What started out as an educational project for young children has turned into an eight-year labour of love for a small group of Wellington parents, known locally as "The Stream Team".
The focus is the Owhiro Stream, running next to the Owhiro Bay School and Wellington City Council-owned land. Due to the 2m high wall of blackberry and other weeds, the stream was inaccessible to students and the general public.
"However, parents saw the stream's restoration as a chance for students of the school to gain a better understanding of their environment," says Jess Allen, parent co-ordinator of The Stream Team.
"We got together and wanted to provide a space in which students could interact with the stream, a place for the community to come together and we wanted to do something to improve the environment.
"Educationally we have involved children every year in planting and now we have lovely moments where the older kids get to teach the younger ones how to plant.
"We have Conservation Volunteers leading education on water quality by looking at the macro-invertebrates that live in the stream. The kids get to work out how healthy the water is, based on the species they find.
"We have a weta hotel on the banks, we take the children for walks, and it's an opportunity to talk about what a healthy stream is and what particular plants are for – such as the sedges which the Inanga (a whitebait species) use as a nursery," she says.
While the Stream Team and various community groups do their best to keep weeds at bay, and are planting native plants on the banks to shade the stream and decrease run-off, maintaining the health of the water is a constant battle.
The catchment has three landfills further upstream and also has to contend with Wellington's faulty sewage network. These issues have rendered the stream unsafe for swimming and often the hard work of the children and community is undone after big rain events.
"The children get really passionate about the stream and worried after flood events, as it's really common to get huge amounts of rubbish and polystyrene coming down," says Allen. "We do our best to pick it all up as the stream runs into the Taputeranga Marine Reserve, but this is an ongoing issue."
The Stream Team partners a number of community groups, such as Friends of Owhiro Stream and Conservation Volunteers NZ, who all chip away to maintain the land bordering the stream.
The large tuna (native long fin eel) population is one reason Conservation Volunteers became involved – as they have a special interest in protecting this species, says Regional Manager, Kellie Benner.
As well as going into the school to teach students about the life cycle of tuna, the organisation brings together volunteers from within the region to help with weed releasing, planting, as well as providing equipment and supervisors to organise and ensure safety procedures are followed during work days.
Conservation Volunteers have a number of community conservation projects throughout the region, including at Pukerua Bay School in Porirua. Benner says it's heartening to see an upsurge in interest in looking after the environment from the general public.
"We had a real flurry of inquiries from people looking to volunteer, particularly after Covid-19. We think perhaps, after the team of 5 million, people wanted to band together and get involved in their community. More corporate groups have taken an interest too, which has been really awesome."
Volunteers also enjoy the satisfaction after a day's work, says Benner: "You can make a big difference even after one day of work in the field.
"We might only have five or six volunteers for a day of weed releasing. At the start of the day, you can't see any native seedlings as they are all covered in weeds. After a day's work, you sweep through the site and there they are. It's amazing the difference you can make."
"We try to make it absolutely easy for anyone to get involved. Some of our sites can be a bit more challenging, but we also have a native tree nursery so people can always help out there.
"Our mission is inspiring change by connecting people with nature. We firmly believe that when people volunteer their time, then you really foster a whole sense of kaitiakitanga or guardianship. The more Wellingtonians get out and experience their parks and reserves, the more they will want to protect and love them as much as we do," she says.
That certainly rings true for Jess Allen and the rest of The Stream Team. Despite no longer having their own children at the school, they have their sights set on the banks opposite for the next project – likely a five-year commitment to the stream.
"It has become a true labour of love," she says. "We get together once a week to work on the stream. There's always something to do."