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Students, ferrets, possums and WRC gather at Whiti Bike Park

A special student day was held at the Bike Park in Whitianga just last week. Call it a kind of bush seminar where over forty students from Mercury Bay Area School (MBAS) gathered with some parents and their teacher, and Bike Park leadership to experience first-hand some of the knowledge and experience of professional environmentalists plus hear a little of the inspiration behind the Bike Park and its wonderful bushland and tracks.
 |  Pauline Stewart  | 

Professional trapper, Aaron Pulford, tough on pests and kind to the bush, speaks to the students; a very relaxed setting for the student bush seminar at the Bike Park

Aaron Pulford, a professional trapper contracted by Waikato Regional Council (WRC) talked to the students about his life and adventures, and brought with him taxidermized weasels, stoats ferrets as well as a possum.

He wanted everyone to see the difference in appearance of the first three but also their behaviour and what it took to trap them. 

Aaron, who was born and raised on the Coromandel, looked and sounded like the real Bear Grylls outdoor guy.  He was very knowledgeable and serious about getting these pests culled and how much they damaged the native bush. Several questions from the students were prompted by Arron’s speaking, leading him to give a strong invitation to students to seriously consider a vocation working in the environment. Noel Hewlett, who began the Bike Park over twenty years ago with his brother, shared some of the stories of setting it up and the vison for the future.

Elaine Iddon, Senior Catchment Management Officer for Whitianga for the WRC, spoke about   how much natural bush had been lost and how everyone could help maintain and improve what we have left.

Beginnings: Jon Maud, the Manager of the Bike Park, initiated this relationship with the Mercury Bay Area School in 2019. At the time, students were regularly doing trap setting and trap checking in Robertson Road Whitianga, and so at Jon’s suggestion, this was extended to include the Bike Park.  Now, up to twenty students come every week with a teacher and parents and grandparents bring them. They work as a team checking the traps, setting the traps and clear the tracks carefully for walkers and cyclists.

“Aspects of these visits are part of the College Curriculum,” says Jon. “Knowing how to care for our native trees and being able to identify the signs of concern are important to the weekly activities.”  Studying of the fish in the stream and caring for the stream has been added to the curriculum as well. Jon shared how surprised he was at the number of fish in the stream and that some of the fish species were nocturnal. This focussed study of the stream and gathering of information occurs twice a year.

Teresa Shepherd was the teacher guiding the students on the day.

“There is a lot of bush here and setting the traps, maintaining and checking the traps are no small tasks,” Teresa says.

She has been teaching for over twenty years, but her association with the Bike Park began when she would bring her children (preschool and primary) to the park for their birthday parties.” So much has been done to make this Bike Park such a beautiful treasure for this region. Teresa is very committed to the concept of enabling students to see themselves as Forest Guardians, caring for reserves and areas of bush for the benefit of others.

“Many students have a passion for the environment and this programme provides opportunity for outdoor education in a beautiful bush setting, plus learning about pests and what the land and plants need to thrive. As well there is a lot of physical exercise and that can’t be bad,” smiles Teresa.

“I really enjoy this kind of project. We are exploring and learning new things”, Marley Bramley, one of the students commented.

“My grandma does rat trapping out here at the Bike Park, so I am pleased to do it too. She came today.”

Jon Maud is very pleased with the day.  “No doubt about it. There is more birdlife throughout the bush. The biggest challenge is making people more aware of the environment and how they can help when they go into the bush.

Aaron will return and with the students, do an audit of the traps – look at their condition, assess how many more we need and assist us to find funding to acquire those traps.

“I am keen to see the art teacher and the woodwork teacher at MBAS to see if the students can make signage that identifies each species of tree. The students know these but want to let others know. “

Following their seminar, students, parents and guests, led by Aaron and David Byers, Senior Biosecurity Officer for WRC, went into the bush to check traps and to set some more Teresa took on another ‘shepherd ‘ role and  went ‘tail-end Charlie’.