When the Bexhill Public School discovered a patch of rainforest in the corner of its grounds, staff named it the “snake pit” and swiftly made it “out of bounds”.

However, upon more recent inspection, the beauty and biodiversity of the heavily forested corner of the school grounds shone through. After an inspection by Big Scrub Landcare member Mike Delaney identified over 35 different plant species, most of them endemic to the area, staff realised there was a opportunity to nurture a special part of the area’s history. Thus began the school’s very own restoration, ecology and indigenous learning program!

In 2020, the school applied for and was awarded a grant from Sustainable Schools NSW with the goal of increasing biodiversity at the school. Work swiftly got underway. After identifying a high number of important Big Scrub trees, Big Scrub Landcare provided a list of additional species to increase biodiversity as well as develop a focus on bush tucker foods. These included Tamarinds, Finger Limes, Red Cedar, Foambark, Dorrigo Pepper, Celery Wood, Cunjevoi and other species endemic to the region.

A team of students was put together to prepare the area for planting of the new trees and create pathways throughout the patch. Project Co-ordinator Clare Stirling-Yow put the team to work clearing weeds and learning about planting practices, and a group of parents leant a hand to install edges along the pathways to create safe access, learning circles and play areas.

Over 40 new plants arrived from Firewheel Rainforest Nursery, and were planted at the end of the year to great success, thanks to careful preparation and a wet summer.

The work has continued this year, with a “Green Team” of 12 students from years 4-6 researching the different species and creating signs to identify trees and provide information about their ecology, like which animals use them for food or habitat, or whether they have traditional use as food, fibre or medicine. Nesting boxes and native beehives donated by families and organisations are being installed to encourage more local wildlife into the area.

The school is also working with local Bundjalung Language experts to learn the traditional names of the plants, adding an exciting and enriching cultural element to the garden.

Families and the local community have wholeheartedly embraced the project, according to the school’s principal Helen Craigie. “Many families have chosen to sponsor a plant, and have their family name on a plant identification sign,” Craigie said. “This means this space is not only representative of the Big Scrub environment, but also of our lovely Bexhill community. Through this project, our school has established many connections with people and organisations who an interest and/or expertise in the local environment. We are so grateful to everyone who has been involved in the project, and are so excited to explore future opportunities for community involvement.”

Bexhill Public School has submitted an entry for the Green Innovation Awards run by Southern Cross University, outlining the strategies its students came up with to encourage wildlife including microbats and frogs to the area and eco-friendly measures to minimise mosquitoes.

The project, which initially started to restore a small area of the school grounds, has grown into a project with broader education and environmental benefits, and has brought many elements of the school’s community together. It has transformed the space into a beautiful, serene garden where students and families can immerse themselves in nature and learn about our local environment and how the Big Scrub might have looked before clearing. 

And it has certainly rebranded what was once the out-of bounds “snake pit” to a beautifully restored Big Scrub bush garden.