Birds of a Feather

A project by Sapphire Coast Regional Science Hub

This project used citizen science to educate and engage 114 citizens from the far south ‘Sapphire Coast’ of NSW to create new habitat and improve local biodiversity.

In late 2017 the Sapphire Coast Regional Science Hub commenced an innovative citizen science project with Tathra and Pambula Public Schools. Bournda Environmental Education Centre held 11 training sessions in the two schools, educating 114 students and teachers on how to use motion sensor cameras and map their citizen science biodiversity discoveries using online technology. Bird baths donated from a local business were placed in the grounds of each school, with cameras installed on adjacent trees to ’watch’ the bird baths and capture on video the species that visited the school. Students monitored the video footage and using the NatureMapr app, uploaded their citizen science discoveries to the Atlas of Life in the Coastal Wilderness. This enabled students to not only add to an important body of scientific work, but to also engage with the local scientists who coordinate this Atlas. The Atlas of Life in the Coastal Wilderness provides invaluable data to natural resource managers to assist them in their endeavours to protect the biodiversity of the region.

“The students were delighted with what they discovered about visitors to the bird bath - lots of different birds, a naughty cat and visiting dogs.”
Teacher at Pambula Public School

"The project brought new contributors to the Atlas and familiarised them with NatureMapr platform which can be used by the schools in future for many other biodiversity and sustainability projects. Their ability to add sightings and understand observational and recording techniques means they will be able to join in any of the “Target of the Month “ projects  such as “Beach Weeds”, “Mapping Glossy Blacks” and “Ghost Moths”, that are run regularly by the Atlas of Life with natural resource managers and the community."
Libby Hepburn, Atlas of Life in the Coastal Wilderness

Using their newfound understanding of their school’s biodiversity, 56 students at the two schools planted 24 shrubs on National Tree Day 2018. Plants were selected based on advice from the Far South Coast Conservation Management Network and Far South Coast Birdwatchers on which species would provide habitat for the different birds now known to frequent the schools.

“The best practice Sustainability Education and Engagement project plan guide/template meant that everyone was on the same page right from the beginning.”
Julie Donne, Bournda Environmental Education Centre

Pambula Public School students also created an engaging short video with their citizen science footage. This resource has been used to promote the project to schools in the region, encouraging them to use the motion sensor cameras to undertake their own scientific investigations with the support of the Sapphire Coast Regional Science Hub. This video was enthusiastically received by a group of Principals involved in a NSW Department of Education Fair Education STEM project, who responded with “Wow! We want to do this too!”.

“The project plan is already being used as the basis of a grant application for another project.”
Doug Reckord, Bournda Environmental Education Centre

The Far South Coast Birdwatchers have been enthusiastic supporters of the project and are making a $50 donation to each of the 20 schools in the Bega Valley for the purchase of a Bird app to support their student’s birdwatching activities. 

At the National Tree Day events at Pambula and Tathra Public Schools, students were asked “How will the plants we are planting today help the birds?”. They said:
"Lots more landing spaces, and places to rest."
"The birds like nature and we are adding more nature for them."
"There might be more worms and bugs around the plants for the birds to eat."
"It makes the environment more pleasant."
"Birds will have more places to nest."
"There will be more habitat."
"People will like how it looks with more trees planted."
"We feel connected to nature."
"Birds will feel like they are in a forest, protected and safe."
"The plants will provide more food for the birds."

COLLABORATORS

  • Sapphire Coast Regional Science Hub
  • Bournda Environmental Education Centre
  • Atlas of Life in the Coastal Wilderness
  • National Parks and Wildlife Service
  • Far South Coast Conservation Management Network
  • Far South Coast Birdwatchers

KEY ACHIEVEMENTS

The high level of interest shown by students has shown this approach has great merit in promoting engagement.

OUTCOMES

  • RSEN members worked together to deliver a quality environmental education program;
  • 2 bird baths were installed which is a small scale but tangible environmental outcome for a range of native animals;
  • 2 high quality wildlife cameras have been purchased and will continued to be used in a range of schools that choose to be involved;
  • Teachers have developed skills in using the equipment and software;
  • Approximately $6000 of in-kind support has been added to the $1500 from AAEE NSW;
  • Biodiversity data has been collected on school grounds and has been uploaded to the Atlas of Living Australia via the Atlas of Life Naturemapr portal;
  • 11 training sessions have been conducted in two schools with a total of 141 student “days”;
  • Students have been trained in camera use and citizen science biodiversity mapping skills and are using these skills to document biodiversity in the school grounds;
  • A video has been made which can be used to promote the program with schools and community.
  • The program is ongoing.
  • Camera data showed the presence of domestic cats and dogs on the site.  This may provide an opportunity for the students to report the data to the community and request support in protecting local native species.

CHALLENGES AND LESSONS LEARNED

  • A major bushfire disaster affected one of the schools we were working with;
  • Drought conditions and community perceptions about fire risk impacted on the proposal to increase habitat on the school site;
  • Getting projects like this started takes time so allow for this in your project planning;
  • As a pilot project it was a good idea to do this with a small team of students.

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