The Year 13 student working to transform a local stream


Seventeen year old Dan Percy is a student at Avondale College who’s making a big impact on our local environment. He’s a key member of two neighbourhood restoration projects, part of the Enviro group at school, and an initiator of a school nursery where he and other students grow native plants from seed. We caught up with him at Holly St Esplanade Reserve at the bottom of Heron Park, where he’s part of a group that meets monthly to care for the local stream.

How did you get started in conservation?

The first thing I remember is going to an event at Arataki Visitor Centre when I was around 11 years old. Ruby Moore from the Auckland Museum was up there, and I spent two hours talking to her and looking at the little freshwater invertebrate table she had. She gave me a big chart of bugs, and it’s been a good investment on her part, because five years later, I still use it.

I then got involved with Restoration Ruatuna in Laingholm where I live half the time. We did planting at the creek and have been monitoring the water quality for years, and we’ve seen it get better and better. From there, my interest branched off into plants and everything else, and now I spend my weekends cutting invasive weeds. Once you get started, it’s pretty impossible to just do one thing.

Dan tackling a large weedy patch

What’s the hardest thing about it?

I’m doing quite a lot at the moment. It’s kind of hard to juggle everything and school as well. I’m in the Enviro group and have been trying to get stuff going there. I also run the school nursery at Avondale College.

How does the school nursery work?

Everyone helps by collecting seeds, and fortnightly at lunchtime, we’ll all go into the nursery and repot plants or do some cleaning. A few of the Enviro teachers support us – Mr Stephen’s probably the main one. It’s not really official – I mean, we haven’t given away any of the plants yet because it only started last year, so they’re not big enough. I reckon it will be official as soon as we plant the first plant.

Native plants planted by the Holly St Esplanade Restoration Group

How did you get into growing plants?

I volunteered at a few nurseries, and my grandma’s actually real into that stuff as well. Then I got a book on how to propagate native seeds, and went out and collected a bunch of eco-sourced seeds. We found an area next to the horticulture shed at school that had been sitting there derelict for years. It’s the perfect spot because it’s got all the infrastructure – potting tables, sprinklers, shade cloth. Obviously someone else had the same idea a long time ago, but because the teachers cycle through, it ended up being forgotten about.

We’ve got about 800 plants in total. 300 flaxes are going to Laingholm, and then everything else is coming here or wherever we can find that needs it. I’ve made a planting plan for Holly St Esplanade out of a really rudimentary map and a list of species.

How much of your week do you spend doing environmental restoration?

It definitely depends on the week, but at least a couple of hours each week. And then on top of that, I average an hour or two working as a gardener on private property dealing with invasive weeds like ginger.

Dan tackling a stand of wild ginger at Holly St Esplanade Reserve

Tell us about your pest trapping plan.

The plan is to have traps for rats and possums here. We’re not going to need anything for stoats here because we’re in the middle of suburbia. I’ve got a map done, and a health and safety plan. We’ve also managed to reduce our costs because we’re building the trap boxes out of a neighbour’s old fence that came down. I took a bunch of planks into school, and everyone built a trap box as a lunchtime activity. Some of my traps have gone out to Laingholm where I also volunteer on the trap lines.

Because I’ve been trapping for so long, it’s really easy to just know what we’ll need in this area. And it makes it way easier that I live up the road half the time, and can just walk down to check them. In theory, trapping pests would mean we can have more birds coming through.

What’s the end goal?

I think the dream for everyone is to see a kererū here. At the moment, there’s nothing in fruit for them, but I’ve put together a planting plan so that at every time of the year we should have some form of food available for the birds. The great thing about pūriri trees is that we can just plant one, and as soon as it matures it’ll constantly produce berries. But we need variety. You’ve got to be aware that plant species need shelter, so you need other plants.

We’ve done the first planting and now we’re going to do another lot. We haven’t cleared along the creek as much because we need to keep the species that are supporting the bank. It’s annoying though, because they’re all weeds. So you just have to look at them and be like, “I can’t get rid of you yet, but one day!”

Dan with Bronwyn Davey, who coordinates the Holly St Esplanade Reserve group

What would be your dream job?

Anything to do with researching. Being a DOC ranger would be good, but I’m more into the science-y side of stuff.

What would you say to other young people who are thinking about getting involved in conservation projects?

To be honest, everyone gets excited for tree planting, but you’ve got to stick around for everything else. You learn so much, and it opens up your opportunities.

But I think the biggest thing is to find somewhere local to you. I know a lot of people who go and volunteer, but they go miles and miles away. If you look close to where you live, it’s almost guaranteed that there’ll be something going on in your area. And usually it’s those small groups that need the help the most.

The Holly St Esplanade Restoration Group meets on the 3rd or 4th Saturday of each month, and welcomes new members. If you’d like to get involved, please contact Bronwyn Davey at [email protected]. Pest trapping has begun since this interview, and you can follow the group’s progress here.

This story has been created with support from the Whau Local Board through the Whau Wildlink, a network of groups and individuals working to restore native wildlife and plants in the Whau area.