Digging into hard yakka on foreign soil

Dominion Post | 1 September 2007

Two French students have been getting practical experience on a community conservation project.  Paul Easton reports.

Fanny Berger Claire Carbou

Aiding New Zealand green:
Fanny Berger [top] and Claire Carbou have spent three months helping out at Maara Roa, near Porirua, under the guidance of Sylvia Jenkin.
"We've planted a lot of trees,"
Ms Carbou says.

TWO FRENCH students have been getting their boots dirty a long way from home on a community conservation project near Porirua.

Fanny Berger and Claire Carbou spent the past three months helping out at Maara Roa under the guidance of conservation stalwart Sylvia Jenkin.

They came to New Zealand to learn about community conservation efforts.

"We've planted a lot of trees," Ms Carbou says with a grin.

Started in 2000, Maara Roa is a strip of land up Cannons Creek valley in Belmont Regional Park.

Once covered with native bush and echoing with birdsong, the area became farmland, though pockets of natives remain — tawa, kohekohe, pukatea, kahikatea, white rata and nikau palms.

Volunteers from Friends of Maara Roa have spent many hours clearing gorse from the slopes and replanting native trees and shelter species in its place.

Mrs Jenkin estimates 25,000 trees have been planted on the site, including 3000 that were lost in a huge fire in 2003.

Ms Berger and Ms Carbou have set about their work with gusto, she says.

"We've been really impressed with these girls,
they have got stuck in right from the start."

But it has not all been spadework for the pair.

They also spent several days on the Mana and Matiu-Somes island sanctuaries working with volunteers and Conservation Department rangers, observing pest control and making penguin nesting boxes.

"It was great, there was almost no one around," Ms Berger said. In a jam-packed calendar they also visited local nurseries and lifestyle blocks, Pauatahanui Wildlife Sanctuary and Otari-Wilton's Bush reserve in Wellington.

Visits to Te Papa and Karori Wildlife Sanctuary were also squeezed in, and Friends of Maara Roa members took them to Mt Bruce sanctuary and to see the seals at Cape Palliser.

They will prepare a report on their stay, which will go toward an agronomy degree at the Ecole Nationale Superieure Agronomique de Toulouse.

Agronomy is a branch of agricultural science that deals with the study of crops and the soils in which they grow.

Ms Berger says community conservation efforts like Maara Roa are rare in France.

"They are more government-run, there are almost no volunteer groups."

Ms Carbou says there seems to be more thought given to conservation in New Zealand.

"There are some really good projects that will be there for future generations."

The pair heard about the project through the New Zealand Conservation Volunteers website.

"We had a friend who said we should come here, because it's very beautiful, and the people are nice.  Everybody has made it really easy for us to be here."

After three months of hard yakka, they have now put their spades away and embarked on a two-week tour of New Zealand before they leave.