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Salient. Victoria University Students Newspaper. Vol. 38, No. 4, 1975

New Directions

page 13

New Directions

A totally unique project, involving a new concept in educational technique, is being undertaken by Victoria University's Extension Department in the Belmont Regional Hill Park (see the map).

It is unique in two respects.

Working for the first time ever in conjunction with - and sponsored by - the Wellington Regional Planning Authority, the Extension Department has put together the Park Project. The aim is to survey and plan the development of the 1600 hectare (4 000 acre) area on the west Hutt hills - the proposed Belmont Regional Hill Park.

In a completely novel experiment, the project is taking the form of an adult education course. Ninety students, working in six groups under experienced research scientists and specialists from Victoria University and the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, will research into such varied aspects of the area as its history, its geology and its biology. There is no need for the students to be experienced in any field they may be interested in.

The project is the brain-child of Richard Bagnall, of the Extension Department, and Ewan Henderson, Regional Planner for the Wellington Regional Planning Authority. Already it has been awarded a Mobil Environmental Grant of $1500, and a further $1000 from the Wellington Regional Planning Authority - as well as use of their equipment. The University has bought a long wheel-base land rover to ferry students around the large area involved.

Mr Bagnall, who is co-ordinating the course with Mr Henderson, explained the idea behind this new system of learning: 'People find their own level of participation; the more experienced help the others where necessary. Here everyone will have the opportunity to learn about the subject under study and the techniques involved in research - they actually undertake research while learning the subject'.

The six study groups - working under the headings of history, botany, geology, freshwater biology, mammology, and ornithology - form up in March and by the end of November will have prepared draft reports to be studied by all the groups; a working plan for the park will be developed from these, and they will also take into account a sociological study of the recreational interests of the "Wellington region which has already been completed.

The working plan will be presented to the Wellington Regional Planning Authority; and a book on the park area is also planned.

The park is very much in the planning stages. Even the boundaries have not yet been finally decided, but the basic objectives offer the Extension Department the opportunity to make a valuable contribution to a major community project.

The six study groups, each comprising 15 members, will try to cover all the objectives listed by the Regional Planning Authority. Their aim is to preserve and develop a large area of countryside, enhancing points of natural and historical interest, for the enjoyment of the ever-growing urban community. Each group will survey the area and make recomendations from its own viewpoint.

The Geology Study Group will examine such facets as slope stability and erosion potential under different forms of management, helping to protect and enhance the area.

The findings of the Freshwater Biology Group will help the development of streams for educational use.

The Botany Group's aim is to produce a botanical map of the area, which among other things will help to ascertain likely vegetation changes under different forms of managment.

The Ornithology Study Group has the distinction of being the only group to demand a qualification from would-be students. They say they would like everyone to be able to recognise the local birds by sight and sound. They will try to determine the distribution of all bird species throughout the region, and to obtain information on the density of selected species; and they will make recommendations for maintaining and providing extended habitats for the rarer birds such as the wood pigeon.

The Mammalogy Study Group will try to estimate the number and whereabouts of oppossums, hedgehogs, rabbits, hares and other common and uncommon mammals. They will go into the question of pest control, and depending on the results of their survey, look at the possibility of recreational hunting in the park.

Proposed Belmont Regional Hill Park.

Because of the generous grants - and the hard work the students will be expected to put in - the tuition fee for the course will only be $10. It is estimated that students will have to put in the equivalent of 20 full days' work.

It is planned that the park will offer facilities for scenic drives, picnicking, environmental education, walking, boating, bathing, horse-riding, fishing, adventure play areas and trail bike riding - and future expansion into such fields as go-karting, archery, small bore rifle shooting and scramble biking is being considered. But the main aim is to provide unspoilt country within easy reach of the expanding urban areas. The environmental diversity and the central location of the site make it so ideal for the purpose that this project has priority over all other park projects in the region.

With such a vast range of activities contemplated, proper planning and integration of activities is essential. The report of the Victoria University's Extension Department will be a vital contribution.

Lindsay G Wright

Information Officer