By Dr Ray Moynihan

Many readers will already know the joy of planting trees to help regenerate the region’s lost forests. Few will know that more and more local school students are being offered a chance to connect directly with this most positive of narratives.

Late last year I helped coordinate a series of short hands-on workshops in public primary schools across the Byron Shire, where students got to propagate and nurture native seeds and seedlings. Banksias, black beans and ooray plums were among the favourites.

That short series of workshops was funded by the NSW government, and the Big Scrub Rainforest Conservancy was a partner in the collaboration, with other community and business groups.

Mark Dunphy and a student at Byron Bay Public School.

Students Hungry for Hands-On Off-line Workshops

The responses from students, schools and principals were overwhelmingly positive, with surveys finding over 80% of kids wanted more. “I loved how we got dirty and planted seedlings” said a year 3 student from Main Arm. “The workshop was awesome” said a year 4 student from Mullumbimby. “I would love it if this happened every Friday” said a year 6 student from Byron Bay. 

The seed workshops were followed by a multi-school tree-planting on council land in Mullumbimby. Again, close to 80% of students reported they wanted to do more.  One teacher proclaimed he wanted a student tree-planting once a month.

“Engaging our students in tree planting helps foster a sense of responsibility towards the environment, empowering them to fight climate change and to make a difference locally” said Main Arm Principal Virginia Pavlovitch, who enthusiastically joined her students in their planting.

Bigger and Better Schools Project Kicks Off

The great news is that the Big Scrub Rainforest Conservancy, with support from the local Rekindle Foundation, has just decided to fund a new Schools project. It will feature these hands-on off-line workshops, large multi- school student plantings, and reaching much bigger numbers of kids who go to school within the Big Scrub region. 

This time there will also be guided Big Scrub rainforest walks to help instil an early love of the forest. Fun new educational materials are being prepared, and already many schools have expressed interest in hosting a workshop in coming months.

While there is a great hunger within schools for this work right now, none of it is entirely new.  It grows out of much existing environmental education, and from all the fights to save and restore the forests over the past 50 years. Most importantly it builds on tens of thousands of years of the wisdom and practice of the Bundjalung nation, who witnessed country decimated over a few short decades of 19th century colonisation.

Deb Noble, who is co-designing the new workshops in schools.

Seamless Cycle of Regeneration 

The big picture vision here is to enable every school student in this region to engage with the positivity of ecological restoration, routinely, in a seamless annual cycle of propagation and tree-plantings, changing their life narrative, fundamentally, forever, as the new forests grow. 

My 9-year-old Louis, and the many children who will experience these new workshops and plantings, will be able to say for the rest of their lives: “We helped plant that forest.” 

While it’s early days, if the new Big Scrub schools project works well, funding could continue for multiple years.

Dr Ray Moynihan (pictured right, with Jan Muths from SAE) is coordinating school workshops and plantings in the Northern Rivers, with colleague Debbie Noble, Firewheel Rainforest Nursery and Big Scrub Rainforest Conservancy.