Wetlands for a sustainable urban future in the Hunter

A project by Hunter Region Sustainability Education Network

This project used an international environmental day to educate 57 community members about wetland conservation in the Hunter region of NSW and engage them in citizen science and on-ground works to actively care for their local environment.

To celebrate World Wetlands Day 2018, a cross-sectoral team of environmental educators from 11 organisations collaborated to create the event ‘Wetlands for a sustainable urban future in the Hunter’. The day was held at the Hunter Wetlands Centre in the Ramsar listed Hunter Wetlands National Park near Newcastle, which is home to Hexham Swamp- the largest freshwater swamp on the north coast of NSW.  

The day began with a morning of talks presented by 7 experts from the collaborating organisations. Participants learnt about a range of local and global issues including: frog habitat creation and conservation; how volunteers and networks are helping to conserve Allowah Reserve and other wetlands; the international Ramsar Wetland Convention; and the impacts of climate change on local wetlands.

“Better and more meaningful outcomes were achieved by collaborating with other respected partners for this event.”
Melinda Hale, Upper Hunter Shire Council

Surveys at the start (pre) and end (post) of the day indicated that before the event 64% of attendees had ‘pretty limited’ or ‘ok’ knowledge and awareness of wetland conservation. By the end of the day 100% said their knowledge and awareness had improved.

Participants were also empowered with practical skills for wetland conservation. This included how to identify wetland plants and a hands-on session with Newcastle City Council staff to plant 500 native species in the Ironbark Creek wetland. Office of Environment and Heritage staff gave a practical demonstration of how to use the international iNaturalist App. This resulted in 85 citizen science observations and 45 wetland plants and animal species being recorded in the National Park and added to the BioNet Atlas of NSW Wildlife.

“The project has achieved on-ground works and has collected data for a data-deficient location whilst reinvigorating our network, so we achieved all of our goals.  I have been part of the working group to deliver World Wetlands Day events for four years and this one was the best yet – because of the on-ground component.”
Liz Crane, Office of Environment and Heritage

At the end of the afternoon of field trips, 160 tubestock of native riparian species were given away to 17 participants. These people were either local residents who live around Hexham Swamp or members of local Landcare groups. To increase their likelihood of putting the plants into the ground, the community-based social marketing technique of making a commitment, or promise, to do so was used. Each person who made a pledge had a photo taken on their own phone, to remind them of their pledge.

"I have already used the Sustainability Education and Engagement Guide to plan for a larger community education and engagement project in Newcastle’s western suburbs. This project will collaborate with a number of environmental education and restoration practitioners from non-government organisations, community groups, local and state governments."
Angus Weingott, Newcastle City Council

COLLABORATORS

  • Hunter Regional Sustainability Educators Network
  • Hunter Local Land Services
  • Hunter Central Coast Office of Environment and Heritage
  • Hunter Wetlands Centre
  • Newcastle City Council
  • Conservation Volunteers Australia
  • Lake Macquarie City Council
  • Australian Wetland Network
  • University of Newcastle (PhD student)
  • Australian Association for Environmental Educators- NSW Chapter

KEY ACHIEVEMENTS

  • Participants planted 500 tubestock to assist in the revegetation of a wetland and 45 species were recorded via 85 observations;
  • 17 people pledged to plant 3 plants, follow and share conservation group posts on social media and share the success of their pledge.

OUTCOMES

  • More people attended the day than we had originally planned for;
  • 64% of survey respondents said their knowledge and awareness of wetland conservation before the event was pretty limited or ok and 100% of respondents said their knowledge and awareness of wetland conservation improved;
  • Partners successfully achieved organic distribution of social media posts and the Tom Farrell Institute (attached to the University of Newcastle) wrote a widely distributed newsletter editorial;
  • 13 participants expressed interest in joining the Hunter Region Sustainability Educators Network, 12 participants would like to be members of the Australian Wetland Network and 11 people would like to join the mailing list for The Wetlands Group.

CHALLENGES AND LESSONS LEARNED

  • The day went completely as planned;
  • Due to the lack of rain leading up to the event the Newcastle City Council Bush Regeneration team expressed concern for the viability of tubestock.  To mitigate this risk participants mixed a wetting agent in with the roots of each plant to improve success rates;
  • Future pledgers should be asked to have their photo taken by one of the organising partners to assist in checking up on pledgers;
  • The project has raised awareness of the Hunter Region Sustainability Educators Network and members desire to collaborate;
  • Collaborative environmental education initiatives often require more complex planning due to the number of participants and/or agencies however they also produce much better outcomes for the community. 'Wetlands for a sustainable urban future in the Hunter' celebrated the results from a number of cross-sector initiatives that included components of on-ground wetland rehabilitation, citizen science, academic research and community education and engagement. Importantly the day highlighted the simple actions residents and community groups can take and the role they can play to care for wetlands across the Hunter;
  • The SEE project plan guide/template was an easy to use tool to clearly define the project's purpose, participants, target audience, projected outcomes and monitoring and evaluation;
  • Weather can always present challenges for environmental projects. However, with appropriate planning these challenges can easily be addressed and overcome. The extremely dry summer that the Hunter experienced prior to our 'Wetlands for a sustainable urban future in the Hunter' project was not optimal for the wetland rehabilitation component. However, we made sure that appropriate tools were used on the day and maintenance of revegetation post works were put in place to ensure the communities planting efforts will provide environmental benefits.

BUDGET

$4,020 cash.

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