Friday mornings often see our students and staff involved in community service activities. Groups head off to assist TREAT (Trees for the Evelyn and Atherton Tablelands) or Yungaburra Landcare or tackle maintenance and restoration projects on our own 63 hectare property.
The tasks are many and varied. This semester, students and staff assisting TREAT have done a lot of weeding in the plant propagation nursery and one group joined TREAT members in “infill” planting at a rainforest restoration site that had suffered severe frost over the colder months. Groups working with Landcare have continued maintenance in the Peterson Creek plantings and surveyed frost losses among seedlings planted by our summer students. Fortunately, though many of the seedlings got hit hard, and initially looked like they had lost the gamble of early planting, many are actually re-sprouting and are in a good position to put on good growth during the coming wet season.
On-site at the Centre for Rainforest Studies (CRS), students and staff have carried out walking track maintenance, cleared weeds from rainforest regrowth, prepared a site for planting and set up an experimental plot to test weed control methods in regrowth. Groups have also worked very hard in our on-site nursery to prepare it for experimental work.
As well as our regular Friday morning time slot, our whole group gets involved in community tree-planting days as they occur. Most of these are in the Spring semester when a Saturday morning can see up to 100 people plant 3000 or more trees. This semester’s group was lucky to get a taste of the satisfaction gained from seeing rainforest trees planted on former pasture land. Along with a group of James Cook University students volunteering with CVA (Conservation Volunteers Australia) our students and staff planted 1000 trees at Barrine Park Nature Refuge on the edge of the important Lake Barrine section of the Crater Lakes National Park.
Though sometimes “hard yakka” (hard work), this physical work is usually enjoyable and very satisfying. It is certainly greatly appreciated by our community as more habitat restoration work is accomplished with our assistance. In fact, during this semester, over 500 hours of student and staff time will have been contributed to community service restoration activities.
There is, however, also an academic component to our community service that sometimes goes unrecognised as students get caught up in their activities and don’t realise how much they are “learning by doing”. Through their community service activities, our students get to see and experience the whole process of rainforest restoration from seed preparation and seedling potting in the nursery, through tree planting and site maintenance, to monitoring the outcomes. They get to appreciate, at times in their very own muscles, just how much work is involved. While doing so, they also engage with the wider community and gain insight into peoples’ motivations to volunteer, the strengths and challenges of community groups and the benefits of collaboration.