Many people think of biodiversity as all the plants, animals and fungi that live in national parks and wilderness areas. However there is an amazing diversity of species all around urban areas ... right in our own back yards, literally and figuratively! Biodiversity makes our urban spaces much healthier places.
Landcare Research does not normally enter flower shows but the Ellerslie International Flower Show was a chance to show 55,000 visitors what could be achieved by bringing green design into the city. Throughout all the community engagement initiatives following the September and February earthquakes, the people of Christchurch sent a clear message that they wanted the post-quake city to become ‘greener’ incorporating eco-designs, green corridors and pocket parks. Colin Meurk took these concepts and created a 10m x 10m exhibit garden ‘Transitions’ that highlighted the opportunities for the city.
‘Transitions’ included a living roof and wall that were connected to a stream-pond-swale treatment train for reducing and cleaning stormwater runoff. Crushed brick with native grass and Muehlenbeckia axillaris (mat pohuehue) between the tram tracks also allowed water to be absorbed. However the garden was designed to be so much more than a collection of green technologies; it used over 160 indigenous species across several ‘ecosystems’, from forest to biodiverse lawn to wetland. As Colin wryly observed “I guess we can truly say that one bit of advice we didn’t heed from the Ellerslie organisers was ‘less is more”. So, we won’t get any prizes for minimalism!”
In effect, the space was an aesthetically-pleasing mini 'pocket park' and virtually all visitors commented on what a peaceful restful space it was. One exotic species -a scarlet and black Flanders poppy - was intentionally featured in the rubble garden to show we weren’t biased! But also to symbolise remembrance, New Zealand, and the colours of Canterbury and Kai Tahu.
“We were certainly very different from all the other exhibits. Whereas we had plants growing on site as soon as the underlay was down - within hours of the starting gun, three long weeks before the Show opened. By comparison, most other exhibits didn’t have a plant in sight until the last few days.” Many visitors and judges commented on how established the plants and the whole pocket park looked.
Virtually all visitors commented on what a peaceful restful space it was. One exotic species -a scarlet and black Flanders poppy - was intentionally featured in the rubble garden to show we weren’t biased! But also to symbolise remembrance, New Zealand, and the colours of Canterbury and Kai Tahu.
Non botanic features included three sculptures (two by the water and one in the forest), a kete woven by Katarina Tawiri, a beautiful wooden seat made by Bob Frame, a shop-front with outdoor table and chairs, and an artist's image of the cathedral with a memorial structure over the fallen tower. All-in-all, the garden encapsulated our knowledge about and integration of urban sustainability, ecology, biodiversity, art, design, identity and synergy of world views.
In presenting the Supreme Horticulture Award, the judges commented on the way the exhibit reflected the diversity and ever-changing nature of New Zealand’s native flora, and they commended Colin for the superb attention to detail and form in the close planting. The judges also recognised the inclusion of some very rare and unusual species. As the judges assess all sites when exhibitors are not present, there was obviously at least one good botanist / plant person on the judging panel.
Interestingly, 'Transistions' also came very close to winning the People's Choice Award. Apparently there were 2 votes between 1st and 2nd choice, then 6 votes back to the Landcare Research garden. Given that other sites were apparently soliciting votes quite actively and we were definitely weren't, we did well. It is heartening that the public viewed the site so favourably.
‘Transitions’ was a tribute to many organisations and individuals who provided time and materials, but most importantly, it was a tribute to the vision, drive, knowledge and communication skills of Colin. Robyn Simcock also contributed to the design. Graeme Rogers did much of the technical stuff. And the whole project was managed by Andrew Trevelyan.
As Colin says “It was a stupendous team effort and loyalty to the cause despite the odd setback, complication, challenge, lively debate and even occasional doubt about the vision. Everything, from the building, paths, the brushed green roof, water feature, plant propagation (and the mess left all over the place), the stunning sculptures, crafts and graphics, the mossy surfaces, boulders and rubble, meticulous plant care, keeping the water up to thirsty plants, the last minute poppy in flower, the wandering aimlessly and contemplating, waiting for something to happen, wondering if it would, coordination and logistics - it all worked brilliantly in the end.”
Linking to our research
Participating in the Flower Show was also an opportunity to raise public understanding. Online information and video clips support communication about green technologies and urban biodiversity opportunities.
The weather was glorious, which is a big plus if you’re trying to entice families out on ‘field trips’ (guided walks), working in a marquee or out searching for species. The venue, the Auckland Botanic Gardens in Manurewa and neighbouring Tōtara Park, were a perfect locality for highlighting the surprising biodiversity of urban parks. Most of the participants were veterans of several, if not all, the BioBlitzes so it is rather like a friendly family reunion of the red t-shirt brigade.
On the Friday, BioBlitz was part of the South Auckland Schools Programme that was organised and coordinated (impressively so) by MBCT and the Botanic Gardens. Buses arrived according to a staggered schedule delivering groups of 9-11 year olds (plus teachers and parental minders) who proceeded through the rota of organised activities. We had at 2-4 groups in the marquee at any one time, and 560-600 happy excited kids later we were all ready for a quiet cup of afternoon tea.
The ‘after dark’ BioBlitz activities are always popular, and heaps of torch-armed families turned up. While all self-respecting moreporks, possums and cats would have headed off for much quieter parts of the gardens, we did see plenty of thrillingly large native sheet web spiders on the wlak led by Grace 'spiderwoman' Hall. When everyone was persuaded to stand still and turn their torches off, we saw a sprinkling of glow worms along the stream banks. The spider walk then met up with Robert 'mothman' Hoare who was luring moths and kids (almost in equal numbers) to his very bright mercury vapour lamp.
The Saturday was filled up with everyone trying to find and identify species, interspersed with a continual programme of ‘field trips’, and chatting to public visitors. I’m always delighted by the willingness of professional scientists to show visitors interesting things and patiently answer the same questions over and over again for hours on end. I guess the enthusiasm of kids, parents and scientific colleagues is infectious, and we had nothing but positive comments from visitors and participants.
This year we had some excellent publicity leading up to the event with TV1’s “Good Morning” show on 20 March, and a short cross to BioBlitz on Friday morning. Auckland Council promoted the event in their printed and on-line events calendars.
Social media is great for such events. We blogged about BioBlitz leading up to the event, and made good use of Twitter throughout. We even managed to connect to a BioBlitz happening in North Wales at the same time though I’m not so sure about getting tweeted awake at 2am with messages from the other side of the world! (A third BioBlitz in southern NSW stayed away from Twitter.)
After 24 hours of searching time spread over the two days, TV 'Bugman' Ruud Kleinpaste and four young assistants announced the final tally of 1251 SPECIES!! (Not including the planted species and cultivars in the Botanic Gardens). As Ruud commented at the closing ceremony “this was the best one yet”.
Then we all went home for some sleep.
Chris Phillips, a catchment and land management scientist at Landcare Research says "Christchurch is often described as a city built on a swamp". The Christchurch City Council has responsibility for managing the city’s numerous waterways and wetlands. The Styx River is one of several spring fed river systems that originate and flow through Christchurch. The river originates in the suburb of Harewood as a dry swale intermittently filled with storm water. Springs feed the river as it meanders north-eastwards through residential, horticultural, agricultural, and lifestyle developments as well as conservation reserves. The Styx River, 25 km long, has two main tributaries, Smacks Creek and Kaputone Stream. Several other smaller waterways, both natural and constructed, drain into the Styx River before it enters the sea north of the city of Christchurch via Brooklands Lagoon and the Waimakariri River.
Extensive consultation and research in the latter part of the 1990’s highlighted concerns and opportunities associated with the Styx ecosystem. From this, the 'Styx Vision 2000 - 2040' evolved and was adopted by the Christchurch City Council in 2001. The Styx Living Laboratory Trust (SLLT) was established in 2002 to oversee the catchment as a focus for research and learning. Landcare Research was a founding partner to the SLLT, and Chris Phillips (Landcare Research, Lincoln) is currently Chair of the Trust’s Board of Management.
The Trust’s five-fold Vision is to:
The Trust has established a number of activities that progress learning and research in the Styx catchment. They include community monitoring programmes (currently water quality, invertebrate monitoring, springs monitoring, and soon bird monitoring), the Styx Living Laboratory Summer Student Scholarships, and hosting Royal Society Teacher Fellows.
The Trust has also organised or been involved in a range of events that raise awareness about the Styx River ecosystem in Christchurch.