Caring for the environment  |  23 Sep 2019

Young people from local schools and early learning centres are being called on to take action to create a healthy Ōpāwaho/Heathcote River.

The pilot project is a collaborative community approach to conservation education that aims to connect students along the river.

Christchurch City Council Parks Programmes and Partnerships Manager Kate Russell says the new project aims to establish a blueprint for student action to power environmental change within the Ōpāwaho/Heathcote River context.

“We are looking to these young people as the protectors of their local river environment and hope to expand this approach further afield,” Ms Russell says.

Supported by Council education co-ordinator Sally Airey, the project encourages young people to take “guardianship” of the Ōpāwaho/Heathcote River.

“The river suffers from ‘urban stream syndrome’ and has poor water quality,” Ms Airey says.

“We are inviting young people to lead community action to help create a healthy awa (river).”

Ms Airey, whose role is being funded by the Department of Conservation, says that the initial project title – Healthy Ōpāwaho – expresses the “connection between a healthy river and a healthy community”.

However, she expects a new student leadership team to come up with a new name, vision and measurable goals for the project.

“Initially, I will be directly working with interested students and teachers from a handful of the 100 schools and early learning centres that are within one kilometre of the awa,” she says.

“As the group develops and connections are made between schools, we hope even more schools and early learning centres will be involved.”

The project aims to inspire hundreds of young people to take action for a healthy river, building on individual projects already under way in the area.

“Young people are our future leaders and need to be given the opportunity to make decisions that can lead to positive change in our communities and our environment,” Ms Airey says.

The project is supported by the Council, the Department of Conservation, Community and Public Health, the Canterbury District Health Board, the Ōpāwaho/Heathcote River Network, Environment Canterbury, Junior Neighbourhood Support and Ngāi Tahu.

The Ōpāwaho Heathcote River Network photo competition is also under way, with a section open to student photographers. Entries close on Thursday, 26 September.