Local students are grappling with the question of how nature and mountain biking can successfully coexist as part of Nature Conservation Margaret River Region’s youth education programs this year.

The conservation group’s Our Patch program involves eight classes of Year 6 students from six different schools across the Capes region, with each class learning about their local catchment from scientists, landholders and cultural custodians before zeroing in on an environmental issue and devising innovative solutions.

One of the schools – Rapids Landing Primary School – kickstarted their study into the health of their Darch Brook catchment by touring their local bike paths using pedal power. Next, they’ll investigate the design of a mountain biking skills area that has been proposed by the Shire of Augusta-Margaret River, including how habitat trees and restoration of the understory could be included.

Over the course of the year, the students will also put the Brookfield and Rapids Landing subdivisions under the microscope, analysing the measures that are in place to slow the flow of water into Darch Brook and help manage turbidity. They’ll also look at the diversity of flora and fauna along the waterway and get stuck into planting riparian species to filter stormwater and manage sediment.

“The students loved getting out on bikes and exploring the local area,” says Our Patch officer Lauren Scanlon. “Many of them live in the area but hadn’t explored the Darch Brook before and weren’t aware of the complexity of the interactions at play in the urban-rural interface, as well as how competing land uses can impact our local environment.”

Ms Scanlon said the question of balancing mountain biking with ecological values would be a fascinating one for the students to explore.

“Mountain biking is so popular amongst local families and can be such a fabulous way for children to connect with the landscape,” she said. “Being able to access natural areas by bike can inspire a sense of curiosity and appreciation for the unique biodiversity of this region. These students will be learning about and working to promote best practice mountain biking for the preservation and protection of these unique natural areas.”

She continued: “It’s so exciting that students will work alongside scientists, the shire, local community and mountain biking experts to protect and enhance these areas for habitat, biodiversity and of course mountain biking fun.  Areas like the Brookfield’s proposed mountain bike skills area are so important to local children for exercise, fun and nature connection, and they are also critical habitat refuges for endangered species like the Western Ringtail possum and our black cockatoos.”

Shire of Augusta Margaret River sustainability planning officer Jared Drummond said the shire’s partnership with Nature Conservation meant the students in the Our Patch program could “learn about the environmental values of the reserve and encourage local community to become local custodians of the reserve”.

“This project originates from the mountain bike skills area created in a local shire reserve in 2023 in partnership between the shire, local trail builders and the community,” he said. “It involves working with Year 6 Rapids Landing Primary School students to understand and protect the environmental and recreational values of the reserve, located in Brookfield adjacent to Andrews Way and Bussell Highway.

“It aims to enhance the condition of the reserve by undertaking revegetation of degraded areas. This is a great example of students being able to work on a project which balances recreational opportunities with environmental protection.”

Rapids Landing teacher Joe Hodgson said getting out on the bikes with the Year 6s was a lot of fun and he said the youngsters were “excited to learn more about their local bike tracks and what they can do to make sure the site is looked after, not only for the mountain bikers but for the other life the area supports”.

“We’re early in the Our Patch journey for 2024 but we are excited to support the shire maintaining and improving the site and learning about how we can best care for this area,” he said.

The exciting nature-based learning in the Our Patch program will culminate later in the year when each class presents their project and solutions at the Margaret River HEART for the annual Our Patch celebration day.

Ms Scanlon said the real-life projects make a real difference to the community and environment. “Working with local people who are passionate about connecting with and protecting our environment really inspires the children to get involved and make a difference,” she said. “Our Patch depends on these local legends volunteering their time to share their passions with the next generation. We’re grateful for the opportunity to work with local people and inspire direct, meaningful local environmental learning and stewardship.”

Our Patch is generously funded by the Shire of Augusta-Margaret River, Lions Club of Cowaramup, Margaret River Rotary, the Paskeville Foundation and local schools.