Ohaupo School students have proved they are among the brightest after inventing award-winning pest monitoring methods.
Two groups of students scooped major prizes at the recent NIWA Waikato Science Fair Awards.
Zac Ranby and Jaxon Hines-Sutton won Best in Fair with their entry Go Away Big Fellas, topping more than 350 entries. They also took home the Department of Conservation Special Award, the Kudos Excellence in Science Award, the Best Inventions Technology and Science Award and $700 each in prize money.
The pair invented a contraption called Select Your Pest.
It stops predators interrupting lizard and mouse monitoring trials by gently tipping heavier pests out of tracking tunnels so only lighter animals can get in.
Tracking tunnels have ink pads and cards on which visiting animals leave their footprints.
The students were inspired to invent selective pest monitoring methods after a classroom visit from National Wetland Trust executive officer Karen Denyer.
"Ohaupo School had expressed an interest in the restoration project at the nearby pest-fenced Rotopiko peat lake," Ms Denyer says.
She says the Select Your Pest invention is ingenious and could be used to monitor native lizards at Lake Rotopiko if a design can be produced in bulk.
"We monitor native lizards to see if the pest control we've done has improved the population of native lizards inside the pest fence, and the only way to know if it is working is to compare with the number of lizards outside the fence.
"We need to keep those big animals out of the tunnels so that they don't mask any little footprints."
Ohaupo School science teacher Val Millington says the students, parents and teachers were delighted to see the boys win Best in Fair at the recent awards night.
"We were shrieking and screaming like kids. We were so excited because they had worked so hard over months.
"For us, it's great seeing science used in the community, near Ohaupo School, near their local lakes, with a real-life outcome that's actually going to help conservation and go on to have value."
Another Ohaupo School group also impressed judges at the Science Fair.
Grace Ingram, Adam Kelly, Cayden Mathieson and Ally Smith placed second in the Year 8 Living World section with their entry Entice the Mice.
The group researched the best cheap long-life lure to attract mice that get inside the pest fence to a ring of bait stations.
Often peanut butter is used to attract mice, but it is quickly eaten by slugs and snails, meaning many frequent top-ups for busy volunteers.
The students thought they could find a better alternative.
They conducted 27 tests in the school's native bush, trialling corks soaked in koi fish oil, peanut oil, macadamia nuts and walnuts.
They found peanut oil to be the best.
Ms Denyer says the group's findings are helpful to conservation nationwide.
The National Wetland Trust has started to try peanut oil-soaked corks, placed in their ring of bait stations by the Ohaupo School students on a recent visit.
"If a mouse gets through a gap in the fence we hope they'll smell the peanut oil and go straight to one of the bait stations and not go any further," Ms Denyer says.
"Trying to deal with mice inside these pest sanctuaries is something that we're grappling with across the country.
"Having something that's an affordable, long-life lure is so essential for groups that are charitable trusts run by volunteers. Next we need to learn how long that scent will last."
Ms Denyer says Predator Free NZ is interested in reporting the students' results to other environmental organisations in New Zealand.
She says she was impressed by how rigorously the group applied science.
"They understood the need for controls, replicates and keeping everything the same."
"It's impressive for kids of that age group."