Produced as part of Branch Out newsletter - Autumn 2011
Mention Houghton Valley to a generation of Wellingtonians and they may well remember it was a city dump from 1949 to 1962, rather than once home to a forest of large coastal trees.
In 2001, Houghton Valley School and the Council began working together to help 'turn back the clock' by establishing the Houghton Valley Coastal Forest Regeneration Project.
As part of this, a full ecological audit of the area was undertaken indicating the nature of the forest life endemic to the area and how it might be regenerated. Since then students from the school, with the help of the Council, have planted nearly 2,000 plants in the gully.
The school now has many activities based around the project. Wellington Zoo staff have taught the children how to conduct plant, insect and animal life surveys. Peter Reese, a local ornithologist, last year did regular bird surveys and showed students how birds are netted, banded and released. The Playcentre now has access to 'the forest' and the children there learn about mulching seedlings.
The students have also developed a vision of the valley once again becoming a great forest and providing a reserve for the rarer, local coastal forest plants. As part of that vision, they have been working on ways of communicating it to the wider community. With the help of local residents and visitors, new tracks have been formed connecting 'the forest' to the Playcentre and the road.
Students recently held a competition to name the tracks and you may soon stroll tracks called High Hill, the Wasp Way, the Haunted Hut, the Green Tunnel and the Fantail Guide.
The Coastal Forest Regeneration Project is becoming part of a much larger vision with the establishment of a community garden just north of the school. A small group dedicated to organic gardening started clearing the land of blackberry, cape ivy and rubbish in late July 2010. The group has been meeting every Sunday afternoon since then preparing plots, planting and weeding. Locals can choose to have their own plot or contribute to the community plots.
New paths now integrate the garden with the school playground and the wider community, and many now walk through as they bring their children to school. It is in a beautiful valley shaded by a bay tree and next door to native bush that the children have planted. The bird life is abundant. The soil is very fertile because it was once an established garden with a chicken coop.
Teachers from the school and Playcentre are using the garden as a learning environment for the children by getting them involved in tasks like planting and composting.