visit http://www.lhib.nsw.gov.au/ for more information.

 

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Going Head2Head to Combat Childhood Poverty in New Zealand

3 Aug

Finally, after much searching, I found a wonderful volunteer project in New Zealand. Due to the dates I’m here, and most requirements by local agencies and organizations that I commit six-months to their project, well, it’s been a challenge. So while I didn’t get hands on this time, Paul Dickson from Head2Head Charity was nice enough to take me on a tour of one of their projects and tell me more about the organization which he founded.

On the day Paul and I met he took me to meet the folks at Papatoetoe-West School, an elementary school catering mostly to students (ages 5-11) from lower-income households. It was there that I met 10-year-old Oscar who, along with some friends, proudly showed me the mock-up of a hen-house which he designed. Oscar’s class was challenged to design the perfect hen-house (also known as a chicken coop) and draw the plans. The next step was to go home and gather materials lying around and build their hen-house. Oscar worked hard gathering materials and working, through trial-and-error, to construct his house. His materials included an empty cocoa powder carton, plastic from a water-bottle, wood, a tin can, and discarded plastic tubing. The kids all brought their hen-houses to school, voted for the best design, and Oscar’s won. Once the school can gather the materials, including obtaining some donated lumber, they’ll ask the school’s grounds-keeper to build it to house the hens which they hope to get. Oscar’s hen-house design includes a rainwater gathering system, a comfortable indoor area, and even an outdoor play area with a retractable cover so, as Oscar explains, “the hens can play outside even when it’s raining!” It’s important for hens to play.Hen HouseThis is all part of a national environmental studies program, called Enviroschools, which Papatoetoe joined approximately a year-and-a-half ago. With the help of Head2Head Charity, the school now has garden-beds located Greenhousearound the grounds, as well as a greenhouse, gardening equipment, a composting box and more. The kids spend time tending their gardens each week while learning about horticulture. “Kids love getting their hands dirty,” says Paul Dickson, founder of Head2Head Charity.

Head2HeadHead2Head raises money to sponsor deserving and under-supported organizations and projects. It began in 2012, when Paul organized a simple fund-raising walk to combat childhood poverty. Paul was working in the Geo Thermal field when he and some work colleagues decided to organize the 125km walk around Manukau Harbour in Auckland, New Zealand. With the success of the first walk, Paul became hooked on being a do-gooder and quit his job to establish Head2Head Charity. The next year, in order to draft more participants, the 125km was changed to a relay.

Thus far, the Head2Head Walk has raised over NZ$40,000 by over 150 participants. And Papatoetoe has isn’t its only benefactor. Head2Dead is committed to helping with creative solutions to child poverty in New Zealand wherever they may be. The next step for the Papatoetoe-West School, its Garden-to-Table program, will be implemented soon. A kitchen is being built and the kids will learn how to harvest their fruits and vegetables, and prepare and cook them. Not only will they learn about cooking, but also table manners and social-skills. Head2Head could sure use some volunteers to help with this part. As Paul says, “There’s almost no point growing all this stuff if there’s no one around to help teach them what to do with it.” As well as volunteers, donations of kitchen equipment will gladly be accepted.

School gardenIt’s clear to see the pride the kids take in their gardens. Gardening is just a part of what the kids learn in this program. They also learn patience, a sense of ownership, teamwork, and follow-through.

gardenWhen I asked Paul what Head2Head needs most he told me, for now, it’s volunteers. While Paul quit his job to establish Head2Head, he takes no salary (other than the 100 hours he’s billed at $10 per hour to cover a small part of his time), as he wants as much as possible to go to the projects. But he’s a one-man show and could really use some helping hands. Donations of cash and supplies would also be fantastic. Hubbard Foods has become a corporate sponsor for the Head2Head Charity Walk but there is room for many more.

Head2Head is the little fish in a big pond of much larger charities. What sets it apart from many is that you can actually see the difference your money and assistance are making. Another difference is that Head2Head is committed to two major issues; childhood poverty and environmental education. It’s a worthy charity which could use, and would greatly appreciate, any help offered.

Want to help out? Contact Paul at Head2Head at this E-mail address: paul@head2head.org.nz

If you want to donate some kitchen equipment to the school, please contact Principal Diana Tregoweth at dianat@pap-west.school.nz

 

 

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