Many schools have led the way with developing biodiversity gardens and deep environmental learning for all students.
This work has also promoted shared school, family and community work in halting the decline in biodiversity.
This reflects the awareness of the powerful role that local communities (along with schools and families) can play in developing ‘flora for fauna’ ecosystems and biodiversity gardens.
Schools work with each other and with community agencies such as the La Trobe University Wildlife Sanctuary to develop initiatives in order to increase biodiversity.
Students research plants and learn how to grow them. They also learn about which particular types of native plants and gardens attract and protect specific kinds of native birds, butterflies, frogs and lizards. The learning can be powerful and profound.
Flora for fauna gardens
Flora for fauna gardens are a joy to the students who create them as well as a life-saver to the fauna that find sanctuary there.
These gardens in school grounds, the homes of students and community settings use native plants to attract (and create a nesting environment for) the widest possible range of native birds, including honeyeaters, robins, wrens and fantails.
This is obviously a major challenge in many environs as ecologically inappropriate, non-native plants have destroyed the habitat for hundreds of species of butterflies, birds, lizards, etc.
Schools develop their own biodiversity garden checklists for school grounds. Students also use these checklists for private and public gardens. Key criteria include:
- Different types of native plants of different heights
- A range of native trees over four metres tall
- Low-growing plants including plants with nectar for butterflies
- A highly visible, safe place for birds to drink and bathe such as a pond or bird bath
- Sunny spots with a rock surface for lizards and butterflies.
Such work can become a shared school-family-community goal in a school’s strategic plan, magnifying the impact. Community partners can include local councils and universities.
For example, in working with the La Trobe Wildlife Sanctuary, students become familiar with the contrast between:
- The 175 species of birds that have been identified over time in the Sanctuary
- The reality that few of the birds to be found in the Sanctuary can be routinely seen in suburban streets and gardens. For example, small native birds such as finches and wrens are becoming less common, replaced by dominant and aggressive species such as the Common Myna and Noisy Miner.
There are many reasons for this decline. In Victoria, the impact of prolonged drought is, of course, a factor.
As well, rather than structurally diverse gardens needed for a diverse bird community, areas can lack a variety of plants. Relatively bare areas support fewer birds and an alarmingly low diversity of species. As well, many exotic trees do not provide an adequate food source for a wide range of native birds.
For example, insectivorous birds (which are most disadvantaged in many areas) such as the Superb Fairy-Wren are not able to locate sufficient food in many exotic trees (as insect availability tends to be lower in non-native trees).
WHAT can be done?
When a variety of native plants are planted in private gardens, schools and along a streetscape (rather than a single species of tree planted in a row adjacent to a footpath) there is an increase in:
- Structural diversity - ground covers and grasses for birds to forage on, shrubs of varying heights (many smaller birds need dense plantings of shrubs for food, shelter and nest locations) and a mix of trees for perching, look out sites, roosting and food
- Food sources for many native birds, including nectar-feeders and insectivores. This increases bio-diversity and prevents any one bird such as the Noisy Miner becoming dominant.
Students learn how Banksias, for example, are food sources for birds such as Honeyeaters, some parrots, Noisy Miners and Red Wattlebirds. They are more supportive of larger nectarivores (nectar feeders). Too many Banksias will thus reduce biodiversity.
A broad and balanced biodiversity strategy in school grounds, a streetscape and private gardens promotes a mix of plants that attracts nectarivores along with granivores (seed eaters) such as parrots, rosellas and finches and insectivores such as the Superb Fairy-Wren, Robins and Willie Wagtails.
In this way, communities are able to be proactive in making a major difference - in building balanced ecosystems (that greatly increase biodiversity and the range of bird species).
Eco-schools and eco-streets
Schools can thus become eco-schools and streets can become eco-streets which may include
- Plants for a range of birds
- Water tanks
- Vegetable gardens
- Solar panels - both for hot water and electricity generation
- Community gardens
Baseline data can be established so that ‘before’ and ‘after’ comparisons can be made and to assess the success of the work. Students can be involved in these bird surveys.
Publications such as the Best Practice Guidelines for Enhancing Urban Bird Habitat: Scientific Report are also used by schools in their biodiversity work. As well, the work of researchers such as Dr. Michael Clarke at La Trobe University helps students to understand why birds such as Noisy Miners are a problem.
Schools also do things such as clearing and revegetating areas that are overrun with weeds. They recognise that the task is often too big to tackle alone and thus raise community awareness about the issue. Parents can also be involved.
After carrying out a biodiversity study, students may survey community attitudes and produce a brochure promoting solutions to the problems such as a lack of biodiversity.
Local councils often respond by conducting a comprehensive assessment of the problems and the work required.