From ‘killer missions’, to teaching children, and creating places of beauty, we meet three Bay of Plenty women who have been working in entirely different ways to improve people’s understanding of sustainability and the importance of valuing our environment.
Caring for our planet has become a media hot topic over the last few years. However, people have been working to educate, inspire and help people appreciate our environment long before it reached the headlines.
Laura Wragg has noticed a dramatic increase in the public’s appetite for environmental action, and she believes people are now ready to roll up their sleeves and do their bit.
Laura is the General Manager of Envirohub Bay of Plenty, one of 12 Environment Centres in the country aiming to help local communities support a sustainable future. She says one of their aims is to make people feel that even small changes can make a difference.
“Climate change is an issue where most people feel helpless – that it is too big an issue to do anything about. Our job is to help educate them to feel they can do something practical in their daily lives.”
She says programmes like Sustainable Backyards have grown enormously over the past few years and support people to take action in practical ways.
“Sustainable Backyards and Sustainable Backyards Bitesize help people see what they can do everyday. Events like these may be their first step on the journey, but often lead to something else.
“Don’t get discouraged by the headlines. Even making a small change to your lifestyle has an impact – it’s not too late. Sitting back and doing nothing is not an option.”
She says greater awareness has led to attitude change at all levels of society, including at national and local government level and within business.
“Envirohub is raising some really important issues in the public domain and having conversations we wouldn’t have had a few years ago because people are ready to engage.”
One example of this is the enthusiasm for a ‘killer mission’ to trap rats in Tauranga. Following the success of a similar programme in Wellington, Envirohub is collaborating with New Zealand Landcare, Bay Conservation Alliance, and local councils, and receives help from the Men’s Shed which make the rat traps.
While Matua and Merivale were the two pilot suburbs, people across Tauranga became so enthusiastic about the trapping programme it has expanded to include any suburb that wants to take part.
“People have really stepped up, so we thought, why stop? We don’t want to curb people’s enthusiasm. The traps are free for people to set up in their backyards; in return, we ask they keep the trap set and log their kills via the website. We’re aiming for 1 in 5 backyards to be part of the initiative in order to get rat numbers down.”
Laura is hoping Tauranga will follow Wellington’s experience where some suburbs have been declared rat free thanks to people power.
“The Wellington turnaround happened in a really short space of time, and people here are chomping at the bit to give it a go. It’s something practical they can do that will make a big difference to our precious bird population.”
Practicality is something Anne Cumberworth is very familiar with.
On any given day of the week you will find Anne at Tauranga Waldorf School digging in a garden, feeding pigs, teaching children to cook the food they have grown themselves, or backing a trailer loaded with gardening gear into a tricky corner of the school.
Anne has a Diploma in Horticulture from Lincoln University and has studied biodynamic farming. With this knowledge she works alongside children at the Waldorf School’s mini farm, complete with fruit orchards, vegetable gardens, chickens, pigs, cows, and extensive riparian planting.
She believes the health of our environment starts with helping children get in touch with nature.
“When they learn by doing and feeling, rather than intellectualising, they get joy out of learning. You lose children’s interest with too much theory.
“When a child grows a seed, they begin to see how that particular seed expresses itself into a sunflower or a tall tree. They see the magic of nature and feel inspired by it. The added benefit is that they are also learning mathematics, and science and ecology.”
Having children take part in farm activities is important in teaching them to understand where their food comes from, and how energy is made, she says.
“They learn about the cycle of the seasons, and the cycle of birth and death when an animal dies. Our future depends on us understanding where our energy comes from, how our ecology works and how fragile our earth is.
“Children are becoming disconnected from the food they eat and from their environment. It’s important to me to pass on my knowledge to the next generation – to teach children that we need to work in harmony with nature otherwise everything just collapses.
“When they study India, they grow turmeric. When they study medieval history, they identify and grow ancient herbs. Gardening and working with the environment enriches our curriculum and gives children an understanding of how important the environment has always been in human history and how central it is to our future.”
Some of us think of the environment as being separate from us; that it’s simply a place for our physical enjoyment and survival. Rebecca Ryder believes the environment is also something we engage with spiritually, culturally and emotionally and in her work as a landscape architect she needs to consider all of these values alongside practical concerns.
There are many aspects to her work: some projects may include working with urban developers to create suburbs that are good for people’s quality of life and also have low environmental impacts. Other projects have included consulting on the design of many Bay of Plenty parks and reserves.
She says an enjoyable part of her job is engaging with people from different disciplines who are passionate about improving the city as well as the environment. She works alongside ecologists, planners, local government, Iwi, and landowners to find a balance of how to juggle the differing needs of people with environmental values.
With density a hot topic – as land is needed for housing, business, recreation and growing food – she says developers need to consider how people live and work in the spaces they create because people won’t want to be in them if they are of low quality.
“How we increase density as well as maintain quality in urban areas is a big issue at the moment as we want people to live in healthy, safe environments with relatively high levels of amenities. The role of a landscape architect is to look at how to balance human use of the landscape with environmental outcomes.”
Another aspect of Rebecca’s job is to identify particular areas of significance within the Bay of Plenty and work with the community and local councils to integrate the appropriate use of these special places into the district plans.
One recent example of a successful collaboration was the development of Route K to Takitimu Drive. Rebecca worked alongside Iwi and local government to create a place that not only had practical use, but also spoke to spiritual, historical and environmental values.
“I find it inspiring when you create an environment or place that continues to be successful well beyond your involvement – when you have brought together energy from a range of differentgroupstogivetheenvironmentalifeofitsown.”